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Sorrell slams WPP management over job losses and brand changes

Sir Martin Sorrell, who founded what is now the world’s largest advertising and PR group, WPP, has slammed the group’s management over its recent restructures and said it is destroying value by merging brands.

“The senior people running WPP have not visited Asia or Latin America once this year with the exception of China,” Sorrell said. “It’s not the way to run a multinational business. If you’re going to make structural changes that result in, according to one of the headlines, losing 7,500 jobs then you have a responsibility to visit those places.”

Sorrell’s comments, made on panel in Mumbai earlier this week, came before WPP’s announcement overnight that flagged a £300m (S$515m) restructuring.

Reflecting on his time since he was ‘electrocuted’ out of WPP’s leadership Sorrell said his successors were destroying value in discarding iconic brands like JWT and Y&R.

“I don’t think creative people are a bunch of bozos you should get rid of. My view was make it ‘Y&R – VML’ make it ‘JWT Wunderman’, that always been my view if you’re going to do that because I do believe in the strength of these brands,” he said.

The merged companies, are instead called Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R.

“They may not be digital and there may be a message that you’re putting digital first but these things still have value and I think the problem with managers is they don’t appreciate it.”

Sorrell also gave an overview of the relative positions of the global holding companies, saying: “I think Publicis moves too fast. Publicis, by the way has the best strategy and the best articulation but the practical implementation of it means you destroy brands.

“I don’t believe that anybody – Saatchis, or Burnett or BBH – basically on a global level those brands are disappearing. If they haven’t disappeared already.

“It’s exactly the same as if you decide to do VML and Y&R or JWT and Wunderman. India is a good test case – as I remember it Wunderman was pretty small in India and JWT is pretty big and pretty famous. Wunderman is certainly less famous.

“If you have people running around India calling it Wunderman instead of Thompson, then you have a problem.

“I was in Argentina and Brazil when they announced VMLY&R and people came up to me – I was in Buenos Aires – and asked ‘Who is VML?’ and I said John Cook is really good and it’s based in Kansas City. This did not go down well in Buenos Aires.

“You have to keep it in context – Young & Rubicon was, and probably still is, the biggest agency in Brazil.

“Publicis in my mind is going too fast. Omnicom doesn’t have a strategy but it has excellent companies, really good companies, so they’re going to have to their trust.

“WPP is sort of stuck somewhere in the middle which is probably a bad place to be that’s where it is.

“Dentsu is best positioned. They are best positioned because if you look back to the three things I mentioned – they have the media thing, they have the data thing and they have the digital thing. Those are three areas.

“The problem is the Japanese.”

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