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Dec. 8, 2008


WPP Group Martin Sorrell sees “more hell than heaven” in 2009 as the global economy of the developed world remains in the doldrums.

A key '09 priority is to take “headcount” out of the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Spain and find the correct level of staffing to service the burgeoning nations of China, India and Brazil, Sorrell told the UBS global media and communications conference in New York today.

He had expected India to surpass China’s rate of growth next year, but now he does not expect that to happen in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack.

Martin Sorrell

Developing world growth, according to Sorrell, provides a big boost to WPP.  Since those nations are “under-advertised and under-branded” they shell out marketing dollars at twice the rate of GNP expansion, he explained. In contrast, ad growth in developed nations tracks the GNP.

Sorrell said WPP had been slow in realigning its employment level this year, which crimps its profit margin.

The pressure from the recession has been considerable, he noted. Some clients did not move quickly enough to adjust to rapidly collapsing markets. “It’s not that there is a lack of visibility, many just don’t like what they saw,” Sorrell said.

The WPP chief expects Q1 and Q2 of next year to pose major challenges to marketers worldwide.

He anticipates the battered financial sector will smartly rebound in the middle of `09 “when greed overcomes fear.” The “real world” will hit the recovery trail in `10, and that growth will contrast nicely with the poor performance of `09.

Sorrell expects the Democratic Congress will devise a bailout for the Big Three automakers because it is “impossible to imagine” allowing them to just go away.

The auto sector, led by Ford, generates 10 percent of WPP revenues. That’s less than the 15 percent exposure that arch-rival Omnicom has to Detroit, he noted.

Sorrell took a shot at the media for their constant drum roll of dreary economic news, though he said the media are not to be blamed for the recession.

He also said Barack Obama ran a perfect campaign that married both the old and new media, noting that the President-elect’s 30-minute infomercial ran during the World Series and drew a huge audience.

“Thank goodness he won,” said Sorrell, “because if he didn’t what would that have said about us.”

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H&K alum (12/11):
How like Sorrell to talk about "headcount." That's how he sees the people who work for his agencies -- anonymous #s. Which is why working for him is, indeed, hellish.

Wes Pedersen (12/10):
Martin Sorrell doesn't blame the media for the recession, but he doesn't like the media's constant drum beat about the bad economy? Yes, the media is all over the recession story now, but it kept quiet about the lousy conditions right up until they could no longer be ignored. It's not enough to say, as many do, that no one could have known how bad the economy was. Anyone with eyes and common sense knew it was in the deep tarpits. A more suspicious person than I might suggest that the financial journals were in bed with the failing financial institutions.

Ron Levy (12/09):
Wait and see, in the restaurants near Madison Avenue, K Street and North Michigan Avenue (where good tables are now easier to get) we may hear grace-sayers beginning: "O hellish father, we thank thee..." Like most of us, Sir Martin doesn't pay more taxes than necessary. Who does? But he tells it like it is, keeps growing year after year, and so do his managers. His lions in the PR jungle stay head of the pride only so long as they are successful in reporting accurately and getting prey. It's an excellent example for all who are in power: you should recognize the truth and use it. Some in PR hope things "will turn around," but Sorrell-type executives look for ways to TURN them around.

Tippycanoe (12/08):
"What would that have said about us?" Sir Martin?

Aren't you the one who just moved to Ireland to avoid paying British tax? What exactly do you mean by "us"?

PR Pro (12/08):
Or...what does McCain's loss say about "us"?


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