As Adland Enters A New Era, An Apology To Sir Martin Sorrell

As WPP announced a decline in revenue for the third quarter last week and laid out plans to sell off a majority stake in Kantar, all eyes are now firmly on what Mark Read will do next with what was, until recently, the world's largest advertising holding group.

In commenting on what these next steps might be, I wrongly suggested in Friday's London Blog ("What Next For Sorrell's Train Set?") that Sir Martin Sorrell had been guilty of misusing funds at WPP over a period of time. It was a mistake and I would like to now acknowledge that he has never been accused of this, and point out that he left as the company as a good leaver. It was an error that I apologise for.

His departure was a rare moment when an advertising company was constantly in the business pages with much speculation surrounding the investigation and why -- despite WPP reporting nothing came out of it -- he chose to resign. 

Amid the speculation, however, what we can discern is that Sorrell is not being held back by a non-compete clause in his leaving settlement. It means we now have a compelling story of the man who built up WPP now building up a new advertising business that will inevitably find itself regularly pitching against WPP. We have already seen this with S4C's purchase of MediaMonks, which is now going toe-to-toe with WPP for the first time in an international pitch for Braun.

Campaign points out that it is not known whether WPP's Possible and S4C's MediaMonks are the only agencies involved in the battle for the P&G brand's digital account. Hence, the competition could lead to another agency being appointed. But at some stage, it is almost certain that MediaMonks and a WPP agency will win business from one another -- it's the nature of shifting advertising relationships. 

Not only are we now entering a period where Sir Martin's new company will be taking on WPP -- we will also see who will bid for a majority stake in Kantar. As The Drum points out, WPP doesn't have much of a history in disposals. It's a little like a sports team selling off a player because it either makes it appear that they weren't the right choice in the first place or you risk a fabulous talent aiding a rival. 

There are obviously other holding groups that may be interested in taking on a research firm, like Kantar, but there is also the potential for a consultancy to snap up the company, adding a research arm to the tech and digital transformation capabilities they lead with. 

It's an interesting time ahead, then, as WPP breaks with tradition to add a disposal to the mergers we have already been seeing and finds itself competing with its founder for new business.

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