Elephant in the media room: In defence of Sir Martin Sorrell

Mary Keane-Dawson, co-founder and CEO of The Truth Agency, is a one of the most well-known figures in the UK digital media scene. She has worked with an impressive mix of companies, including Redwood Publishing, SPAFAX (now part of WPP), Steak (now part of Dentsu), Reform Collective London and Trade Doubler’s incubator The Zoo Project. Most recently she held the position of UK managing director with Neo@Ogilvy.

In addition to driving the development of Truth, Mary is a non-executive director and executive coach working with the likes of BIMA, The Smalls and Tech London Advocates. She is also the founder of How She Made It.

What a few weeks we’ve had in MediaLand!

Sir Martin Sorrell

First off, we’ve seen an overwhelmingly positive response to the #MeToo movement, with more and more men and women calling time out on inappropriate behaviour in the workplace.

Secondly, we are seeing the relationship between clients and agencies undergoing a radical rethink. CMOs are demanding value, increasingly empowered by robust tech solutions, experienced in-house digital talent and the ability to demand transparency. Clients are openly asking for a new style of open agency leader, saying enough already, no more hidden fees or undisclosed kickbacks.

Thirdly, and most certainly in part due to both of the above, we are experiencing a seismic tremor affecting the very pinnacles of MediaLand’s Global Corporate Headquarters. Our seemingly invincible, massively wealthy industry icons, are shaking in their Salvatore Ferragamos or Jimmy Choos. The board and their clients are on to them.

Witness today’s events. Who would have ever dared imagine that Sir Martin Sorrell would be put in the spotlight and have both his personal integrity and the propriety of his behaviour toward colleagues and teams questioned?

I’m writing this from Los Angeles and only minutes after I read the news so while we don’t know all the facts, this column is straight from the heart.

My personal experience of working with Sir Martin was absolutely positive. He enthusiastically backed winning mavericks and it seemed to me that he much preferred the company of entrepreneurs who weren’t intimidated by him.

I’m certain he sees those as the most impressive people in his orbit. He’s not happy when dealing with those he deems the most sycophantic, greedy or corrupt. In my time at WPP, it was clear that most people admired him and were proud to work for him. But we weren’t afraid to say when we disagreed over strategy or execution.

Over time those thought-leading passionistas became disillusioned with the political BS or got their earn outs and went home.

If Martin, or indeed, any other industry icon, has done bad things, in the name of supposed good business, they deserve to be exposed. However, if this is just a moment when the politically expedient decide to betray Caesar so they can save themselves, then I for one am hoping Sir Martin will bounce back.

Mary Keane-Dawson is chief executive of media agency Truth, part of The Marketing Group.

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