No Media For Old Men? Sorrell Comeback Priorities Are Tech, Data And Content

Sorell is back. That's the only topic of conversation in adland today. Just six weeks after leaving WPP under a cloud over an accusation of misusing funds, Sir Martin is due to announce plans later today or tomorrow that his comeback is to be made via a cash shell company Derriston Capital, soon to be named S4 Capital.

Apparently, Sir Martin wants to acknowledge the four generations of Sorrells in business, but I suspect this will be the only nostalgic act regarding the comeback. He is expected to announce that he has put in GBP40m of his own money in addition to GBP150m raised from investors. That gives a war chest of GBP190m, and counting, to show WPP exactly what it's missing. 

The intention is to build up another holding group of agencies, which, in Sorrell's view, are focussed on growth. 

The headlines are full of excitement about the comeback everyone was expecting, although perhaps not so soon. The most interesting part for me is the areas Sorrell picked out as representing the biggest opportunities -- technology, data and content. 

It won't take the most eagle-eyed observer to notice that what he hasn't picked out there is ownership of a massive media agency and trading desk. It could be a slip and it could be assumed to be a part of "tech," but there is no mention of media, other than content in his short pre-announcement ahead of the formal launch later today or tomorrow. 

It wouldn't come as a major surprise that Sorrell wants to focus on tech, data and content rather than media buying. From what one hears from the coal face, media has become a trudge through spreadsheets with huge agencies being bashed by major brands to keep on slashing costs. The point made in return is that a media agency can never predict what its costs will be next month, let alone in three years' time. Not that the deal will last that long, it will be almost certainly reviewed at least halfway through and possibly moved to another home. 

The reliance on tech and data is interesting, as it is obviously the intersection of programmatic, either through an agency model or perhaps even giving brands a self-service platform to do it for themselves. Taking programmatic in-house is a massive trend which the majority of marketers have done so partly already, or intend to.

And getting out a brand's message in content makes perfect sense too -- no doubt through native direct deals, perhaps a native network backed up by social support. 

Don't know about you, but it looks like Sorrell is starting refreshed, relieved of the massive responsibilities and legacies of a holding company that has been pieced together over decades. 

One can almost hear the rustling of papers across the capital as anyone in tech, digital and content prepares to make themselves appear very purchasable -- if such a word exists. There is a fund of GBP190m, and counting, looking to buy agencies to allow Sorrell to prove he still knows what it takes to build up a group, even from scratch. 

The numbers game of bidding for mega media contracts that never run their course and make the big players take a predictive punt on prices further down the line appears to be a fight that Sorrell is side-stepping, at least for now.

Expect a lot of announcements around lean, digital transformation and smart data plays that allow the right message to get in front of the right person at the right time; be that an ad or a piece of native content. 

If I were to make a prediction right now, I'd say Sorrell will go for the tools that allow advertisers to hold the big agency groups to account while building up the programmatic network, perhaps a self-service network, that will allow them to ultimately chart their own course.

It's funny because they say the son normally slays the father. Sorrell would appear to hope the opposite can be true.

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