Sorrell Steering Ship Through Tough Passages

Jennifer L. Schenker of BusinessWeek flew to Greece to spend time with 250 WPP staffers busy embracing their digital futures. The reporter said Sir Martin Sorrell, while dressed casually, did not seem relaxed. I suppose it’s hard to concentrate when your stock loses 45% of its value in one year. Yet, concentrate Sorrell and his teams must.

While WPP has spent more than $1 billion in the past three years buying up digital media companies, such as New York search-engine marketing firm 24/7 Real Media, Sorrell frets it’s not enough. “We don’t believe, given the pace of activity in digital and online, that our existing businesses can move fast enough,” he says.
Yet despite Sorrell’s enthusiasm for all things digital, creating a cyber-savvy culture at WPP remains a challenge. Old habits die hard, especially when Web initiatives generally remain less lucrative than traditional advertising. “It is easier when the CEO gets that, but it doesn’t make it easy,” says tech guru and WPP nonexecutive director Esther Dyson.

No, it’s not easy, but it will get easier as digital culture becomes the culture.
There are several other interesting passages in Schenker’s story. One has WPP execs making Facebook pages (which Sorrell apparently didn’t maintain). Another peek inside the company is offered via the pitch for Johnson & Johnson.

To woo the pharmaceutical giant, WPP staged a science fair-style presentation inside JWT’s New York office, where representatives from 20 WPP units sat in different booths, showing off displays such as a WPP-designed social network promoting a prescription drug and an interactive Web site to inform doctors about new treatments.

Which leads me to ask, is digital the answer to the unmet promise of integrated marketing?



About David Burn

I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. Today—after working for seven agencies in five states—I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.