Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Sir Martin Sorrell: it’s procurement that will drive diversity most effectively in adland

Procurement will be the biggest force for change in improving diversity in the ad industry, rather than the “virtue signalling” of moves by the agency networks, according to S4 Capital Executive Chairman Sir Martin Sorrell.

The comments came in an interview with NDA Editor Justin Pearse at MAD//Fest London, where NDA was media partner.

“We recently won a pitch where 40% of the grade was down to the diversity of the team,” he said. “There’s a lot of virtue signalling going on with the holding companies with a press release every day but how meaningful is this?”.

Sir Martin was honest about S4’s own diversity challenges.

“We are 40% people of colour, which is incredibly good compared to the tech companies or the holding companies. But we don’t do well enough when it comes to the black community. We’re at about 6-7%, which is fine California in the sense we’ve committed to represent the communities in which we work But in New York we have a lot of work to do to reach the 25% we should be at.”

“Our gender balance is 45/55 but we do have an issue to be blunt at a senior level where women represent only a third of our senior leadership. We’re moving in the right direction but not fast enough.”

In the wide-ranging interview, Sir Martin discusses his optimistic view of the digital ad sector, with digital rising to account for 60-70% of the market by 2024.

“I can remember at Saatchi’s in the 1980s we saw 15-20% organic growth but our Q2 growth at S4 is double the first quarter so it’s huge. And in the 1980s we had significant inflation so the rates of growth we’re seeing today is even bigger. This is due to GDP growth, the world will grow this year at 5-6%, way above pre-Covid trend, and next year this will be 4-5%. So let’s make hay while the sun shines.”