THE BLOG

Advertising Week Should Be Rebranded Paranoia Week

28/03/2015 16:01 GMT | Updated 27/05/2015 10:59 BST

Advertising Week should be rebranded paranoia week. That's not my idea, but Martin Sorrell's, the CEO of WPP, whom I interviewed on Wednesday at Advertising Week Europe.

When I spoke to him in front of around 200 business executives, I asked him what keeps him up at night. He worries. A lot. He worries about disruptors. In fact, he's paranoid that something could disrupt everything his business was built on. When you think about it, he may have a point.

Uber is arguably the most successful cab company, and it doesn't own any cabs. Airbnb is a hotel company, and it doesn't own or manage rooms. Facebook is a huge media company, but it doesn't produce any content and the same could be said for twitter.

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Sorrell talked about Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi, and the threat of Chinese manufacturers to more established tech companies. He sees his biggest competition coming from what he calls a "brainbox" in Bangalore or Israel.

"We think Chinese companies borrow and steal technology, that's not so". He believes that thanks to the internet, Chinese companies are adapting to the internet "more quickly than our Western companies. They are leapfrogging straight from traditional to online. We'd better watch out".

Talking about WPP's competitors in China, he said "We might see them being much more prominent, so I would watch out again".

He talked about China's comms agency BlueFocus, who last year expanded into North America with a majority stake in advertising player Vision7. He also said WPP companies' growth in China was up 10% in January, and should remain double digit this year.

In our very wide-ranging conversation, I asked him about his arch-rival Publicis. "I think it's becoming an obsession from his (Maurice Levy) point of view and that's probably unhealthy. Last year was a really difficult year for him in the sense that he lost out on a grand vision." When I asked Maurice Levy about WPP in my interview with him earlier in the week, he compared Sorrell to a "scorpion", and said he couldn't teach him to be "elegant".

Well that's that then.

I wonder what Levy would make of Sorrell's pay packet, which comes in at around 36 million pounds. Despite the controversy regarding his pay that's been widely reported in the British media, Sorrell was unapologetic. "I started WPP in a basement room. We had our manufacturing business in Dartford. We had a market cap of £1m. Half a million people depend on WPP for their livelihood. I make no apologies for that. Zero."

Oh and also, please don't call WPP an advertising agency. I got in trouble for that, big time. Sorrell says they're a communication services group. Remember that.