The legendary Martin Sorrell shouldn't be groveling in the dirt and taking cheap shots at WPP. It only tarnishes his reputation as one of adland's best.
After all, he’s the guy who created WPP, one of the world’s premier marketing services groups, from the corporate shell of teapot-and-basket company Wire and Plastic Products, via a spree of audacious acquisitions beginning in 1985.
Singlehandely, Sorrell turned the then “gentlemanly” and somewhat staid advertising business on its head.
Sorrell resigned the helm of WPP in 2018 as it launched an investigation into his alleged personal misconduct. Sorrell denied all charges.
The 75-year-old Sir Martin quickly got back on his feet, replicating his WPP triumph by creating what he calls a “new age/new era digital advertising and marketing services company" that was built on the S4 Capital corporate husk.
On Nov. 9, S4 reported Q3 revenues rose 53 percent to $114M. Like-for-like revenue was up 13 percent.
S4 employs 2,870 people and counts 20 “whopper” clients, which Sorrell calls clients worth $20M in annual revenues. S4’s roster includes Google, Fidelity, BMW/Mini Europe, Beyond Meat, Whirlpool, Hasbro and T-Mobile.
S4 is a remarkable achievement. Sorrell has accomplished more than what anybody in today's ad/PR world could only dream.
Why then is Sorrell becoming the Donald Trump of the marketing communications world, firing pot shots at WPP and his successor, Mark Read?
Hel told the Financial Times that Read should step down “before he is pushed” and that the launch of S4 was partly a revenge move “to prove a point” to the "bozos” at WPP.
Sorrell, who holds a two percent stake in WPP, said Read’s revamp of WPP is “killing the business.”
David Herro, chief investment officer of Harris Investments, a seven percent owner of WPP, said Sorrell is “attacking the people cleaning up his mess.” He told the FT that if Sorrell is so upset with WPP's performance he should unload his shares or bid for it. Fair enough.
Sorrell maintains the best way to hurt WPP is to build up S4 and to confound the sceptics. He's right.
Attacking WPP certainly puts the white-hot media spotlight on Sorrell. The question: does he crave that attention as much as Trump?
If so, he may find it hard to keep his nose to the S4 grindstone because it has a tiny media footprint compared to Sorrell's old joint.