WPP’s Martin Sorrell Describes a Changing Marketing Landscape

The Becton Fellowship Program

By Matthew O’Rourke

Business students should look beyond the developed economies of the West for booming growth, Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of the multinational advertising and marketing group WPP, told students at a lecture on April 9. And they should pay close attention to the development of voice technology, which could be a transformative platform for marketers.

Sorrell spoke as part of the Becton Fellowship Program, in a talk moderated by Timothy Collins ’82, senior Becton fellow and the chair of the Yale SOM Board of Advisors.

Asked by Collins where students should be looking for opportunities, Sorrell said that Asia and other developing markets offer the most potential for growth.

“The next billion consumers aren’t coming from the United States or Western Europe, whether the UK is a member of the EU or not. They’re coming from Asia, from Latin America, from Africa, the Middle East… That geography will offer opportunity,” Sorrell said. “If there had to be a language everyone should be focused on, I’d say it should be Chinese and code.”

Among the many changes he has seen in advertising over the course of his career, Sorrell said, the rise of mobile and other digital platforms may be the most consequential. Technology companies have been successful because they’ve found ways to connect with consumers directly and develop more “personal” relationships, he said. For example, with the voice-recognition technology Alexa, Amazon has placed products directly in the home that not only act as personal assistants, but also provide a direct link to a marketplace for goods—and are powered by artificial intelligence that learns a customer’s preferences.

That challenge has forced consumer goods companies like Nike to reconsider their own business models and how they interact with customers, Sorrell added. Traditionally, their relationships with customers have been built with advertising, with retail stores as a platform for sales. When digital marketplaces become a primary platform, companies must decide if they’re sacrificing too much information to the platform itself, which could become a future competitor.

“These are fundamental changes not just in the way consumers consume things, but in how people are living their lives… Phones have changed the way we act during the day, the way we work, and the way we are in a restaurant,” Sorrell said. “Now you have to think of a world where voice is paramount. That will alter the way people do business in a very significant way.”

The Becton Fellowship Program was established in 1980 by medical device manufacturer Becton, Dickinson & Company in honor of company Chairman Henry P. Becton YC ’37. The program allows distinguished leaders from all sectors of business and society to visit SOM for candid conversations with faculty and students.

About the Event

The Becton Fellowship Program, led by Senior Becton Fellow and Yale SOM Board of Advisors Chair Timothy Collins ’82, hosts distinguished leaders from around the world for lectures, classroom visits, and candid conversations with students and faculty at Yale SOM and elsewhere at Yale. The Becton Fellowship Program was established in 1980 by medical device manufacturer Becton, Dickinson & Company in honor of company Chairman Henry P. Becton YC ’37.

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Speakers

Sir Martin Sorrell

Founder and CEO, WPP

Sir Martin Sorrell is the entrepreneurial founder/CEO of WPP. Under his leadership, the company has become the world’s largest communications services group, with over 200,000 people (including associates and investments) working across some...

Sir Martin Sorrell is the entrepreneurial founder/CEO of WPP. Under his leadership, the company has become the world’s largest communications services group, with over 200,000 people (including associates and investments) working across some 150 companies in 112 countries. He is one of the most respected global industry leaders whose views on business and the world economy are widely sought. In 2016, WPP had revenues of over $19 billion and billings of $74 billion. Sir Martin actively supports the advancement of international business schools, advising Harvard, IESE, the Indian School of Business, the China Europe International Business School and Fundação Dom Cabral Business School in Brazil, among others. In 2007 he received the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award. He was awarded the 2014 Hugo Shong Lifetime Achievement Award in Communication by Boston University’s College of Communications In May 2017 he was elected to an Honorary Fellowship of Christ’s College Cambridge in recognition of outstanding achievement in the field of commerce. In October 2017, for the second year running, Sir Martin was ranked Britain’s best performing CEO and was named the second best performing CEO in the world by Harvard Business Review.

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