A mere handful of investors and entrail-rakers turned out to receive the benefit of Sir Martin Sorrell’s opinion during a secondary session at this week’s UBS Warburg Media Week Conference in New York.

Referring to the mildly upbeat assessments of the ad industry’s prospects offered earlier in the conference by Universal McCann’s Robert J Coen and John Perris of Zenith Optimedia [WAMN: 3 & 4-Dec-01], WPP Group chief executive Sorrell told a scant audience: “I don't see the rays of sunshine. We have seen nothing yet to show a reduction in the rate of downturn.”

Sir Martin, still smartin’ from his enforced acquisition last month of Tempus Group for around twice its current market value, may not have discerned sunbeams on his competitors but predicted they would radiate on WPP to produce 15% growth in 2002, 15.5% in 2003 and 20% “in the longer term.”

The strategy that would deliver this feat was to place less focus on advertising and more on the burgeoning opportunities in research, consulting and media.

“This year we are a differentiation business,” said Sorrell, explaining to raised eyebrows among his audience that the wide ranging portfolio of marketing, advertising and research companies owned by WPP are now in the business of creating unique brand identities for their products and services.

This is an essential requirement as companies continue to consolidate, Sorrell believes. But, he assured: “We are still in the advertising business.”

News source: AdAge.com