Staff Reporters
Apr 16, 2018

Sorrell speaks: On toothpaste, egg-smashing, Maurice Levy, Asia, beancounters and more

Martin Sorrell was known for 'giving good quote' (as journalists say). Here are some of our favourites from chats with Campaign over the years.

Sorrell speaks: On toothpaste, egg-smashing, Maurice Levy, Asia, beancounters and more

As the industry digests the abrupt departure of longtime WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell, we trawled through our archives for the most colourful comments the polarising figure made to Campaign over the years. (Our UK colleagues have compiled their own list, which includes some of the quotes below, plus some that they heard directly over the years. See "Sorrell on Sorrell: ex-WPP chief in his own words").  

An extended metaphor about omelets and intregation
Source: 2016 Atifa Silk interview

We have not done enough on integration. Publicis has done it out of panic, and I think we’ve seen a severe deterioration of their brand. While it is true that to make an omelette you have to break eggs, you can do too much violent egg smashing. I guess that happens, particularly if your retirement day is looming and you want to try and get something done before it. It’s your poor successor that will have to deal with it and pick up the eggshells, which have been mixed up with the yolks and the whites of the eggs. You end up with an omelette that has bits of eggshell in it—not particularly tasty. I favour a more gentle route: evolutionary, not revolutionary. But that doesn’t mean that we have a lot of time to get it done. So, in a funny way, I would agree with the objective, but not the execution.

On humility and the aborted Publicis-Omnicom merger
Source: 2014 news story on the merger's dissolution

We would have loved for it to have gone on for longer, but there will be further disruptions as a result of this decision. When an event like that happens it raises a lot of questions and causes a lot of turmoil. So far there also hasn't been a great amount of humility being shown by either party.

On toothpaste, and the nature of WPP
Source: 2014 appearance at Campaign Asia-Pacific's Media360Asia confernence

What we've done is recreate the full-service agency of the 1960s and 70s, just in a different form across WPP. You're not going to get the toothpaste back in the tube. The media groups have been established and they've set a course impossible to go back on.

A not-yet-correct prediction on the future of certain holding companies
Source: 2016 Atifa Silk interview

My bet would be that IPG and Havas will get consolidated. I can’t see that staying as it is because the pressures in the system are just too great. I think the big six will be four. I don’t see IPG and Havas having independent lives long term.

On the obsessions of Maurice Levy
Source: 2015 video interview with Campaign UK

It is in the nature of some people to pinch. ... [Levy] just found it very difficult to get over the fact that he blew up on POG [the failed Publicis-Omnicom merger]. I think over time, what has eaten away at him, and continues to do so, is when he loses out. He lost out on Cordiant [acquisition in 2013], he lost out on Y&R [acquisition in 2000], and I think he obssesses about that. I think he should obssess about the reasons why he failed on POG [last year], and the reasons why he failed on POG is because he didn't treat [Omnicom's chief executive] John Wren with sufficient respect. It's as simple as that.

On 'Mad Men' versus 'Maths Men'
Source: 2013 appearance at Campaign Asia-Pacific's Media360 conference

We find it uncomfortable that it's moved from the days of 'Mad Men' to the era of 'Maths Men'. We in our industry have to find new ways of engaging with clients and developing new revenue streams and approaches.

On his affinity for Asia
Source: 2011 Atifa Silk interview

I just like coming here to Asia. I’m in Phuket now for Stream Asia. Although it was a 25-hour plane journey to get here, it’s enjoyable. Everybody smiles. They’re very enthusiastic, bright, clever, resourceful and interesting. We have a really good time. It’s nice to come to a part of the world where people smile instead of scowl.

The US-based agencies are blessed with a 300 million-people market. They’ve always had the biggest market in the world on their doorstep, so their need to expand to other parts of the world was not as great as when you start a wire basket manufacturer in the UK 25 years ago. Having said that, I must say the Americans probably would prefer to be playing golf in Long Island on the weekend, instead of being in Phuket with our clients, media owners and colleagues at Stream. I know where I would rather be.

On beancounters and creativity
Source: 2014 opinion column he wrote for Campaign 

...In a slower-growth world, the qualitative disciplines of marketing have lost corporate power and influence to the quantitative disciplines of finance and procurement. Clients’ quarterly numbers are often being achieved by a one-eyed focus on cost-cutting, without the balance provided by a corresponding focus on innovation, R&D and brand-building. The left brain is overpowering the right (what irony that it takes a beancounter like me to point this out).

On Asian talent
Source: 2011 Atifa Silk interview

Our view, as you well know, is that for our businesses to be strong they have to be led by nationals. That is increasingly the case in China. That is increasingly the case in India, and in most of our Asian operations. Sometimes it is true that Western-based multinationals like to deal with ex-Western-based expats. But generally that is not the case. ... Our view is quite clearly that for our businesses to be successful, or to continue to be successful, we have to make sure they’re run by national talent.

On the real threat to MNCs
Source: 2016 Atifa Silk interview

The real competitors to our clients are not the multinationals themselves, so it’s not P&G vs Unilever or Nestlé, it’s the local companies. These companies have started to build big positions.

On the threat of consultancies
Source: 2016 Atifa Silk interview

The threat of consultancies has been there since the late ’80s. But certainly the tech-based consultancies or consulting companies that have a high-tech component are becoming more significant. They look at the business differently; they look at the CTOs and the CIOs. Their average transaction size is massive; they look for projects in the billions of dollars, not millions. And their attitude to the business is very different.

On China, India and teeth
Source: 2009 interview

Even if growth slows in China or India, it’ll still be 7 to 9%. We would give our eye teeth for that in Western Europe in the face of the subprime crisis, the insurance and online crisis, and the associated impact on banks, financial institutions and the real world.

On algorithms and mountainous margins
Source: 2014 opinion column he wrote for Campaign 

We have to engage with our clients to articulate more effectively the long-term value of what we do and to move the debate to the creative strengths of our people – whether they are in advertising, media, data, public relations, public affairs, branding and identity, healthcare or digital. Unless we do, we will be forever dogged by a focus on our costs, while the likes of Google and Facebook, with little or no transparency (remind me again how those algorithms work?), continue to enjoy operating margins at Himalayan heights.

On when management changes are necessary
Source: 2011 Atifa Silk interview (responding to a question about selling back acquired businesses)

I think if you have a problem with a services business, the worst that you can do is put up a ‘for sale’ sign on it. The instant you put a sale sign over a services business you immediately reduce its value by 20 per cent to 30 per cent. Obviously, there are the challenges of new media or new markets or consumer insights or data, which is about the adoption of technology (and where we differ with our competition on the importance of that). But, if you’ve got a problem with the business you change the management.

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