A view from Sir Martin Sorrell

Comment: Ten years on, the opportunities keep on coming

Ten years ago, I accepted an invitation to chair the judging panel for Revolution magazine's first ever digital advertising awards.

What a decade it has been. Online has indeed been revolutionary - and in the strict sense of the word. From boom to bust and back round again, the new-media industry has turned full circle. It continues to shock and surprise. Acquisitions that only a few years ago appeared a tad foolhardy now seem super-smart, if expensive.

The speed of change is rapid, the statistics bewildering. Google claims we spend 20 per cent of our time online - a not disinterested statement, of course. But it is clear that 20 per cent of advertising budgets will soon be devoted to new media. It's a no-brainer. The question is not when, but how much further it will go. Perhaps, to 30 per cent.

Here are some more numbers. In China, 300 million people are subscribers to a single operator, China Mobile. In other words, one phone company has a customer base equivalent to the population of the United States in a country of perhaps as many as 1.5 billion people.

At the same time, the personal video recorder (PVR), which allows viewers to time-shift programmes and skip commercials, poses fundamental questions about the future of network television advertising. Smartphones, iPods and VoIP add to the noise.

Any new technology brings threats and opportunities. Google is now hiring creative people to produce advertising. Conversely, we are also Google's biggest customer - it is what we term a 'frienemy'.

What is clear in this fragmented landscape is that creativity and technology will be king and queen. Not creativity in a traditional sense, perhaps, where an idea is conceived and space booked. The medium often is the idea. It is a measurable two-way channel, getting ever closer to answering the old question: which half of my advertising budget is wasted? And that creativity can come from the customer, not the agency.

There will be more change, more disruption, more opportunities, much more growth. Recruiting, retaining and inspiring the best people remains crucial. Technology will be plentiful and difficult to understand; human capital will not be plentiful and difficult to understand. Whatever the future, it is talent that will matter, as well as an understanding of technology.

Sir Martin Sorrell is chief executive of WPP.

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