Newsmakers : An Adman’s Dream Of World Domination Finally Comes True

United Kingdom


Diminutive Sir Martin Sorrell, chairman and chief executive of London-based WPP, has thrown his weight around and emerged at the top of the advertising and media-services world.

Sir Martin realized his lifelong dream of dominating the global advertising sector with the capstone $1.4 billion purchase in September of US-based Grey Global, which for 40 years has been home to the accounts of Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest advertiser.

The combined revenues of WPP and Grey equal those of US-based Omnicom, the world’s biggest advertising company.

Sir Martin built the WPP franchise, with its global agency network spanning more than 100 countries, through a series of high-profile acquisitions in a consolidating industry. Last year WPP snatched up Britain-based advertising agency Cordiant, which owns the prestigious Bates agency.

WPP’s holdings also include such well-known names in advertising as Ogilvy & Mather, J. Walter Thompson and New York City-headquartered Young & Rubicam.

Sir Martin, a consummate dealmaker, no doubt will make the latest acquisition work. His plan is to use economies of scale to double Grey’s margins.

The biggest worry, analysts say, is that Procter & Gamble could slip away, leaving a crown without its jewel. To help make sure this doesn’t happen, Sir Martin has asked Grey founder and chief executive Ed Meyer, 77, to stay at the helm of the US firm for two more years.

Grey’s other important clients include JPMorgan Chase, Hasbro, Mars and Warner Bros.

It’s been a good year for Sir Martin. In May HSBC consolidated its $600 million global account with WPP’s biggest media agency, MindShare. WPP’s strength in the fast-growing Asian region was a key to that big win.

Grey’s broad geographic spread will further strengthen WPP’s market position, Sir Martin says. The additional heft should suit him well.

Gordon Platt