Following a month of tumultuous media coverage over his shock WPP exit and subsequent allegations of "personal misconduct", Sir Martin Sorrell made a big comeback at Cannes Lions – discussing not only the "press frenzy" but also giving some juicy details on his new venture, S4 Capital.
A day before he graced the main stage in the Palais, the advertising luminary appeared in The Drum Arms pub for a sit down with our editor Stephen Lepitak.
Here, he divulged some more details on his shockingly quick return to the industry, insisting he was "starting from ground zero" with his mysterious new business.
We already know that S4 will be "a company that aims to build a multi-national communication services business focused on growth," but what's it really going to look like?
Here's what we know so far.
1) It’s not going to be WPP 2.0…
Sorrell has teased that "the structure of S4 capital will be totally different to anything that we saw at WPP".
He described his next step as a "new era, new age" business but was keen to point out this wasn't a condemnation of his once beloved WPP, just a "realisation and acknowledgement that business has changed, and that life has changed."
Bemoaning the lack of distinction among the existing holding companies, Sorrell said: "[They] are moving in the same direction... there is no real differentiator."
He added: "If I look at Omnicom I think it’s moving in the same direction as WPP but not as fast, then Publicis is third [in terms of innovating]. The destination is the same, it's moving towards one firm because that’s what clients are looking for."
Sorrell outlined his ambition for S4 to court C-suite execs, hinting that his own offering would be something more akin to a consultancy like Accenture or Deloitte.
S4, he asserted, will "try and deal at the very highest levels of the companies it work with and, at the same time, be able to tacitly implement in a totally different way: More agile, more responsive, less bureaucratic, more creative."
2) But, he might take inspiration from P&G’s new agency model...
Sorrell described Procter & Gamble’s (P&G) move to bring talent from competing holding groups together under one roof as “interesting”, noting that what clients want are talent-led propositions rather than siloed agency offerings.
He singled out P&G’s 'People First' agency, which will operate from the FMCG group’s New York office, led by Andrea Diquez, chief executive of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi. The division will combine Publicis talent with that of WPP and Omnicom to work on P&G's North American fabric care brands including Ariel, Tide and Gain.
“In our industry, [we’re] attached to agencies we think our agency brands are the most important thing to us, but what that signified is that clients want the best people working on their business," Sorrell said.
“This is probably the most extreme example, some people look at [P&G’s plan] and say ‘that won’t work’… but if I’m the client and I’m paying millions to those three holding companies in the category in which I’m operating what do I want?
"I want the very best people from those agencies working in my business in total harmony, probably co-located with my resources as a client."
3) He is interested in creative, and S4 will be testament to that
Sorrell, often characterised as a finance man or bean-counter, dismissed claims he wasn't interested in the creative side of advertising.
"People have said 'Martin is not interested in creative': that is nonsense. I am interested, for example, in data making creative [ideas] more effective," he added, saying this doesn't have to be done in a purely "Bernbach or Ogilvy tradition."
In the same breath, he also denied claims he'd called BBH-founder John Hegarty a "dinosaur".
4) S4 is a 'peanut' compared to its mammoth competitors
"I refer to it as being a peanut, and I can’t believe people would be worried about a peanut," he said of his business, "although it does occur to me that some people have peanut allergies and it may be that that’s the problem. We’ll have to find a suppressant."
Having previously called Amazon the "big banana" and the industry needn't worry that recent events have dampened his outspoken nature, or his ability to generate a soundbite, bringing us on to our last point...
5) The bullish businessman we all know isn't going anywhere soon
Sorrell famously said he wouldn't leave WPP until they "took him to the glue factory" but it appears he's being a bit more pragmatic in his outlook for his latest venture.
He mused: "A lot of observers are saying have said ‘well he’s 73’ and I agree I don’t have a another 33 years in me, but I’m looking at the next seven years. Then depending on my physical and mental condition in seven, or five, years time I’ll make a decision about the next cycle of the business."
So there it is, at least another five years of Sorrell's leadership. Onlookers will have to wait and see what's in store for S4 – but one thing's for sure, advertising's most famous boss isn't going anywhere soon.