The article below was published in yesterday’s Observer, alongside a big profile of Sir Martin Sorrell. My piece hasn’t been published online, so I’m reprinting it here. To read the profile online, click here.
Sir Martin Sorrell’s accomplishments are nothing less that stunning. In PR terms, he is a cool, assured and effortless communicator. As we say in the business, he has “the stuff” and his comfortable media persona never seems to falter.
He has impeccable timing and, even with a British accent, has the knack of setting the media business agenda across the globe. As WPP “capo di tutti capi ” he takes the lead and is willing to place himself front and centre as an uber-ambassador for an empire that does not always inspire confidence.
Selling a smorgasbord of agencies (some better than others) to a global client hasn’t been easy. The vision of good business, as seen through the WPP prism, has been a clever refraction. Sorrell could teach BP’s Tony Hayward a few tricks.
Martin is legendarily ruthless and his business energy is boundless, making him something of an unlikely role model for the Saga generation. I defy anyone to find the Sorrell off switch. In the movie Thank You For Smoking, a power broker is asked: “When do you sleep?”. The character fires back: “Sundays!” This is very much the Martin Sorrell model.
In a past career as a theatre publicist, Martin was on my first night Sleb invite list. He turned up to the opening night of Jackie Mason’s West End season and I vividly remember a guest cornering him and telling him what a great job he’d done with his business, emphasising, phlegmatically and without satirical intent, how he really loved The Rock and The Hardy Boys, but that his kids had gone off it now and were more into spiky hair, hoodies, Slipknot logos and alienated angst. I explained to the hapless punter that Martin was the chairman WPP, not WWF. Martin took it completely in his stride.
Love him or loathe him, Martin Sorrell’s ruthless endeavour is hard to match. Hotshot start-ups trying to conjure hip corporate identities should also remember there is a something truly cool about creating an empire named after a wire plastic product manufacturer. Even if, occasionally, it gets confused with wrestling…