Sir Martin Sorrell: Now, you ‘don’t produce the perfect ad’, you produce 1.6m different creative executions

Speaking on this week’s Mumbrellacast – recorded at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – executive chairman of S4 Capital, Sir Martin Sorrell said when looking at the difficulty holding companies are having integrating, “you should look at digital separately”.

Sorrell sat down last week with Mumbrella at a bustling Le Monks Cafe, Media.Monks’ headquarters at the festival in the South of France. The festival appeared to be in line with Sorrell’s vision for the future of S4 Capital, citing the intersection of tech, digital, and creativity as why it may have been well-timed for the freshly merged Media.Monks at Cannes.

Sir Martin Sorrell

“There is a lot of chat about whether a client should integrate everything they do, and whether the agencies should integrate everything they do,” Sorrell said. “The holding companies have difficulty in integrating, you see Dentsu here talk about Dentsu One, but it’s not one, they continue to exclude other parts of their operation, like Merkel, from it. So it’s half pregnant if you like.”

“It’s in the right direction, a bit like Publicis ‘Power of One’, then you walk into the reception and you find 23 different names. But it is at least mentally going in the right direction.”

Sorrell said while they are trying to integrate the offering, his company’s view is that digital should be looked at separately, as the demands and techniques needed in the area are extremely different, those being data-based – which is driving the insight – further, that the work is created in a different way, rather than creating it in a “perfectly formed way, you’re doing it in an iterative way”.

Now, he added, “you don’t produce the perfect ad”, you produce 1.6 million different Netflix-style “creative executions”.

“You don’t use them all, but you work out what people’s likes and dislikes are, or try to, and then pump out content we think they’re interested in, then measure results, and then continuously improve.”

Sorrell was citing a presentation given by Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos the day prior in the Palais, where he told the audience of the streaming platform’s broad church approach to offer a wide range of content for everyone.

“So gone are the days where you have perfectly formed 30-second TV commercial after three months, it’s a much more iterative process. So yeah, I think we’re in the right place at the right time. We talk about winning the decade, and I think we’ve made a good start.”

A big presence from Media.Monks at this year’s Cannes.

Building creative identity

With such a big presence at the festival this year, which included the café located in prime real estate, as well as hosting one of the week’s largest parties, the ‘pumping out content’ approach strikes as being contrasted with the ‘big ideas’ approach that proves so successful each year at the awards shows in Cannes.

Asked if many of Media.Monks’ clients sitting under NDA’s makes it difficult to build the brand’s creative proposition, Sorrell rejected the suggestion, posing that it had the opposite impact.

“When you look at our top eight clients, three are NDA, that’s it. But no, not at all, in a way that’s probably an advantage because if most of your work is so important that it should be [under] NDAs and secret, it’s a good thing. It sort of indicates it probably has a higher value than shooting your mouth off on it.”

The day prior, Sorrell sat on stage for a session entitled ‘Building agency partnerships that move at the speed of digital’ alongside relatively new client Allianz’s global head of brand and marketing, Christian Deuringer. Allianz would be one of what Sorrell refers to as the ‘whopper’ clients, currently sitting at eight, with a further 19 having been “identified”.

Sorrell [right] on stage with Deuringer [centre] and Josh Stinchcomb of the Wall Street Journal.

Can you put the toothpaste back in the tube?

Sorrell said the “full-service toothpaste is out of the tube” eight years ago while still running WPP, now, operating outside of the traditional holding company setup, he believes things are a bit more difficult as the groups try and push integration.

“You have a bunch of entrepreneurs who each have views on their own brands. With us, there is no duplicity, we’re upfront about it.”

“The old deal was, you retain your independence and identity, and we’ll do all the admin. That was the old deal. The new deal is, from our point of view, you become part of one operation so that we can make 9,000 people available to you, in theory, in 32 countries, for the work that you as the client need us to do. So there’s no duplicity about it. There’s no change in direction, we’re very clear, but that doesn’t eliminate the difficulty of doing it. It’s not easy.”

He further said that a single unitary structure is one of the four key pillars the company is built upon.

According to Sorrell, the reality is integration is limited at the holding companies. “They talk about it, but then there is a shit fight between the verticals, and when people talk about simplification, they’re not simplifying it. They’re making it more difficult, because what you do is you make the verticals more powerful, and so the Barrons or the Barronesses fight with one another.

“There’s a unified purpose to win the business. Then there’s a disunified purpose to show who’s to get as much as you can of whatever is there. And you can only achieve that, the harmony, when you get to one. But getting to one is very difficult.”

Listen to the full conversation with Sir Martin Sorrell below on this week’s Mumbrellacast, where he talks about market recession, where growth will come from in the next 18 months, highlights from Cannes, the question marks moving forward, and more. 


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