Written by Dan George
As the saying goes, it’s one thing getting to the top but staying there is another thing entirely. And few have shown greater sticking power than Sir Martin Sorrell, whose 33 years at the helm of WPP beats even the great Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure at the world’s richest football club.
But all good things must come to an end. And just as Manchester United have found it difficult to adapt to the post-Fergie era, WPP must now brace itself for its own era of transition.
The most likely outcome is a period of restructuring, brought on not only by the departure of Sir Martin, but also slowing organic growth, intensified competition from the management consultancies and customer demand for a more nimble and flexible approach to solving their problems.
Now, I don’t expect this to be the end to the conglomerate model. But that doesn’t make it any less significant. With the likelihood of a less certain hand on the tiller, brands have been presented with a golden opportunity to have a say in the direction of the consultancies at their disposal.
So now is the time for them to demand more from their agencies, all across the marketing mix. They should ask for more: more accountability, more transparency (particularly in light of consumers’ concerns over marketers’ use of their data) and, most importantly, more focus on achieving results that boost the bottom line.
That last one is crucial. After all, much has been made of JD Wetherspoon closing its social media accounts, but have you ever bought a pint because of a tweet? Agencies should help their clients to focus on what’s right for them (the Wetherspoon app, for instance, has been a huge success), not what everyone else is doing.
And that’s where smaller agencies can come into their own – and show the way for the rest of the industry. What they lack in economies of scale, they more than make up for in agility and an ability to innovate to meet the evolving needs of their customers.
And it’s this flexibility that brands must take advantage of if they’re to emulate the likes of Sorrell and Ferguson and not only reach the top but stay at the summit.
Dan George is Creative Director at Aspectus Group.