We don’t acquire companies, we merge with them: Sir Martin Sorrell

S4 Capital Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell spoke to exchange4media about his expansion plans in India with focus on digital, his reasons for staying away from traditional media and more

e4m by Naziya Alvi Rahman
Updated: Nov 22, 2019 10:11 AM



In barely two days in India, Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman of S4 Capital, has announced a merger in Delhi and launched a new office in Mumbai. Besides, he has spoken at events and held a series of client meetings. Now, with that kind of pace and energy at 74, when Sorrell says he is setting up a ‘faster, cheaper and better agency’, brands do believe him.

In less than two years, since he moved out of WPP and started S4 Capital, Sorrell has added brands like Apple, Google, Adidas, Johnson & Johnson, Netflix, Starbucks and Nestle to its kitty.

Ask him if he is particularly trying to poach WPP clients, the veteran responds with a glee: “If WPP has a 50 per cent share in India and I am talking to an Indian client, there is a 50 per cent probability I am talking to one of their clients.”

With his new agency business, Sorrell is determined only to do digital. Despite being someone who understands media business better than most and has experience running into decades, Sorrell feels the traditional media has ‘too much pressure and little profit’.

“Why push a closed door when I can push an open door,” Sorrell says, comparing traditional and digital business. He also took a dig at the long pitching process and the amount of resources and effort it takes.

“When you're pitching and you're also the incumbent - there is one team that is defending the businesses, there is another which is pitching. And after weeks or months of discussions you will have a brief which you argued about, and then it took another month or few in the creative department. They couldn't come up with a decent set of ideas, the client got upset, you had to go back to the drawing board, sometimes you got fired, and sometimes you got another chance.”

“So the new model is a faster, better, cheaper agency model because those normal agencies that you mentioned, don't have the visual model. Yes, and we suffered from that. I mean, I was trying to do it for 33 years,” he added.

Sorrell further called the the processes involved in traditional media “just too slow and cumbersome”. “And there's no point here, the structures are too slow and cumbersome and you can’t change those structures. And each of the six holding companies are part of this system… and the biggest problem about deconstructing some of these empires is that it's very difficult to do because the market is focused on short term results, right?” he added.

Sorrell also spoke about the increasing need for transparency in the business which will help reduce unwanted penalties being imposed on the agencies by the clients for failing to keep their commitments.

“These are not penalties, clients are just enforcing the contract. These are guarantees you give to the client at the time of the contract and there are two leading agencies that are most aggressively doing this to win pitches but eventually giving poor results,” he said.

On Wednesday, Sorrell’s S4Capital announced that its global content practice MediaMonks has conditionally agreed to a merger with Delhi-based content creation and production company, WhiteBalance. The deal, like all S4 Capital's mergers, is 50 per cent cash and 50 per cent S4 Capital stock, which makes the owners into major shareholders, according to Scott Spirit, S4's Chief Growth Officer. With a state-of-the art content studio and in-house film, 3D and post-production talent, WhiteBalance is equipped to produce content from feature films, commercials and documentaries to high-end digital content.

Talking about the merger, Sorrell said he did not believe in acquiring any company but merging it with his own and getting the best of both.

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