WPP Sir Martin Sorrell Maurice Levy

Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Levy "the Freddy Krueger of advertising" states Sir Martin Sorrell on rival's potential retirement


By Stephen Lepitak | -

October 15, 2014 | 6 min read

WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell has responded to Maurice Levy's statement that he wouldn't miss his rival when he retired by describing the Publicis Groupe boss as the "Freddy Krueger of advertising" and claiming that Levy would never retire.

Sir Martin Sorrell & Mark Sweny

Interviewed by the Guardian's Mark Sweeney for nearly an hour-and-a-half during a fundraising event held for advertising charity NABS, Sorrell gave his own view in return to Levy's comments made during Advertising Week New York, where Levy claimed to tell the story of his first meeting with his longtime rival while in London.

However Sorrell refuted to The Drum Levy's story of their first encounter, which he described as "a revisionist view of history" and claimed took place in Paris in the early 70s, rather than in London as a Levy had recounted.

He explained that he and Maurice Saatchi visited Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet at his offices, when Sorrell was chief financial officer of Saatchi & Saatchi when the agency had ambition to grow into the US.

"I can see it now, we were sitting next to each other, Blanchet was in front of us behind a desk and Maurice was standing next to him. The reason I remember it, when Maurice Saatchi explained about our grand vision for Saatchi's, Blanchet - the emblem of Publicis is a lion remember - said in French "on velvet paws' which really stuck in my mind. I remember Maurice [Levy] standing there during the whole meeting and was asked during various points to go and get the coffee."

Sorrell continued by stating that he did not recall Levy's tale of he and Bleustein-Blanchet coming to London to agree a mutual joint venture.

"He may well have come, but it seems that Maurice has always had trouble with his 50 per cents, as with Publicis Omnicom and 'his 50 per cent will always be bigger than our 50 per cent' but what we trying was to engage with Publicis...what we were interested in doing was co-investing...the issue was how do we expand internationally with US the first market. So I would disagree with the historical context."

Asked during Advertising Week by AOL CEO Tim Armstrong whether, should he retire, Levy would miss Sorrell, he said he would not. Sorrell, when asked the same question, retorted; "Retirement and Maurice Levy is an oxymoron. There is no such thing."

Sorrell addressed recent news that Levy had announced his plan to remain as CEO of the group past the initial 2015 deadline set for next year until 2017, by describing Levy as "the Freddy Krueger of advertising".

Elsewhere during the interview, Sorrell, a cricket fanatic, highlighted his views on the recent media coverage of Kevin Peterson's biography and fall out with the England Cricket Board by explaining that "good people are by definition difficult to manage"

He revealed while discussing his phone preference that he was a Blackberry fan, claiming the keyboard still to be the best for mobile phone handsets and adding that "how they have failed to engage with B2B users is a mystery to me."

Of his schedule, he explained that he had a choice in how busy he wished to be and that the business was still personal to him. "When someone does a lot, that's there choice. In my case it's not imposed...you do it because you have an emotional connection. This is not a job for me."

He added: "You shouldn't force yourself to do things...nothing I have done since I left business school was not something I didn't primarily enjoy doing."

Later he turned his attention to the failed Publicis Omnicom merger and how news of the deal broke and how he learned about it through journalist enquiries. As it was unfolding, he said that had contacted Levy and Omnicom CEO John Wren to firstly congratulate them, and then secondly to ask them, tongue in cheek of course, if he could become CFO when learning they would act as Co-CEOs. He then admitted in hindsight to having enjoyed that weekend of news, but also described the potential merger as "a black swan" at the time.

He also claimed that he understood that the two CEOs fell out over the appointment of a CFO, with Omnicom's CFO Randy Weisenburger having recently left his role and highlighted the irony of whether he had left any earlier, the deal may have progressed.

Sorrell also warned Google of the might of Chinese brand Alibaba, following the statement by Eric Schmidt, Google's executive chairman, who cited Amazon, perhaps surprisingly, as it's main rival.

Of succession, Sorrell admitted that the repeated questioning of who would take over at WPP was a fair one but that ultimately he was enjoying the role and the industry more than he had ever done before.

He would also offer his admiration for the Murdoch media empire, which he said he believed had strengthened in recent times and claimed that WPP, through Group M Entertainment, was the largest commissioning body of programming in the UK, underlying the distinction against production when ITV was cited as an alternative.

Asked about online news company, Vice, which WPP is an investor within, he was full of praise, saying that it was "quite amazing" what the company had achieved in recent years and the investment it had received including from Disney and Fox.

Of the network's content investment he also mentioned its deal to invest in a fund in China with Rat Pack and Shanghai Media Group where WPP will invest in online and offline content.

WPP Sir Martin Sorrell Maurice Levy

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Publicis Groupe

Publicis Groupe is a French multinational advertising and public relations company, and is the oldest and one of the largest marketing and communications companies in the world, by revenue, headquartered in Paris.

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