Sir Martin Grills Twitter's Jack Dorsey on Stagnant Growth, Potential for Marketers

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WPP CEO Martin Sorrell challenged Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder and CEO, with some tough questions when the two men appeared together on stage at Dmexco today.

The leader of the world's biggest advertising holding company asked the tech entrepreneur why the social network isn't growing at the same rate as its rivals. WPP spent $240 million on Twitter in 2015, growing to $300 million in 2016, but that figure will remain flat this year, Sorrell says.

In contrast, WPP's clients will spend $5.5 billion with Google and $2.3 billion with Facebook this year. "Our clients would like to see a third force to balance out the digital ecosystem," Sorrell said. "What needs to be done? You introduced Twitter Live, but what can you do to increase the number of users and the time spent?"

Dorsey admitted that Twitter has "not made it easy enough for people to find their interest. We should deliver what matters in the moment and what's relevant to people … and to make it easier to join those conversations."

Donald Trump's Twitter feed–which has nearly 40 million followers and creates headlines most days–has been credited with adding billions of dollars in value to Twitter's business, Sorrell pointed out. But Dorsey skirted the issue.

"Every voice on Twitter is valued; it's just a case of who values it," he said. "It's important to hear direct from our leaders … so they can be held to account."

Sorrell pushed back, saying Dorsey's payment platform Square, where Dorsey is also CEO, is already worth $11 billion–almost as much as Twitter's $13 billion.

Sorrell described Twitter as "clunky," and asked what the social network might do to make money. Would it consider a subscription model?

Dorsey ducked the question, saying instead that the offering needs to be "simplified" for advertisers. There should be more focus on proving it works, and Twitter needs to "make sure that people see the difference between us and the market," he said, adding that all businesses are "clunky and messy." Sorrell laughed and replied, "I'd agree with that."

The two men were due to appear together at Dmexco last year, but Dorsey cancelled at the last minute. Instead, he spoke via video link, wearing what appeared to be his pajamas. Today Sorrell looked at Dorsey's black hoodie and jeans and quipped, "Some would look at you and say you're still in your pajamas."

The reasons for Dorsey's last-minute no-show in 2016 became clearer when Sorrell brought up the rumors that Twitter might have been for sale at that time. "When we were talking in the green room, you said it was your choice that did not go forward," he said.

Dorsey's reply – "Yes" – runs counter to the industry view that Disney and Salesforce pulled the plug on talks.

The session marks a first for Martin Sorrell, who tweeted his first tweet today (although his account was set up in 2009). Sorrell posted a picture taken live on stage with Dorsey alongside the caption, "Just setting up my twittr with @Jack #ADealsADeal."

"Follow this man," Dorsey urged the audience as the pair left the stage. Either he forgives Sorrell for his tough questioning -- or he's taking every opportunity to boost Twitter's traffic.

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