WPP Group CEO Urges Traditional Media

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Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group, urged traditional media companies to engage with WPP and it’s clients.

“I’ve said this since we started, we should walk with media editors in exactly the same way as we walk with the clients,” Sorrell said via live streaming video from London during the Tuesday morning keynote. WPP’s biggest clients include Ford, Unilever, P&G, Nestle and Volkswagen.

Google, Facebook and Snapchat all engage with WPP on a plan for the coming year, Sorrell said “We sit down with them before the beginning of the year and we have a business plan with them, based on what we did last year. We do not do this with traditional media owners.”

Sorrell also urged publishers to be more aggressive with WPP’s clients and more flexible with their own businesses, even if it makes them uncomfortable. “Make sure your traditional business are moving fast enough, your digital businesses are experimenting and be very aggressive in your communications to our clients,” he said. “You don’t do enough of it, you don’t make the case.”

Sorrell’s advice: “You have to push your existing business, push your digital business and be prepared to eat your own child because, if you don’t, someone else will.”

Digital is 40 percent of WPP’s business, Sorrell says, noting that 15 years ago it was zero. “Fifty percent of our revenue didn’t exist 15 years ago,” said Sorrell, who started WWP Group 31 years ago. The company is now a $30 billion global communication services agency.

Sorrell urged publishers to look at a presentation about Internet trends from Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers’ Mary Meeker. One of the slides highlights the difference between the time U.S. consumers spend with a media versus the money industry spends on that media. Two areas that appear to be particularly off-kilter, he said, are traditional analog newspapers (4 percent vs. 18 percent) and mobile (24 percent vs. 8 percent).

“Since January of this year, we have seen significant declines in ad spending in traditional newspapers,” Sorrell said, noting UK circulation is down by 8 percent and ad spending is down by 15-16 percent across the board.

“You should be looking at the disrupters, the Ubers and Airbnbs of the news industry,” Sorrell said, adding that four years ago when WPP Group bought a 10 percent stake in Vice everyone said they were crazy because millennials aren’t interested in news. “Millennials are just as interested in news as you or me,” he said. “They are just interested in a different style, a different way of reaching them, and a different execution.”

In regards to branded or sponsored content, Sorrell told the audience “get off your high horse and be flexible about it.” As long as you are clearly labeling it, there is nothing wrong with it.

Sorrell urged traditional media to take three actions:

  • Make your traditional business as efficient as possible.
  • Look at what you can charge and what you are charging, and change the model.
  • Develop digital alternatives.

Paywalls are critical, Sorrell said. “You can’t charge consumers for content they don’t value, but you can do the reverse.”


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