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Cannes Lions 2016: Why WPP Is Aggressive On Data, Technology & Content

On the fifth day of the Festival, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP reminded once again that in today's time, media or the medium had in fact become more important than the message

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Embracing technology has been perhaps the most common advice at a forum like Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for the past few years. This was one of the reasons why the Festival even changed its name from Advertising Festival to Festival of Creativity because technology was, and continues to blur many lines.

On the fifth day of the Festival, Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO, WPP reminded once again that in today's time, media or the medium had in fact become more important than the message. Not undermining the role that the creative idea has to play, he pointed out that the ways to reach people, and the manner in which they consume both media and message had changed drastically.

There was a very clear move today when pitch presentations began with data findings, followed by a media plan, strategy, execution and then a big idea that united it all. He quoted the example of the $73 billion that WPP made in revenue and how 75 percent of this was coming from areas like media, data and digital. "Media is at the heart of what we do and that is the big change," he said.

"The traditional differentiator between agencies is talent, and that won't change. But how does WPP differ from Omnicom, Publicis, IPG or Havas. The added layers of differentiation today are in technology, data and content," Sorrell said, "WPP has to be like the McKinsey today. Despite the size, we have to be agile and adaptive as we don't have unlimited resources like some of our frienemies."

The WPP Chief was referring to likes of Google and Facebook as frienemies because of the collaborative relationship that the holding company's agencies have with such platforms and because, at one level, these companies compete with agencies.

He also urged for marketers to have long-term views for their businesses, and for the industry. He said, "It is a tough market that is becoming tougher. The life spans of CEOs and CMOs in companies are shortening. Clients do seem to focus more on the short term than long-term and I am not sure how good that is for our business."

Another area of concern for arguably the most powerful man in the global advertising industry was of working together. Even within companies, collaboration, integration or what WPP dubs as steps towards horizontality are very challenging. The agency recently put together Global Team Blue for its Ford business, where key resources from all of its agencies came together to service one client.

"It creates stress for us as CEOs of these agencies have to let go control of one of their biggest clients. It is difficult to manage, motivate and some of the people feel disenfranchised. Good people tend to be uncooperative when asked to work in an integrated fashion. Even though, our future growth will come from these steps, it is very difficult to bring it to life," said Sorrell.

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