I’ve felt many things about Sir Martin Sorrell over the years. I don’t think I’m alone in that.
I’m not going to list ALL the emotions Marty and I have been through: suffice to say, it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. For me, largely as, apart from the time I threw a cricket ball very close to his head in 2003 and he called me something not entirely complimentary as a result, I’m not sure he really knows I exist. (Quick aside: it turned out he was a bit tired and grouchy because he’d been up all night buying Grey. Having been on the wrong side of a late night QVC binge myself more than once, I totally get where he was coming from.)
But that’s ok. Why should he know I exist? He’s always been busy.
And, actually, let’s be honest, he’s always been busy being fucking good. At his worst, he’s bent the industry (and the world that surrounds it) to whatever shape he deemed fit, through sheer force of will, stubbornness, and effortless charm; at his best, though, he was a genuine visionary. There was a reason the industry looked to Sir Martin to tell us precisely what we should do, where we should go, and of late, what shape of recession we were in, and that’s because he was, more often than not, right.
So, yeah. Sir Martin Sorrell has always been pretty good at his job. There’s your headline.
Lately, though… Well, lately, it’s all got a little bit more confusing.
Lately, I’ve started to feel a little, well… sorry for him. And that’s a bizarre feeling.
Let’s have a look at some of the things he’s said, either in person, or in interviews, or beamed onto a massive screen at AdWeek Europe. He spoke at length about what advertisers were looking for nowadays, and how much things had changed – how agencies would "have to be more responsive, more agile, less bureaucratic, less layered, more principle driven, in the sense of driven by creative principle".
And, naturally, everyone cheered, just as they had when he first talked of a bath-tub recession, or created his first cross agency team, or stayed up all night buying Grey and called me a little shit at a cricket match. The genius was back, and the future of our industry had been determined.
But I was left a little bemused. Rather than the visionary of old, it felt more like Sir Martin had turned into one of those tech-bros who punch the air at the launch of their ground-breaking decentralised communal urban loop travel pod system, only for a bunch of smartarses on Twitter to point out that they’d basically just invented the bus.
Sir Martin teleported into AdWeek Europe, and purported to invent a business driven by creative thinking, that can react quickly and swiftly to client challenges, that can act as a genuine strategic partner, because it’s driven by what’s right rather than by its huge, overbearing processes, systems and overheads, and that spends its time making its clients’ businesses better rather than managing its own. An agency that focuses on knowing the right people, rather than owning all the right people: that focuses on integrating, rather than being integrated; on driving metrics, not its own margins.
Now, I don’t want this to sound weird, but the fact is, Sir Martin "invented" Creature: a business that’s been designed, first and foremost, to make amazing things for our clients and partners, with profit as a (terribly lovely) side effect. And, frankly, about bloody time. (Somebody needed to, because nobody’s been paying any attention to me.)
So here’s the thing: after 15 years of not necessarily seeing eye to eye – in fact, of often not looking at each other at all – Sir Martin and I are suddenly of one mind. The greatest advertising mind of our generation has confirmed that the future of advertising is the agency that Ben, Stu and I founded in 2011. How cool is THAT?!
Well, pretty cool, obviously. Of course, the most exciting thing about the whole hullabaloo is that Sir Martin’s not done yet: he’s too fidgety, too restless, and too excited to stop. He’s got plans. And given where his current thinking seems to lie, in the spirit of generosity that often imbues the best independent agencies, I wanted to take this opportunity to break with tradition, and make HIM an offer.
A couple of weeks of work experience: well, shadowing. (Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.) To see how it’s done. We’ll pay a Real Living Wage, obviously, and we’ve got more breakfast cereal and tea than we know what to do with – AND we still have drinks on a Friday. Let me know when you’re free, fella – it’ll be a lot of fun.
Dan Cullen-Shute is chief executive and co-founder of Creature of London.