Sorrell says agencies must tackle content ownership

VENICE - Sir Martin Sorrell has said in Italy this week that WPP and other agency groups must work harder to crack the key opportunity of owning and producing content and has suggested closer ties with Hollywood talent agencies.

In a video speech to the Venice Festival of Media, the WPP chief executive expressed his belief that getting better at branded content and intellectual property will help his company compete with its traditional rivals such as Omnicom and emerging competitors such as Google and Facebook.

However, it is an opportunity that he thinks WPP has not done enough with, despite its record of collaboration with US TV networks to co-produce shows such as 'October Road'.

"One of the things I think we don't do well enough is develop intellectual property with people we know," he said, expressing a wish to work more closely with Hollywood talent agencies such as CAA, Endeavour, UTA and William Morris.

"We should work more closely with those people in trying to develop content ideas ... one of the things I really regret is that we seem unable to a limited degree to develop those ideas.

"Content and intellectual property does give us an opportunity to add, or develop, a new business approach and a new structure to the way we develop our business, particularly in media planning and buying."

At the same time he admitted the past record of agencies and clients "going to Hollywood" should rightfully make them nervous.

"History is littered with examples of clients who made investments and have been taken to the cleaners and have made significant mistakes in engaging with Hollywood and came away with broken fingers."

But Sorrell said agencies and clients should overcome their nervousness and back all the "chat" about content with actual money.

"We will have to make the investment if we want to retain the ownership, and just coming up with the idea entitles us to a return, a reward, on that intellectual investment.

"In order to take it further, I think we have to make co-investments with clients in the development of content and intellectual property."

Sorrell also delivered his thoughts on how WPP might react to competition from the big internet names such as Google, Microsoft and Facebook in its traditional media planning and buying activity.

"All of these new technology driven operations - and they can be internet-driven, mobile-driven and they are increasingly video-driven - these are all in a sense competitors to what we have traditionally done."

To adjust to this more competitive environment, Sorrell suggested, WPP could use its buying muscle more effectively.

"If we are buying $60bn of media around the world, clearly there are opportunities to buy inventory, and then retail it or wholesale it to our clients, with total transparency."

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