Martin Sorrell says WPP exit was like being 'hit by the bus'

Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP
Pau Barrena | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Martin Sorrell has explained WPP's succession plan following his resignation as chief executive of the advertising agency group in April, an abrupt departure he likened to being "hit by the bus."

Speaking at an event during the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France, he said: "Nobody believed there was a succession plan."

"For the last eight, nine, 10 years there has been a succession plan, planned on the basis of 'hit by the bus,' which I guess I was," Sorrell said on Thursday.

"The plan was for Mark Read and Andrew Scott to be joint chief executives," he added. "My view strongly would be that those two individuals … have complementary skills. Mark has certain skills, Andrew has certain skills. One on their own would not be sufficient. In my view, two together can be a very powerful combination."

Sorrell was speaking at an event hosted by U.K. marketing industry magazine The Drum, which took over a pub on the harbor at Cannes for the duration of the festival.

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His comments come after his surprise departure from WPP earlier this year following the announcement of an investigation into alleged personal misconduct, which he denies.

Sorrell is at the festival to promote his new venture, S4 Capital, that aims to have c-suite executives as clients. "S4 capital is going to try and deal at the highest levels of the companies that it deals with. This is a very optimistic and grand ambition," Sorrell said.

He described the new company as operating in a new way, which he described as "more agile, more responsive, less bureaucratic, more creative."

He wants the business to offer clients ways to mix data with creativity. "People have said 'Martin is not interested in creative': that is nonsense. I am interested, for example, in data making creative (ideas) more effective," said, citing a study published by McKinsey on Monday suggesting that S&P 500 companies that do that in their marketing programs have double the annual growth of those that don't.

Sorrell has previously been outspoken about Google and Facebook, calling them the "frenemies" of the ad industry, because brands can have direct relationships with them while competing with them. Speaking Thursday, he called them partners, but maintained that they are media companies, not tech ones.

"I think there was a period where they were frenemies, and friendly frenemies, I have termed them flexible friends more recently and I would go even further and say partners."

"I still believe that Google and Facebook are media companies, they masquerade as technology companies but they sell their own (advertising) inventory, they do have a vested interest, and therefore the (ad) agencies do act as an agnostic evaluator of that."

He also cited Amazon as increasingly important to advertisers. "According to Kantar, WPP's data company, 55 percent of product searches in America already emanate from Amazon, not from Google."