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The fight for the future of adland


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For traditional ad agency and holding company models, the writing has very clearly been on the wall for quite some time now.

It was there for anyone to see – from the shrinking margins and declining share prices of holding companies, to the growing urgency of calls for new and better approaches from the worlds leading marketers.

Unilevers Keith Weed and P&Gs Marc Pritchard have now joined those who have for years been calling out for media and data to be brought together in more bespoke, unified and efficient ways, under a single bottom line.

Read more: Martin Sorrell vs WPP: The king of adland wages war

Now, WPPs former leader Sir Martin Sorrell has signalled that he is in “listening mode” at his new venture, S4 Capital – but many of his former colleagues have wondered why he was so slow to listen to these calls while at the helm of WPP.

Certainly it would be fair to say that he had all the ingredients needed at WPP to build a radical new agency vision, including a vast pool of creative talent, the worlds largest media investment group in GroupM, and an unrivalled suite of data, tech, and digital expertise in mPlatform.

It was just too bad that these were kept in separate silos for too long, with competing bottom lines.

If Sir Martin is listening now, weve been listening for a good while longer at The&Partnership – building our first full new-model agency as early as 2014 by bringing together creative, media, and tech components inside The Wall Street Journals offices.

Since then, with the help of WPP and GroupM, weve successfully delivered on-site operations for News UK, TELUS, Toyota, Lexus and RBS – with more than 700 people working at our on-site agencies for these clients across the US, UK, and Canada.

Perhaps Sir Martin has decided that the best way to invent the new model for himself was by blowing it up and starting again.

And, with the high-profile and somewhat controversial launch of S4 Capital, hes done just that.

While he might miss having the advantage of WPP and GroupMs global clout behind him, he can perhaps be more nimble in building his new S4 vision. With MediaMonks hes found a couple of key bits of the puzzle – in terms of production and digital influence.

However, hell need to find the right media and data partners to crack the integration challenge fast.

Those parts may not be an easy find – but if anyone can do it, its Sorrell.

In the meantime, the holding companies are gearing up to join the race.

WPPs new rhetoric under the very talented and digitally savvy Mark Read is an overture of change, as is Publicis Groupes support of the “power of one” model, which aims to simplify marketing operations to one set of processes under the impressive Arthur Sadoun.

Its just a question of how quickly these companies can reconfigure their parts to steer their unwieldy beasts in a new direction.

So which horse do you back? The old holding company workhorses, with power and form – but whose size might slow them down? Or the nimbleness of the new with S4 – jockeyed by a rejuvenated Sir Martin Sorrell?

Whats certain is that the race to reinvent the agency model is well and truly on.

Myself? Ive got my own horse in this race, so you know who Im backing. But it would be foolish to underestimate Sir Martin in any race. On previous form alone, youd give him good odds.

Read more: IBM top executive joins the race to succeed Sorrell as next WPP chief


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