David Reviews

 Biting the hand that feeds us since 2002.

SORRELL DILEMMA.
16 April 2018

Claire Beale, writing in Campaign, urges those celebrating the fall of Martin Sorrell "to be careful what they wish for", while only the use of the present tense in this tribute from The Drum's Stephen Lepitak - a notable cheerleader for the WPP chief - indicates that Sorrell has not met a different kind of end: "Sir Martin is what most in the industry aspire to be; he's a rock star. He's a headline act that people gossip and whisper about and few will ever successfully emulate. He can digest mainstream news and crunch what it means for the business world instantly. He could have a twinkle in his eye or a furrow in his brow within the same minute and he is always three steps ahead."

These are not words one would expect to see written about a man who has, ostensibly, resigned because of a scandal.

The national press have had their say too. In The Guardian, Havas's former chief executive David Jones predicts that Sorrell's fall "may be the beginning of the end for [the ad] industry".

If true, that's not just bad news for WPP and the advertising industry as a whole, it's bad news for Sorrell too, because - according to the Financial Times's Andrew Hill, "the real test of Sir Martin's legacy will be the durability of the structure he oversaw, without him to oversee it."


It's strange that none of these commentators are asking what it was that finally persuaded Sorrell to release this vice-like grip.

 ”

Lucy Burton in the Telegraph reminds us that Sorrell once said he wouldn't leave advertising giant WPP "until they carry me out of the glue factory" which is both a typically defiant note from a man who was clearly determined to cling to power no matter what it took... and a reminder of his loose understanding of idiomatic language - you're not carried out of the glue factory, you're carried into it.

It's strange that none of these commentators are asking what it was that finally persuaded Sorrell to release this vice-like grip. Plainly, it has something to do with the allegations of 'personal misconduct' and 'misuse of company assets' by Sorrell but many appear to be assuming that the investigation merely provided a handy pretext for a coup d'etat which has been keenly awaited by actors within WPP unhappy with what Mark Sweney of The Guardian describes as the company's "Sorrellcentricity".


Sorrell once said he wouldn’t leave advertising giant WPP 'until they carry me out of the glue factory'.

 ”

Others have suggested - off the record - that Sorrell himself has decided it's time to cash in his chips. When he observes in his statement that his "family has expanded recently," he's being quite literal as, less than two years ago, at the age of 71, he became a father again. That, combined with a bleak outlook for the advertising industry in general and for WPP in particular, may have persuaded him that it was a good moment to take his leave.

These competing theories ignore the wisdom of Occam's razor, the philosophical principle which reminds us that we should sometimes back the most obvious answer.

With that in mind, it's useful to remind ourselves that we know nothing about the accusations of 'personal misconduct' and 'misuse of company assets' that he faced.

In WPP's statement they say that Sorrell's departure marks the end of the investigation, and that it "did not involve amounts that are material".

But, as Adweek have rightly pointed out: "the statement did not address whether those amounts and the allegations of misconduct were separate matters." Is WPP's press release designed to gloss over the seriousness of a non-financial allegation?

With both Sorrell and WPP hopeful that our curiosity will be sated by their statement, and with most of the press apparently content to let the matter lie there, it seems unlikely we'll ever discover what - if anything - has been swept under the carpet. But the suspicion lurks that it was something of sufficient gravity to force Sorrell to walk down a plank he has always said he would need to be dragged down.

It also makes it a vanishingly small possibility that we'll see any kind of comeback. Having interviewed him on multiple occasions, Stephen Lepitak is probably closer to Sorrell than any other journalist, but when he asserts in a tweet that he can "guarantee that [Sorrell] is far from done" we suspect his admiration is clouding his perspective. It's time to warm up the boiler at the glue factory.

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David Reviews - Lovely Lenzie Ltd, Woodbourne House, Seven Sisters, Lenzie, G66 3AW. Telephone: +44 141 776 7766. Editor: Jason Stone.