Consolidators and those investing in the brand for short-term gain may lose in long run, says Martin Sorrell

In an exclusive interaction with, Sorrell talks about why he always has something to say about WPP boss Mark Read, why having a common digital measurement metrics is important for India and what opportunity India holds for him

Neha Kalra
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Consolidators and those investing in the brand for short-term gain may lose in long run, says Martin Sorrell

Martin Sorrell

The consolidators may be losing the short-term game whereas those investing in brands gain in the short term but will lose in the long term, said Martin Sorrell, Founder of S4 Capital and former CEO of WPP in an exclusive interaction with

Sorrell said if one looks at the big six networks, there are consolidators such as WPP and Publicis. Then there are companies that are investing in their individual brands such as Omnicom and IPG but that might be a short-term phenomenon.

According to Sorrell, consolidators have difficulties even as they are thinking about strategy in the long run. “The way Publicis has put Publicis brands above Saatchi, Leo Burnett and BBH, they have virtually disappeared. They have put Sapient above Razorfish and LBI, which have also virtually disappeared. So, when you consolidate like that, you lose,” he said.

Among all the networks, Sorrell finds Dentsu Aegis Network’s strategy as the best and most resonating with S4 Capital, which focuses on media, digital and data. Sorrell said, “Dentsu’s positioning is similar to the positioning of S4. Otherwise, if I look at their results, their profitability fell sharply by 18.7% but the top line did well.”

Sorrell has been active in media, commenting on most of WPP’s moves in the recent past, to which grapevine in the industry now wants Sorrell to focus on his new venture and stop criticising Mark Read’s efforts. When asked to comment on this, Sorrell said, “I don’t comment on everything. I am the largest individual shareholder, with more risk than whole of the board put together.”

Talking about his India plan, Sorrell said, “India will mirror what we have done elsewhere, which is first-party data-driven digital content and driving digital media and buying on programmatic lines. So, very soon we will launch our content operations in India and we are also looking at what we should be doing on the media side as well.”

“India is an interesting and very important market. It’s more traditional than other markets but it doesn’t mean that they stand for snake charmers any more. It stands for tech and entrepreneurs, pharmaceuticals, cricket and everything else. But the issue with the Indian market is that it’s not as transparent as some others. So much may be done on the content side, which is about faster, better, cheaper works. I have worked here in India with MNCs and locals too. From a media point of view, we just have to position it accurately and distinctly,” he added.

In India, traditional advertising has great importance when compared to tech-driven advertising. Therefore, it will take time for both tech giants and tech-driven agencies to make a strong foothold in the country.

Sorrell said India does stand for technological excellence and capability and that’s going to become more important and the pace of change will not slow but will only quicken. He explained, “The importance of newspapers will continue to be eroded over time. It’s like the distribution system — the supply chain is very confusing and convoluted. It is politically important too. We have seen it with the recent approach of the Modi government. If Amazon comes into the market and disrupts the supply distribution chain, that has severe political consequences; a lot of people lose their livelihood in wholesale or retail trade.”

The digital measurement continues to be a global concern and effort to bring a unified measurement, Ekam, by BARC India is being blocked by Google. Vested interests of various stakeholders are not allowing a robust measurement to happen. Sorrell finds this as a major problem in India and across the globe.

“You go on Facebook and Amazon basically because of the emphasis on brand safety, fake news, privacy, interference in elections and everything have become much more sensitive to these issues of sharing the data,” he said.

“But, that gives us a bigger opportunity as an industry to work with clients on first-party data. That’s the data that clients own and use to form content decisions and media decisions. That controversy gives us an opportunity. It also makes our clients much more conscious of the need to develop relationships to regulate the consumer,” he added.

Sorrell emphasised that clients need to invest if they want a better measurement. “There are people trying to build measurement tools but they have to be invested in. Often clients when faced with an opportunity of investing a bit more money for better measurement, have declined,” he concluded.

Martin Sorrell