Sir Martin Sorrell Moves the Needle

As we have commented numerous times before these are not the happiest of times for many in the media agency community.

The network agencies stand accused of having lost the trust of their advertisers; of not doing enough to simplify the online media buying process; of putting their own interests ahead of their clients; and on and on.

We all know the consequences of this lack of trust – the vast number of accounts in review out of the US; and the ANA investigation are both connected to the whole sorry mess.

It is alleged that many of the network media agencies tell their planners that regardless of client, circumstance or need they should allocate a minimum set % of every client budget into online media forms, presumably because Mary Meeker says they should.

Heaven forfend that the thought behind this has anything at all to do with the opportunities open to earn additional margin via trading desks, kick-back deals with adtech vendors and the rest.

The fact is that regardless of the reasons, or even if some of the more lurid accusations are even true, more and more advertisers are questioning the efficacy of online advertising, and doubting their agency’s motives in recommending its use.

Which brings us – at last – to Sir Martin Sorrell.

WPP-watchers will know of the Group’s love of all things online and digital. Companies have been acquired, technology businesses (oh, all right trading desks) have been set up, millions of posts and articles written. And with merit; the internet doesn’t only change the media world, it changes everything.

Yet here was Sir M quoted in ‘The Guardian’: “The measurement hurdle for offline [media] may be too high and online too low. At the same time, newspaper engagement data in Canada, Australia and the UK suggests that the quality of consumer engagement may be better than people think. All this suggests that traditional media, including newspapers and magazines, may be in a better position to offer better value than we thought.”

I wonder who ‘we’ and ‘people’ are?

Surely not all those WPP strategists, planners, researchers, econometricians all of whom are charged with thinking about, planning, creating, and measuring the way in which consumers respond to advertising on the plethora of channels out there.

And is it really a measurement issue? Are there creatives out there pausing before they consider whether or not to commit their mould-breaking creative thought to film to ask themselves if they really believe all this BARB/Nielsen stuff?

Certainly the audience measurement world is not perfect, which is why it’s such a shame that as the audience measurement community gathers for the annual asi event no-one from GroupM has felt able to come along to take part in the debate on how the industry can best evolve to meet the needs of its primary users, the media buyers.

The truth of course is that all the evidence points to the fact that when it comes to effective communications planning a mix generally works best. Consumers consume numerous channels, online, offline and if there were such a thing through-the-line. They use different channels at different times for different things.

Swinging budgets around this way and that on a measurement whim, or even on a self-interested improve-the-margin whim is not necessarily in the best interests of the client.

Of course Sir Martin (who is a master at using the press to his own best advantage) might have sniffed the wind and decided that it might be wise to focus a little less on the online world, with all of its association with fraud, bots, misaligned trading desks and the rest and shift the centre of gravity just slightly towards calmer waters.

Mind you he’s not getting his own way with the ANA. Sir Martin may think it ‘regrettable’ that the ANA is going ahead without the involvement of the agency trade body, but surely if you’re keen to get to the bottom of what’s going on, for the benefit of your members it’s best not to have any vested interests involved.



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