Martin Sorrell, media visionary and guru. No doubt he would be the first
to admit it was an unlikely notion, but then again, why not? Sorrell may
not be universally popular - one suspects even he would be worried if he
was - but there can be few who dispute his abilities as a thinker about
the advertising business - both in the abstract and in the practical.
Indeed, in this respect he shares many attributes with Chris Ingram, who
also devotes much of his time to thinking about about where we are all
going from a similarly broad perspective.
So when Sorrell talks about media, as he does in this week’s issue of
Campaign (page 54), it’s my humble opinion that we should all sit up and
take notice. And one of the things that gives his opinion more saliency
is that he speaks as a semi-detached outsider from the business rather
than with an operational perspective.
That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything he says. I don’t, but
he has more than earned the right to be heard.
I don’t, for example, agree with his notion that the trend of detaching
the media from the creative is a process that needs to be reversed. Yes,
I can understand why he might say that. After all, he was at Saatchi and
Saatchi pre-Zenith, and that’s the way his own agencies practise media.
Sentimentally, it’s comforting to believe that that’s the way it works
best. But where’s the evidence? And if it really did work that way, how
does one then explain the consistent success of media independents in
the past ten years? Or are they really just trading off ‘an imperfection
in the market’, as one media practitioner swears Sorrell once
demeaningly described the success of independents to him?
But I do agree with Sorrell when he says that media buyers have been
lamentably slow to match media owners in building global operations. As
he has observed elsewhere, there is no media buyer with a global reach
comparable with that of Murdoch or Disney. Yet as more clients look to
their agencies to run global deals for them, who’s doing it? Nobody. As
a senior media owner observed to me rather acidly, there are plenty of
buyers who can buy media globally (ie everything from a poster in Moscow
to a TV spot in Peru) but there aren’t any who can globally buy media
(ie act as one unit) from global media owners. So for WPP to address
this problem is clearly the right move and if WPP can’t get it
right...well, who can?
Sorrell also gets it right on the button with his observation that
‘media people need to be as good at ‘walking with’ media owners as they
are at walking with clients’, by which he means really understanding how
media owners work. Unfortunately, they don’t, which, I suspect, he well
knows. This doesn’t mean that WPP is there yet, but with its hiring of a
head of broadcast from the ABC network and its investment in HotWired,
I’d put my money on Sorrell getting there first.