The man who sold the world

Sir Martin Sorrell is on a mission - and Middle East agencies should take note. It has been a tough year for one of the world’s leading communications services and advertising companies, WPP Group.

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By  Andrew White Published  October 1, 2006

|~||~||~|Sir Martin Sorrell is on a mission - and Middle East agencies should take note. It has been a tough year for one of the world’s leading communications services and advertising companies, WPP Group. In particular the group’s CEO, Sir Martin Sorrell, has come under sustained fire with two messy legal disputes rearing their heads since the start of the year. The dismissal of Marco Benatti - the group’s country manager in Italy, who left in January - was followed by a lengthy investigation by WPP into Benatti’s business affairs. Sources close to the investigation claim that WPP is looking into the ownership structure of a television production company called BRW, which is understood to have produced many of the commercials commissioned by WPP’s Italian operations. Benatti is also counter-suing WPP, and has threatened to bring a personal action against Sorrell himself. In addition, Sorrell has been forced by a French court to release documents relating to a fierce row over client-poaching that involves Aegis, a media-buying firm. Sorrell’s marketing group owns a 20% stake in KR Media, which was set up by two former Aegis executives in 2004. Bruno Kemoun and Eryck Rebbouh had been accused by Aegis of illegally poaching clients to take to their new agency, and Aegis is now claiming US$40m in compensation. Yet despite these hiccups, Sorrell still sits atop a giant valued by the UK stockmarket at almost US$15bn. Sorrell himself is hugely respected throughout the advertising industry - and when he discusses his plans for the Middle East, we listen. After all, the man - who many believe is most responsible for the UK’s independent, vibrant communications industry – can point to billings of US$15bn and revenues of US$3.5bn. He can point to 70 operating companies, and 65000 employees in 950 offices in 92 countries. He owns a substantial stake in the company through a series of pay awards and his own purchases of shares. These shares alone are worth almost US$200m. So when Sorrell says that he’s looking for more from the Middle East, then other agencies out here had better buck up their ideas, before they find themselves out of business. “As we expand in the Middle East, we have to have influence over the companies, as we have to be fully aware of what’s going on,” he maintains. Frankly, I’m sold – and let the ad revolution begin.||**||Better luck next year?|~||~||~|This week, we carry two news stories on Egypt – one encouraging, the other rather less so. The decision of Cairo Airport to install state-of-the-art biometric gates in its new US$400m terminal 3 development is a mighty impressive one. The technology will lift Cairo Airport into the very top tier of international airports, improving security and providing a fast-track for travelers eager to do business in the country. However, the World Economic Forum’s latest competitiveness rankings paint a far less progressive picture. In competitiveness terms, Egypt has lost serious ground on its rivals, slipping ten places to 63rd. The rankings provide an overview of factors that are critical to driving productivity and competitiveness, and groups them into nine pillars: institutions, infrastructure, macroeconomy, health and primary education, higher education and training, market efficiency, technological readiness, business sophistication, and innovation. Next year, let us hope that innovations such as those at Cairo Airport have propelled the country back up the table.||**||A climate for change|~||~||~|As we go to press, Sir Richard Branson is outlining a series of proposals he claims will save over 150 million tonnes of carbon emissions a year. Last week he pledged Virgin profits worth US$3bn towards renewable energy initiatives, and is urging airlines, airports and governments to work together to tackle the growing problem of climate change. “With global warming, the world is heading for a catastrophe. The aviation industry must play its part in averting that,” he says. Branson’s done it again, I suspect. The world’s favourite rags-to-riches entrepreneur has hit upon a hot-button topic - and one that will gain even more publicity with the release of former US vice-president Al Gore’s climate crisis documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, later this year. Thanks to Branson, when our kids fly Virgin in the future, the skies might be clean and clear.||**||

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