Don’t Expect ‘Owt For Nowt,’ WPP’s Sorrell Tells Advertisers

13 November 2002

[English translation for non-Yorkist readers: for ‘’Owt’ read ‘Anything’; for ‘Nowt’ read ‘Nothing’.]

Using as his pulpit Wednesday’s Financial Times, WPP Group ceo Sir Martin Sorrell not only served notice on advertisers that the days of ideas-for-free are over, he also urged they should broaden their focus from discipline-led marketing to a concept-led approach.

Clients and agencies alike, he argues, tend to focus on individual marketing disciplines rather than the bigger picture. “Visit a direct marketing agency with any business problem and the solution, however fine, will involve direct marketing. Take the same problem to an ad agency and it would involve 30-second TV spots. For PR, design, sales promotion and so on, people redefine every problem in terms of their proposed solution.”

“Smart people,” Sorrell continues, recognize that the end is more important than the means: “[They] haven't forgotten that Orange was a design triumph before it was an advertising one, or that Nike was, first and foremost, a showcase for sponsorship. They focus on the ends and are fabulously disinterested in the means. They are discipline neutral,” he says.

Then comes the commercial. WPP, of course, has already started to address the problem by training staff to understand disciplines other than their own and hiring co-ordinators to ensure a multi-disciplinary approach.

But such discipline-neutral advice is often offered gratis and as the cash-conscious savant points out: “No one really values what they are given for free.” But WPP doesn’t expect to be paid more for such guidance. “ I'm not saying we're underpaid – I’m saying we're mis-paid,” Sorrell insists.

Clients must accept some blame for the focus on execution rather than ideas. “In the absence of structures to encourage media neutrality, many clients’ briefs to agencies just assume that any solution will be advertising-led, while budgets for different disciplines are set inflexibly and based on little more than habit,” he opines.

The underlying reason, Sorrell believes, is the rarity of absolute marketing authority within client organizations. “It isn’t common to meet one person … who can say: ‘If you want someone with total control, understanding and influence over all marketing expenditure here, you just speak to me’.”

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff