Martin Sorrell, the advertising industry legend who stepped down from the world's biggest ad agency in April amid an investigation into his personal conduct, wants to talk.
Sorrell said during an interview at the Cannes Lions Festival in France that he is considering breaking his confidentiality agreement with his former employer, WPP Group, in light of leaks about the circumstances of his departure.
The pugnacious executive exited WPP Group six weeks ago under a cloud after the company said it concluded a mysterious investigation into alleged inappropriate behavior. The Financial Times reported on allegations that Sorrell had visited a prostitute, paid the bill in petty cash, and had mistreated his assistants and sacked his chauffeur after a 12-day shift.
Speaking as part of a conversation with New Yorker journalist Ken Auletta, Sorrell declined to comment on aspects of his departure and ensuing negative press coverage, citing his confidentiality agreement. But when Auletta suggested he could break it, given all the leaks, Sorrell responded: “There may come a time when that’s what we’ll do. I wouldn’t necessarily rule it out.”
The session, one of the most unvarnished in recent memory, was full of drama, including several criticisms from Sorrell about Auletta’s latest book, “Frenemies,” about the decline of ad agencies at the hands of penny-pinching management consultants.
Sorrell wanted to know why Auletta had not spent more time interviewing the big tech companies and the management consultants, which have increased competition for the traditional advertising business.
But then Auletta turned the tables on Sorrell, asking him about the elephant in the room.
“What is the elephant in the room?” asked Sorrell coyly.
“The circumstances under which you were compelled to leave WPP,” Auletta said. “People complained that you were not just verbally abusive but cruel. Any reaction to that?”
“Am I an easy person to deal with? No. Am I demanding? Yes," Sorrell said. "So I don’t think that was fair. I demanded high standards."
Sorrell, who is now setting up his own communications and marketing focused company, S4 Capital, was asked why he had been so quiet in the face of controversial accusations. “We responded formally to everything that has been said,” Sorrell insisted.
“You used a not insignificant amount of corporate funds, relying on petty cash rather than credit cards, for inappropriate spending,” Auletta said.
“That has been dealt with too. It was strenuously denied,” Sorrell said.
When Auletta asked who he thought was leaking about him, Sorrell said he would leave that to Auletta’s fertile imagination.
“I don’t write books,” Sorrell said. “yet.”