Sorrell Castigates False Optimism

31 May 2002

“A lot of media owners have called the turn two or three times in the last year. They've been saying things are improving and they haven't. We haven't seen anything.”

The gloomy assessor of the world advertising scene is Sir Martin Sorrell, ceo of WPP Group, the globe’s largest agency and marketing services conglomerate. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Europe, Sir Martin predicted that the elusive recovery will remain below the horizon for a lot longer than many predict.

There are no ‘miracle cures’ such as the World Cup soccer-fest in Japan and South Korea which kicks-off Friday, he opined. “Some people point to the World Cup but there has been some difficulty selling sponsorship. And the timing is not good. I think the jury's still out there.”

The convalescence will be a “slow and steady climb” rather than v, w or u shaped, believes Sir Martin. “I think 2002 will be better than 2001. Then 2003 will be stronger than that; but I think you will have to wait until 2004 for conditions to really strengthen. No doubt George Bush will want to go to the country with a strong economy and then you've got the Athens Olympic games.”

Sorrell detects “a lot of indecision” among major advertisers when it comes to releasing ad budgets: “I think it's going to be a long, hard road, and it has to be, given the fact that we've had ten years of unprecedented growth in the 1990s. If you're of a biblical frame of mind, you have seven fat years and seven lean ones.”

Sir Martin’s frame of mind may occasionally be biblical. It is, however, more usually inclined to pragmatism. No chief executive ever got fired for predicting hard times for the ad industry at large; and there’s much kudos (plus yet more share options) for those who are proved wrong.

Data sourced from:; additional content by WARC staff