Seer Sorrell Socks It to the Moneymen

10 December 2008

NEW YORK: What's the appropriate collective noun for the self-serving morons who landed this planet in its current financial mess? An avarice of analysts? A bungle of bankers?

Whatever your preferred term, members of the breed assembled en masse this week in the ballroom of Manhattan's Grand Hyatt Hotel to hearken to the prognostications of adland's elite.

Among the adland nobility assembled for the annual obeisance to investment bankers was Sir Martin Sorrell, begetter and ceo of WPP Group.

The adland knight reiterated to attendees at the UBS Global Media and Communications Conference his concerns for the ad industry in 2009, pointing to the onset of global recession and the rollercoaster rides of the world's stock markets. 

An accountant both by nature and nurture, Sorrell is better equipped than most of his peers to understand the gyrations of financial markets.

Said he: "I do think that the financial markets, which always go down or go up before the real world – of which we are part – will  recover ... by the middle of next year.

"The real world, I don't think will change for the better until 2010. And it will be helped by the fact that comparatives are going to be against a down market."

Given that some 10% of WPP's global revenues derive from the automotive industry – and that its largest client is Ford Motor Company, an attendant haruspex asked how automotive and retail clients in particular are budgeting their marketing dollars for next year?

Sorrell was understandably noncommittal, observing that all client categories are pressured, while auto, retail and travel are under "intense pressure."

His party-piece for dire times, trotted-out on many occasions in the early 90s and again at the turn of the century, was well rehearsed: "Every piece of evidence we find … shows that those [clients] that cut in these times suffer and the costs of getting back to where they were are greater than if they continued to invest. But easier said than done."

And outstaring the assembled economic culprits, Sorrell didn't mince his words.

"You're a voracious bunch. Nobody likes to come before you and say they messed up. And so, there's a lot of fear about and a lot of concern. And people want to try to keep to their promises [to investors] and make their promises in any way they can – even if in the long term it hurts their growth."

Assessing the challenges facing WPP in 2009, Sorrell said a key task will be striking a balance between investing in markets that are growing and cutting back in those that are down. The former comprises China, India and Brazil; the latter includes the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain.

Data sourced from AdWeek (USA); additional content by WARC staff