Sorrell: Business leaders should have a say in political debates like the EU referendum

Sir Martin Sorrell reckons CEOs should not be afraid to have an opinion and be in the spotlight, and that businesses can learn a lot about developing internal culture from professional services companies.


Q You are seen on TV more than most CEOs of FTSE 100 companies. Is it important for the public to see CEOs in the spotlight?

I do it because I enjoy it and it’s helpful. It’s important [for a CEO to be seen]; perhaps others disagree. I disagree with those ex-ministers who say that people who run businesses shouldn’t have a view on the EU or Scottish independence. I think we should. You can express a personal view like any other member of the electorate.

The BBC says they want business people on TV to talk about business and then harangues you in one way or another [during the interview] and surprisingly no one wants to go back. I’m willing to have a go.

Q What is the biggest change you have seen in the marketing industry during your career?

The pace of change and activity is much faster; it’s more interesting but more draining.
Geographical changes have been substantial [as has] the shift to fast-growth markets, which are no longer as fast-growth as they used to be but are still faster than the slow-growth markets.

Technology is much more difficult to predict. There isn’t one walled garden but if there were that would be a problem. If all the walled gardens combine that would be problematic – that would limit the range of choice that we have as an agency.

Q Which brands or organisations do you admire?

Professional service companies are outstanding. [Management consultancy] McKinsey & Company has delivered brilliantly and [investment bank] Goldman Sachs has developed [as a company].

They are not grown by acquisition – when they have made acquisitions they have tended to not be good at them – they [have such] strong internal cultures that they reject foreign bodies. They are standards for us, in 30 years time. I hope we can achieve that standard of excellence which they represent.

Q What is your view on…


Search clearly has a connection to sales and returns. You can track through what happens on search; it is an immensely powerful tool. That is why Google is so powerful. We [spent] $4bn (£2.78bn) with [them] last year and it is now our biggest media relationship.

Ad blocking

We have to make sure the work is better, that it’s placed better, isn’t an irritation and is relevant. If all that fails, consumers have to understand that content may cost more as a result. Advertising does perform many useful functions; one of them is to reduce the price of content.


If by programmatic you mean trying to make sure that I see an ad at a time when I am most receptive to that ad, I think it’s laudable. High merits, A+. You can demonstrate how effective that cost is, or make people think it is not a cost [but] an investment.

Read our full interview with Sir Martin Sorrell where he discusses digital, cost-cutting and client-agency relationships.