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MUMBAI: Though the announcement of ad guru and former WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell’s comeback strategy was announced yesterday in faraway London --- a London Stock Exchange notification on Derriston Capital said so --- the excitement was running equally high here at the venue where Zee Melt event was being held. And, why not? Sorrell was scheduled for a live video interaction with delegates at the event in the evening.

But true to his style, Sorrell did not give out any juice to the media and refrained from answering anything particular about his new venture, S4. However, he did have a lot to say about the industry, in general, and India. 

Sorrell thinks that advertising and marketing industry is in a state of flux today and will only bring opportunities for agencies and brands alike. “The discussion is whether the flux is strategic or structural. But, it is clearly a mixture of both. The A&M [advertising and marketing] industry is worth a trillion dollars with $500 billion in traditional media and traditional communication services, and $500 billion in new media,” Sorrell said speaking to the Zee Melt delegates live via CNBC’s London studio.

“There is a clear significant change, whether it is because of Google, Facebook, Accenture, IBM or Deloitte. And this flux will bring opportunities. If you look at the $20 billion in WPP, there are parts of it that are growing and there are parts of it that are flat and parts of it that are declining. It is all about identifying those growth opportunities,” he emphasised, giving a hint at what people may expect from him in future with his new venture, which experts say could be a repeat of the WPP story with a modern-day twist.

For the records, Sorrell is investing $53 million from his own pocket into London Stock Exchange-listed Derriston Capital, a company which will now be remade into S4 Capital, a reference to four generations of Sorrell’s family. While he will become executive chairman in the business that could explore opportunities in technology, data and content, media reports stated institutional investors have pledged 150 million pounds to buy marketing companies --- a way Sorrell-founded WPP grew into a global behemoth with presence in 112 countries.

Coming back to Sorrell-speak for the Mumbai event, the former WPP CEO, ousted on allegations of misconducts about six weeks back, hailed India as being pivotal to WPP growth with 14,000 “talented people”. He noted that India is growing fast in terms of GDP, population and potential.

Pointing out that India, in the near future, will become the most populous country in the world with the youngest profiles, Sir Martin felt that, from a technological point of view, India has leapfrogged a lot of technologies ---such as migrating directly from desktop and normal phones to smartphones. The country has seen huge distribution changes too with and Alibaba entering the market.

On the distribution side, according to him, Mukesh Ambani’s significant investment in telecommunications and technology in Jio mobiles and SIM card has put India on the global map. In short, India represents opportunities and growth in terms of economy and technology. 

Year 2017 saw a lot of shakeup and disruption in the industry. Of these, two iconic events that signaled disruption and structural changes for Sorrell and the industry were Unilever’s hostile takeover bid by Kraft Heinz, proving no company is safe today, and when Rupert Murdoch signaled he would negotiate 21st Century Fox business with The Walt Disney Company. What made this 21CF-Disney deal “more complicated” was the involvement of Comcast.

Holding forth on large agencies and groups owning them, Sorrell felt that that such corporate houses have a “legacy associated with them” and come with a lot of backlog and challenges. When you have a legacy company, the business becomes more of a challenge with time as compared to when you start with a clean sheet, he said. Probably, his new venture S4 will give him and the company an opportunity to build afresh taking into account the changes taking place at client’s end and new structures and approaches that clients want.

According to Sorrell, a major shakeup in the media industry today has been the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an EU-mandated law on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA). It also addressed the export of personal data outside the EU and EEA.

The GDPR primarily aims at giving control to citizens and residents over their personal data and simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the norms within the EU. Sorrell thinks these were early days to assess the impact of GDPR, but from what he’s heard Facebook’s ad sales revenue has remained un-impacted even after the news of Cambridge Analytica. He is also of the opinion that GDPR in early stages seems to favour technology giants as “we have seen smaller or media tech companies withdraw from European market rather than compete”. 

He ended the session by applauding the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for making a significant impact on the Indian economy, although the momentum has slowed down due to GST rollout and after-effects of demonetisation along with other factors. Pointing out that India’s economy will continue to grow and will continue to attract big brands and agencies to put their money in the country, Sorrell concluded, “I continue to be an unashamed, raging India bull and confident that the Indian economy will regain momentum soon.”

Meanwhile, reporting on Sorrell’s new venture in detail Reuters said Derriston Capital is a little-known two-year-old listed shell company set up to invest in medical technology.

Over 30 years ago Sorrell built WPP into a company with 200,000 staff in 112 countries by adding market research groups, media buyers, and public relations firms such as Finsbury. Worth 16 billion pounds, WPP returned millions to shareholders, including its CEO, and dominated the industry for decades. According to Thomson Reuters data, Sorrell is still the eighth biggest investor in WPP, with a 1.4 percent stake.

The Reuters story further stated that Sorrell had vowed to break down the barriers at WPP to make it easier for clients to get all the services they needed from a small team, rather than from a range of people among the more than 400 agencies it owned. WPP competes with US groups Omnicom and IPG, France's Publicis and Japan's Dentsu, while thousands of small independent companies provide everything from ads for mobile phones to creative work and data analytics.

Also Read :

WPP board begins investigation of its CEO Sir Martin Sorrel, says WSJ

Sir Martin Sorrell says ta-ta to WPP, Roberto Quarta becomes exec chairman

Martin Sorrell bullish on India

TAM or BARC, the market has to decide: Sir Martin Sorrell

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