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‘We’ll probably hit a billion dollars this year’ says Sorrell as S4 becomes Media.Monks

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

August 3, 2021 | 7 min read

S4 Capital, the company created by Sir Martin Sorrell following his exit from WPP, has unveiled a major rebrand of its 24 agencies. We find out what the business hopes to achieve with its revamp.

S4 Capital announced a major rebrand this week, rechristening itself Media.Monks, in a move that pushes the Dutch digital agency – the first to be acquired by founder Sir Martin Sorrell following his departure from WPP three years ago – to the front of the shop.

The move is atypical in advertising, where holding companies and networks built by consultancies alike tend to retain agency brands. Speaking to The Drum, S4 executive chairman Sir Martin Sorrell, MediaMonks co-founder Victor Knaap and Influencer Marketing Agency chief executive officer Anneke Schogt explain the change.

What’s changing?

S4 Capital’s customer-facing brand will now be Media.Monks, with the S4 name retained as the masthead of its parent company and financial brand. The brands of its 24 agencies, which include Mighty Hive, MediaMonks and Influencer Marketing Agency (IMA), will all be reimagined using the same branding framework, named Brand.Lab.

So, Mighty Hive is set to become Data.Monks and IMA will be rebranded as Social.Monks. And while MediaMonks, already one of S4’s ‘core brands’, will take the lead, it will incorporate Mighty Hive’s hexagon symbol into its logo.

mediamonks logo on white

According to Knaap: “What we’re trying to do is build an entrepreneurial-led company, where the entrepreneurs have their own space where they can operate and people can feel at home and feel recognized in the brand. You’ll see a lot of variations in the designs ... but we all come together in one brand and one philosophy.”

While acknowledging the change is unusual, Sorrell says it will help S4 set out its offer to both its clients and the agency owners it hopes to woo in the future.

”It’s a difficult thing to do, because entrepreneurs are very attached to their brands. Most of the companies we’ve got together with, they need more talent, they need geographical coverage, they need more capital, and they need access to clients to build at scale. The best way I can put it is in our new model, the trade-off between entrepreneurs and S4 is brand, for access to talent, access to geography, access to capital, access to clients.”

Anneke Schogt of Social.Monks says: ”You give up your own brand name, [but] we all have the same DNA. All the companies joining us have entrepreneurship as the key element in the DNA of their companies. It’s not a big thing to let your old name go.”

According to Knaap, the rebrand has been inspired in part by an API (application programming interface, an underlying framework that allows software programs to work together). S4 announced an organizational shake-up earlier this year based on the same idea.

”We’re built around tech platforms and clients that don’t need a geographical view,” he says, describing the company as agnostic towards borders and territories. Instead, Media.Monks will be ”a single field with access to the best talent in the world”. With its staff all using the same tech stack, calendars and organizational philosophy, the rebrand, Knaap says, is a ”natural evolution”.

Why now?

For Sorrell, this transition is merely the latest stage of his S4 master plan – and another way to distance himself from the holding company model he helped to pioneer at WPP. The enterprise he once described as a ’peanut’ now includes 24 businesses and 6,000 staff across 33 territories.

”Underlying this is a desire to create the new model and disrupt the old.” Describing S4’s mission as ”messianic”, he says: ”We’re out to prove a point. The measure of our success will be the degree of penetration that we achieve.”

The company has pursued a single corporate structure, with a single P&L across its burgeoning network, since its inception.

However, S4’s own predictions about the strength of the digital advertising market – the company said business activity was “unprecedented“ in a recent statement to the London Stock Exchange, and that both like-for-like revenue and gross profit were growing “at levels beyond expectations“ – will have been a motivating factor.

Sorrell says: ”We’ve made huge organic progress, we are getting huge traction, driven by the fiscal stimulus after the pandemic and by digital transformation.”

In short, it’s a good moment to refresh the shop window. ”We don’t know what the limits are on our scale, or if there are limits. We’re going where nobody else has gone before. We’re carving out a unique direction,” he argues. ”We’ve certainly got a big enough runway, we’ve certainly got a big enough addressable market at around $2tn. And that’s before we get involved in technology services and systems integration.

”At the moment, I don’t see limits. We’ll probably hit a billion dollars of revenue this year, with organic growth at the rate that it’s growing.”

Corporate rebrands, in adland and among British business institutions, aren’t always received well. Standard Life Aberdeen’s phonetically challenging switch to ’Abrdn’ was received with horror, and VMLY&R’s renaming also saw pushback.

Though S4’s explanation of its rebrand isn’t entirely without jargon (according to its press release, the period between ’Media’ and ’monks’ ”represents a point of connection between diverse talent with different experiences and expertise, and encourages freedom of expression through a malleable framework”), Sorrell says the S4 rebrand has been designed cautiously.

”We didn’t want the sort of naming disasters that we’ve seen in the industry before,” he says. S4’s leadership team ”have all assiduously talked to 400-500 of our people”. He continues: ”We’ve talked to our clients. It’s not a surprise – they knew this was coming.”

mediamonkls trio

In fact, the company spent the morning prior to the announcement poking its holding company rivals, unveiling a mock rebrand on LinkedIn created from the first letter of each of its agencies.

Knaap is quick to praise aspects of the holding company set-up: ”Not everything from the agencies is broken. Their cultural insights are super good.”

Tellingly, Knaap cites Amazon as the primary inspiration for its branding and organizational set-up. And Sorrell says he sees Media.Monks existing in the same mould as investment banks and consultancies. ”The best analogies would be Goldman [Sachs] and McKinsey. Essentially, at its heart, it’s one brand in each case. They are professional services companies.”

Additional reporting by John McCarthy.

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