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Creative Agency Relationships

Sir Martin Sorrell
Founder of WPP and Founder, Executive Chairman S4 Capital

Learning outcomes

  • Why the legacy creative relationships of agencies and large advertisers is at risk
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Executive Bio

Sir Martin Sorrell

Founder of WPP and Founder, Executive Chairman S4 Capital

Sir Martin Sorrell is Founder and Executive Chairman of S4 Capital plc, which is building a purely digital advertising and marketing services business for global, multinational, regional, local clients and millennial-driven influencer brands. Sir Martin was CEO of WPP for 33 years, building it from a £1 million “shell” company in 1985 into the world’s largest advertising and marketing services company. When Sir Martin left in April 2018, WPP had a market capitalisation of over £16 billion, revenues of over £15 billion, profits of approximately £2 billion and over 200,000 people in 113 countries. Prior to that, Sir Martin was Group Financial Director of Saatchi & Saatchi plc for 9 years and worked for James Gulliver, Mark McCormack and Glendinning Associates before that. S4 Capital plc merged with MediaMonks, its content practice, in July 2018 and MightyHive, its programmatic practice, in December 2018 and has added eight further content programmatic and data companies to both practices in 2019 and six in 2020. It is listed on the London Stock Exchange under SFOR.L and after a little over two years, S4 Capital plc has over 2870 people in 30 countries, with a market capitalization of over $2.7 billion. Sir Martin supports a number of leading business schools and universities, including his alma maters, Harvard Business School and Cambridge University and a number of charities, including his family foundation.Read more

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Interview Transcript

I’m curious as to how you look at the creative agency relationship with the clients. Historically, we’ve seen companies like Oglivy, Saatchi’s, literally have creative relationships for over 50 years or even 100 years, sometimes. How are these relationships changing, given the disruption?

They are being turned upside down. Ford, which was the anchor client at WPP, had brought in other agencies, like Wieden and BBDO. Another ex-client of WPP had been with them for years and years. It hasn’t been publicly announced but they have moved to a smaller agency. It happens all the time. I think clients should be focusing on a number of things. They should be focusing on agility because that’s the attribute that everybody needs, not just in the Covid world, but generally; the VUCA analysis, volatility and uncertainty. Secondly, they should be focused on first-party data. The pressure on the platforms, whether it be Google, Facebook or Alibaba in China, means that first-party data is going to become even more important, so you have to focus on that.

The last thing is that you have to take back control. The nature of the environment is such that you cannot operate at arm’s length. You can have an outsourced model, to an agency, as long as they are responsive and agile; faster, better, cheaper, in our terms. You can have an embedded model, where we embed people in the client. Then you can have the insourced model, which we do which is subject of a Harvard Business School case study, the insourcing media case; that has morphed into T-Mobile. Bayer, another one of our clients, has been selected as in-housing client of the year. Traditional agencies have been unwilling to do this, historically, because it does them out of their business. We’re agnostic about that. We will do things that are in the interests of the client.

If we think in-housing makes sense and the client agrees, there is after-sales service in the sense of keeping them up to date with technology, because it’s often difficult for clients to keep up with technological changes and we see in more verticals so we get a better understanding. And then people; there tends to be more churn of people because, again, good people like to work in lots of verticals. So we keep them in touch and we’re hands on keyboards, if they need them, in that process of change.

The models are very varied and we can offer all three. We can offer outsourced, embedded and insourced.

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