Went to see a talk by Sir Martin Sorrell in Queens College this evening. He may seem like a strange subject to start my blog with, but as basically the most important man in advertising and head of the WPP group, with 150,000 staff working for him around the world, he seemed like he’d have some pretty interesting things to say. Luckily for me, he did. He’s the chap behind the title for this post and he’s a very cool geezer indeed (even if he is from the other place), just look at his stern ‘business’ face:
Of course he’s very self assured but he’s also a man whose had a really interesting life, getting a 2:2 at Cambridge only to go straight onto Harvard Business School to do an MBA, going on to then work in consulting, brushing shoulders with fellow alumni like the Saatchi brothers, finding his way into advertising as he says ‘through pure serendipity’, but I suspect, intelligence and hard work came in somewhere along the way.
To be honest, his insights into the world of advertising both past and present were fascinating. Where he saw the future of world markets going only affirmed for me what I had been thinking for a long time, but it’s also a pretty scary concept. Currently 35% of WPP is based in new world markets, the largest being China and this only looks to increase as we experience further a horizontal power shift to the east. Its great to see UK based companies competing in these new markets, but personally I think it really hits home about how our reliance on the English language is no longer good enough. Soon we’ll be working for these eastern nations, not vice versa and any attempt to educate ourselves about these cultures and their languages can only be advantageous (time to start learning mandarin?!). It is reassuring to know that western companies are foreseeing this power shift (and major shift it will be) and combating it by embracing these new markets (WPP is the market leader in both India and China, having five to one coverage in comparison to the next biggest companies) but what I also found really inspirational was the statistic that currently WPP’s gender demographic is completely 50/50. Not only is the company recognising new world markets, but also utilising the best of what each gender has to offer and their strengths, Sir Martin frankly admitting that women were actually ‘better communicators’ often than their male counterparts when it came to clients. Obviously there will be exceptions to this, but its wonderful to see women’s contributions recognised in this highly competitive market.
His opinions upon new media were also insightful. Describing technology companies such as Google and Microsoft as ‘media companies in disguise’ he talked in detail about the ethical challenges facing the advertising world in the future. Do we want a car advert to pop up if we talk about how we wouldn’t mind a new model on Facebook? Of course not. But then is it right for google to create algorithms which also try to do the same thing, and ones which no-one really knows how they’re designed? Questionable.
The best thing I took away from the talk though, was this, ‘you are only as good as your last idea’. A concept which appeals to me, even if only because it terrifies me slightly. Creativity is a skill, which needs to be practised and maintained in order to keep it sharp. So, blog, you are my new creative gym, my ‘last idea’ if you will. Don’t let me down.
Lots of love,