Watch: Martin Sorrell on how the industry can deal with ad-blocking

Campaign caught up with Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, following his appearance at Advertising Week Europe on Monday.

In a wide-ranging interview with Sky News presenter Ian King, Sorrell was asked about a wide range of topics, from Havas' acquisition strategy to the US presidential elections. Here are some of the key takeaways:

On the state of the ad industry: 

 "In order to survive in our business we have to be optimistic. I ask people in this business how they are doing and they always say fantastic. Staff and clients might be leaving but it’s always fantastic. But if you try to describe the environment, it’s a tough one generally. Low growth is the new normal."

On the new normal and Omnicom’s financial reporting: 

"While we [WPP] are satisfied at the moment with a 4 or 5 per cent revenue growth rate, in 2000 we were doing about 15 per cent…and if you use Omnicom’s way of evaluating organic growth, then it would have been 20 per cent…that was a dig."

On clients that invest in their brands:

"We [WPP] do an annual brand survey and if you followed the top ten brands on the stock market for ten years then you would outperform the MSCI by 300 per cent […] companies that invest in their brands will win. Cutting costs is finite but growing the top line is infinite, until you get a 100 per cent market share."

On being the highest paid chief executive in the FTSE 100: 

"...I invested what was a lot of money for me and bought 16 per cent (my partner got 13-14 per cent) and the rest is history. Today the company is worth £21 billion [...] But I have taken a significant degree of risk over those 30 years. I have built up a substantial stake in the company [...] it’s 2 per cent and its worth – if you do the maths – a considerable amount of money and its where most my wealth is. This is an entrepreneurial endeavour." - Read more on this.

On "eating your own children":

"We have to invest in areas of operations that will disintermediate us. We have to find the Airbnb, we have to find the Uber that will disrupt our business. We [WPP] are the second largest outside investor in Vice after Disney, and we invest in Fullscreen, and we invest in Matt Damon’s film company. We do a lot of things, we’re investing a lot and it’s in three areas: technology, data and content."

On mobile: 

"Mobile is a big issue. We [ad agencies] haven’t contextualised mobile as much as we should. The small screen is not a screen that agencies have yet become comfortable with. Ad-blockers not withstanding, we don’t do the targeting as well as should, although we now have the technology to do it, and we don’t do the creative as well as we should, although we are getting towards it."

On Havas and consolidation: 

"The models of consolidation in our industry have been pretty standard. But what you're seeing in France with [Yannick Bolloré] and Havas is unique. For the first time you have somebody – Ballore Investissement, the family investment company which controls Havas – that controls 63 per cent of a media and creative agency and at the same time, through one of Ballore’s investments, Vivendi, he becomes a media owner through Canal+, which now has an agreement with Mediaset in Italy and he has Universal Music and he has effectively a controlling stake in Telecom Italia, and a lot of speculation that he may jettison the telecoms network in Italy to the government. And he owns small stakes in Italian production companies.

"It’s a fascinating example of someone who owns media, content, telecommunications platform and an agency. Never been done before. There are all sorts of opportunities for conflicts of interest but it’s a really interesting model."

On the Brexit campaign:

"I’m worried [...] I see it as three buckets. [Regarding the first bucket] I think the economic negatives are very strong and everyone can agree on that. The second bucket is sovereignty and that’s more complex. You can say don’t like straight bananas […] but the difference is that I think we should be inside the tent arguing to change the rules. The third bucket is immigration and terrorism, which is highly emotional. As a second generation immigrant I’m firmly of the view that immigrants add value, they do not diminish it. I don’t like the racist tones […]

"What is happening in Syria is no different from Nazi Germany and to deny entry to people who have been dispossessed like they have been dispossessed I think is a terrible mistake."

On the US presidential elections: 

"I still think Hilary [Clinton] will win […] Don’t underestimate the power of the first female president. I think that is actually quite a powerful factor."


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