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WATCH ON DEMAND FROM 25 Jan 2021
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'75% of our business is stuff that Don Draper would feel uncomfortable with' – Sir Martin Sorrell on Mad Men and why print is undervalued

This week in Cannes: WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell talks to Johnny Hornby, founder of The&Partnership, about how the advertising business has moved on since ‘Mad Men’, and why traditional media are undervalued.

Johnny Hornby: Martin, during such a busy week packed with events and conferences, how do you work out what to make time for at Cannes and what not to make time for?

Sir Martin Sorrell: The answer is with difficulty. Our activity is focused on clients first and foremost. Given that we have this large number of media reviews going on in America, obviously getting to see clients who are in those media reviews is critically important. Then media owners.

And the last area is agency people – so we have our people and indeed competitors sadly – I wish there were no competitors here. But it’s as good an opportunity to talk to some of the competitors who may be unhappy and bring them in.

Johnny Hornby: And do you feel a little bit – as everyone charges headlong into the new – that there’s an imbalance with the traditional side, particularly around the balance of print?

Sir Martin Sorrell: I think it’s got out of kilter, and of course there’s the switch to digital. Digital now is 37 per cent of our revenue, as it’s 25 per cent of the market as a whole (and in some markets it’s greater and lesser, depending on their maturity).

But I think with all these things the pendulum swings too far. And I think there’s a legitimate argument, particularly in this debate around whether time spent by consumers is the right metric, or whether it should be engagement. And there’s some really strong evidence, not just from the UK or Australia but from Canada and the US, that shows that engagement with traditional print – magazines, newspapers – is greater than that engagement with so-called new media.

There’s another thing at work which is really important, and that’s measurement. The measurement penalises traditional media – you see that with newspapers and magazines – and it advantages online, because the standards of viewability for example on video online are much lower than the standards that we apply on the off-line side.

Johnny Hornby: One last question: everyone’s talking about their models, whether they’re on the media side or the agency side. Is this leading you to think differently about the models that you’re employing in terms of the agency teams you put together for your clients?

Sir Martin Sorrell: Well agency teams have to be more integrated and we’ve been in the forerun of this. It was poo-pooed by many people in the industry – not you, Johnny, or I, but other less wise individuals.

Our business has changed – we talked with Matthew Weiner today [at WPP’s annual Cannes conference, ‘Stream’] about Mad Men and how it’s changed today. They were mad men or mad women, and today it’s also maths men and maths women, or data men and data women, or whatever you want to call it.

The nature of the business has changed. 75 per cent of our business is stuff that Don Draper would feel uncomfortable with.

If somebody said to me: “Should we go back to the day of the full-service agency?” … I don’t think a good media person will want to report to a good creative person, or vice versa.

What you have to do is create a structure – which you are trying to do with The&Partnership – that really binds it together: that actually creates the J Walter Thompson company in Berkeley Square of 50 years ago, but in the 21st Century.

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