Thursday 6 December 2018 1:20 am

Sir Martin Sorrell fights hard to remain king of adland

Sir Martin Sorrell channelled his inner Frank Sinatra recently and proclaimed that the success of his new venture S4 Capital would be “the best form of revenge” against WPP. “I want to build the best,” the businessman said of his new advertising outfit, which he previously called a “peanut” in comparison to the global scale of his former employer.

This week S4 Capital agreed to buy the San Francisco ad tech company Mightyhive in a $150m (£117m) deal, Sorrell’s second acquisition since leaving WPP in April following allegations of personal misconduct ­– which he has vehemently denied.

“The peanut (S4) has now morphed into a coconut, and is growing and ripening,” Sorrell said in what seemed to be a veiled threat to the advertising giant he ran for over three decades. Sorrell is on a mission to show who’s king of the ad jungle.


Last night, he told Sky News he is “2-0 up” against WPP, seven months after being “electrocuted” by his former company.

That’s probably because he spent no time licking his wounds after a very public fall from grace. He set up a new firm just weeks after being forced out of WPP and outbid his previous employer in July in a £266m takeover tussle for Dutch digital agency Mediamonks.

The deal pushed WPP’s lawyers into threatening to pull Sorrell’s £20m bonus, saying his move to buy Mediamonks is unlawful because he allegedly used information gathered while he was still at WPP. By September, Sorrell had floated his new venture on the London stock market and in November he nabbed WPP senior exec Michel de Rijk to be boss of S4 Capital’s Asia Pacific operations.

Clients of the likes of Instagram and Tommy Hilfiger are rolling in, while Mediamonks and WPP are locked in a battle to win Braun’s digital business. The ad guru doesn’t shy away from taking swipes at his successor Mark Read, a WPP veteran whose time at the group includes 10 years on its board.

Last month, Sorrell pooh-poohed Read’s decision to consolidate WPP’s healthcare agencies with its larger brands. “That made no sense to me,” he said.

Sorrell is angry and ambitious. He hopes to see S4 Capital generating $300m of revenue “in fairly quick time”. Competing with the scale of WPP requires skill ­– something that Sorrell has in abundance.

After all, he grew a maker of wire shopping baskets into the world’s biggest advertising company. The big question is: Can he do it again?

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