WPP CEO Martin Sorrell is the fifth best CEO in the world according to the Harvard Business Review. That ranking
is based predominantly on a series of financial metrics that WPP has aced over the last 20 years or so with Sorrell at the helm.
To a lesser extent, the ranking also assesses the company’s performance in the corporate citizenship arena.
That’s no small achievement, although MediaPost is bestowing Executive of the Year honors upon Sorrell for what we see as his determination to lead the industry to a better place on several fronts by fostering business deals that potentially benefit entire swaths of the marketing and communications landscape.
Case in point: The company’s decision about 14 months ago to invest cash and publisher ad serving assets (acquired when it bought 24/7 Real Media, now part of Xaxis ) for a bigger stake (15%) in AppNexus. With the stroke of a pen, WPP shed itself of some non-core assets while simultaneously creating a stronger and less-conflicted alternative to the industry’s major online ad exchanges, including Google’s DoubleClick, Facebook’s Atlas and a few others.
With the addition of the WPP assets, AppNexus became more of a genuine exchange equally serving the needs of buyers and sellers of digital audience impressions.
Separately, for years Sorrell has believed that the current audience measurement system has been sorely lacking, and he has spoken forcefully about the need for a better system, particularly in the digital and cross-screen arenas.
In August of this year, talking to analysts and investors, Sorrell said that he’d like to see Rentrak and comScore “come together” to devise a solution for the “faulty measurement” that exists in the U.S. and other regions. WPP has made investments in both those companies.
Sorrell didn’t specify at the time how he’d like to see the firms come together other than to say that he’d “welcome cooperation of any nature.” By the end of the following month however the two companies were cooperating in about the closest way possible—they announced that they were merging. The pending deal is expected to close in early 2016.
Asked if he was directly involved in bringing the parties together, Sorrell replied, “The answer is probably yes. Did I help orchestrate it? I certainly tried to stimulate it and tried to get [Rentrak CEO] Bill Livek and [comScore CEO] Serge Matta and others together, and thankfully the transaction is now going through.”
That was the easy part, said Sorrell. “Now we have to help them put in place a better media measurement mousetrap in the areas of C+7 versus C+3 and viewability.”
On the latter, Sorrell has called current viewability standards “ludicrous.” And he says that with digital becoming about 25% of the overall market, an adequate viewability standard is “critically important.”
Sorrell is dismissive of critics who suggest it’s a conflict of interest for WPP to own a piece of Rentrak/comScore and AppNexus. The goal with the former is better measurement, pure and simple, he said.
As to AppNexus, “What we’re trying to do is develop a neutral technology platform. Google and Facebook are media companies, certainly as they interface with us. They’re not technology companies. What we’re trying to do is build an agnostic platform, together with AppNexus and Xaxis that does not have the vested interest that Google and Facebook have in DoubleClick and Atlas.”
And while AppNexus isn’t nearly the size of either of the two
“frenemy” platforms, “what we can do is act like a torpedo boat to their aircraft carriers and try and be more agile, more responsive and more focused on our clients’
needs,” said Sorrell. “But certainly working together with AppNexus and Xaxis and our other technology, data and content assets we can be an effective force.”