Mouse eating peanut

The address: Mark Read’s peanut envy and Martin Sorrell’s sour grapes

WPP's decision to withhold incentives to Martin Sorrell helped obscure S4C's results, in which talk of creativity was lacking

By Jeremy Lee

In case you missed it, Sir Martin Sorrell was banging on about his peanut again last week.

It happened after it was revealed in its annual report that WPP had withheld two final long-term incentive plan payments covering the two years before he exited the company in dramatic circumstances in 2018. WPP said that it was doing so "as a result of [his] disclosure of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director".

The sums involved were relatively trifling to a man who was famously once the highest paid CEO in the FTSE 100 and who trousered more than £200 million in the first half of the last decade (Campaign estimated the disregarded payments to be around the £200,000 mark). It's relatively paltry contribution to his personal wealth was made even more stark when compared to the financial results announced by Sorrell's S4C this week. The business saw like-for-like revenue growth of 35 percent to $169.3 million in the first quarter, while gross profit rose 33 percent to $144.4 million.

But it was still enough to fire up Sorrell's motormouth, accusing WPP of denying him what was his and of "blind rage" being its motivating factor. He told Campaign that the matter was now with his lawyers.

It wasn't a particularly dignified response from a man who should probably know better and whose energies might be better focussed on celebrating and ensuring the continued success of S4C rather than brooding on the past. His company has been a clear beneficiary of the surge in digital media consumption (its 'data and digital media practice' saw a 100 percent increase in revenue) and geographically there was growth in every region.

In its trading update S4C also made a big deal about how it well it was positioned to help advertisers adapt to the death of the third-party cookie, with a particular emphasis on its performance marketing capabilities. So much so that the company was poised to announce it had brought in new "whoppers" (accounts with revenue in excess of $20 million) and was planning more acquisitions (which this master deal-maker now prefers to describe as "mergers").

Sorrell's ambition to transform S4C from a peanut into something more significant (he dared to call it a "coconut" at one point) seems to be progressing. But what was also revealing is that amid all the talk of data, digital transformation, profits and whoppers in its results (and the background noise of withheld WPP payments), the matter of creativity was barely mentioned.

The ongoing spat between Sorrell and WPP does little to enhance the reputation of an industry where creativity and effectiveness, rather than egos, are more important than ever.

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