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Sir Martin Sorrell: ‘Exceptional human talent just as important as AI for commercial success’

WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell has said human beings will outwit artificial intelligence in marketing despite the “impressive advances” in technology.

The chief executive officer of the world’s largest advertising company said the bulk of WPP’s work goes “beyond the capability of even the most sophisticated algorithm – and will be for many, many years to come”.

His comments came as part of a statement issued following WPP’s annual general meeting. According to the AGM update, WPP’s revenue for the first four months of 2017 rose by 15.9 per cent to £4.846bn (AU$8.3bn).

In Asia, all markets except Greater China, Malaysia and Singapore were said to have grown, while the group’s media investment management, public relations and public affairs and healthcare businesses had “improved strongly” in China.

He said: “Let me dig a little deeper into the results that we announce today; not just the numbers, pleasing though they are, but rather into the nature of those numbers and how they have been achieved. And I am prompted to do so by the continued and impressive advances of artificial intelligence and the publicity and the speculation that such advances increasingly attract.

“Most of the Group’s companies already make profitable use of artificial intelligence. Wherever modern technology can perform complex tasks with speed and accuracy, WPP companies are quick to embrace it. That process will undoubtedly continue. But much of the most valuable work that WPP undertakes on behalf of our clients is work that is beyond the capability of even the most sophisticated algorithm – and will be for many, many years to come.

“In the design of brands, in the positioning of brands, in the building of brands, in the maintenance of brands – yes, hard, research-based facts are of course essential. But at least as important for continued commercial success is an intuitive understanding of human nature and how best to engage it. And for that you need human beings of exceptional talent.”

During the AGM, WPP shareholders sought to increase the pressure on the company to identify a successor to the 72-year-old Sorrell over fears his exit could destabilise the global advertising empire he has built.

Major shareholders Standard Life and Royal London, are said to have demanded more progress towards a “post-Sorrell future”.

More that a fifth of the company’s investors are also said to have voted against Sorrell’s £48m (AU$82m) pay package, following moves to tighten the CEO’s contentious salary and dividend, which has saw him make £210m (AU$360m) in the past five years.

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