I had first heard of him in my mass communication school in 2001. Interestingly, the classroom discussion was on his views on slowdown in the US impacting markets such as Europe, Asia and Latin America and we needed to give our perspective of what that meant. When I think of some of the answers we had given at the time, I cannot help but smile on our ignorance of the global communications industry. Needless to say, when I had my first face-to-face interaction with Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP in November 2005, I was well aware of the icon I was meeting (and hence I was also a bundle of nerves). I didn’t speak in that conversation at all --- just absorbed as much as I could, as my editor posed various questions to Sorrell and Sorrell had answers of which half I understood and half I either searched or spoke to people later to fully understand how he viewed the advertising and marketing business.
The first time I saw him speak on stage was at a WPP gathering at Martinez at Cannes, during the Cannes Lions Advertising Festival in June 2006. The session had speakers from WPP’s top management, where they all had 7-minutes to present – Sorrell presented his views on agencies and advertisers. The WPP-ites were loving it, I was loving it and I recall clients from India at Cannes that year, who were speaking of his presentation for the rest of the week.
In years that followed, Sorrell became a regular feature at Cannes Lions. He has been speaking at many forums with varied audience across markets but this year, many from India had opportunities to see him speak literally every two/three months – he was at FICCI Frames in March, Cannes again in June and then the Spikes Debate last week. And though it was the third time I saw him on stage in the last seven months, I could not say ‘he was making the same points there as well’. There are pet points such as role of procurement, agency-advertiser relation or digital spends of advertisers that Sorrell has when he has clients on his panel, but he is never repetitive and he always has something new and relevant to discuss. That is perhaps one reason that of Sorrell was making a presentation tomorrow again, I would still look forward to it.
Sorrell is as comfortable in being aggressive as a Speaker to as he is in becoming tactful when he firing away his queries at clients. His sense of humour and quick response never leaves him and even though the Cannes or Spikes debates were hardly ‘debates’, the discussion kept people like me hooked.
When I was hearing him at Spikes last week, I found myself comparing him to the host of speakers that we see in India, across the various exchange4media events. I don’t know if Speakers realise this but audiences know in seconds when a speaker hasn’t bothered to prepare before getting on stage. In some instances, for some people, it is alright and ignored, but in most cases, it is not. An unprepared speaker leaves behind a bad after-taste of sorts for those who are hungry for knowledge, and hence attending the session in the first place. Those people have struck off the speaker mentally already...
When someone such as Sorrell can take his role on the stage so seriously, without time or other priorities coming in the way, why can’t other officials. True, to each his own, but do speakers realise that it is not just their roles in their respective companies that makes their session sought after, but the reputation they have created in events and such platforms over the years also matters. I will not include agencies or advertisers here right now but from the media owner side of the industry, there are examples such as Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network or Raj Nayak, CEO, Aidem or Maheshwar Peri, President, Outlook Group or Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City whose sessions are underlined and ticked in agendas. It has happened because someone heard them somewhere in the past and the pain they took to prepare, showed.
They command respect from audience because they respected the audience first.