Martin Sorrell buried the lead.
At the tail end of his discussion with Techonomy founder David Kirkpatrick at Techonomy NYC, Sorrell finally said what’s next for him: “I’m going to start again,” he said. “I am not going into voluntary or involuntary retirement. I love the industry.”
Sorrell, who likened his recent departure from WPP to being “extracted,” left the firm under a cloud amid a board investigation into a misconduct allegation. His departure, he said, has given him perspective on the industry and the “problems that legacy companies have.”
Prior to revealing the news about what’s next, Sorrell and Kirkpatrick had a wide-ranging discussion about global issues, technology, and business. Sorrell observed that, among the group of global giants that includes Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook, “Amazon is the real threat, in both advertising and search.”
“These companies have so much power,” he said, “and with that comes great responsibility. But the big question these days for companies like Facebook is: Are they tech companies or media companies?”
Sorrell said he believes they are media companies and are, therefore, responsible for “the content that flows through their pipes.” They get some credit for taking some initiative, but “they have to do more and finally admit they are media companies.”
Sorrell observed that he believes both the U.S. and global economies are in reasonably good shape. “Who would have thought when Trump was elected where the Dow and unemployment, etc., could be? Personal issues aside, getting the tax bill through, simplifying regulations, and aiming at infrastructure have all put the U.S. in a good place for two or three years. When will it first crack? I don’t know yet.”
China is going to be a big player on the global business stage, noted Sorrell. “China is on its way, big time,” he said, “and they are not going to play second fiddle. They are not behind us in tech or anything else, so it’s only a question of time.”
When asked by an audience member about the future of traditional advertising in the digital world, Sorrell said that “being more agile and responsive, and bringing in more technology and data is hard for a legacy company, but the traditional advertising business is capable of reinvention, and it will be.”