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WPP's Martin Sorrell Sounds Off at Cannes

See Video of His Seven-Minute, Show-Stopping Performance

By Published on .

CANNES, France (AdAge.com) -- In a seven-minute performance that was like a lightening bolt of unexpected entertainment at the Cannes Lions Ad Festival yesterday, WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell stole the show with a clever parody lampooning himself as well as his agencies' creative departments and account planners.

Get rid of creative
Speaking at WPP's "Evening of Pecha Kucha" event (a Japanese word meaning "chitchat") at the Martinez Hotel, Mr. Sorrell said, "I've often thought how much easier it would be to run an advertising agency if you could only get rid of the creative department."

In the quest to invent new ways to entertain the fickle, easily-bored Cannes crowd, WPP and Wunderman recruited nine top WPP executives and one client who were required to speak for six minutes each in synch with slides that changed relentlessly every 20 seconds. Most of them muddled through, talking about everything from media (Group M Global CEO Irwin Gotlieb) to Picasso (Wunderman Worldwide Creative Director Steve Harrison). JWT Worldwide CEO Bob Jeffrey simply read from a script he admitted he hadn't rehearsed.

Automated creative department
Mr. Sorrell, however, was much more inspired. Supported by silly slides, he described to a standing room-only crowd the automation system he is developing. Flashing a slide of an odd animal-like metal contraption with what looked like a radio mounted on its back, he explained, "It's the world's very first fully-automated creative department. Account planners simply stuff their briefs into its backside -- on the left where the wires are -- and within seconds multimedia, fully integrated award-winning ads come fizzing out the front at 35 kilometers per hour."

The next slide, of a giant head, was the prototype for the fully automated account planner.

"This prototype is fueled entirely by data," said Mr. Sorrell, sounding perfectly serious. "And since the world is suffering from a vast surplus of data, this means that from now on account planners will be very cheap to run, which naturally appeals to me a great deal."

Solution for clients
He began to rant about his solution for clients. "I want every single producer of absolutely everything to get together in one gigantic global campaign under the slogan 'Buy More Stuff!' Just one vast advertising campaign for everything in the whole world -- and it's a WPP account!"

He described his ideal board of directors as "two executive poodles and nine independent poodles. And me."

In conclusion, he told the fascinated audience: "Our entire communications empire has been so completely automated that our head [count] has gone from 95,000 in 2006 to just 11, and our revenue-to-head [count] ratio will be 6 trillion."

A few of the 94,989 soon-to-be-surplus WPP employees wondered after the Pecha Kucha how closely Mr. Sorrell's splendidly satirical rant might reflect his own feelings.

After all, one of WPP's nicknames is "Why Pay People."

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