S4 Capital and Sir Martin Sorrell embrace the vagueness challenge

Sir Martin Sorrell built WPP into an advertising powerhouse and then left under a cloud of allegations. Now he’s taking over a new venture called S4 Capital. It has something to do with advertising, but you’d never figure out what from the prospectus.

Have a look at the cover.

While it’s typical for a prospectus to be opaque, that sentence on the front cover is spectacularly meaningless.

Everything in it is a buzzword that says “digital” without saying anything (including the Burning Man photo).

  • New era, new media? Aren’t all ad agencies now are increasingly digital?
  • Solution? Hello, it’s the all-purpose meaningless word that everyone uses.
  • Data, content, and technology? Aren’t those the the key ingredients of every media and advertising company?
  • Always on? How 1997. (And, as a compound adjective, it really misses its hyphen.)
  • Global, multinational, regional and local clients? Isn’t that everyone?
  • Millennial-driven? Agencies have always focus on 25-45 year-olds, because their brand preferences are in flux. Today’s millennials are 22 to 37 years old.
  • Digital brands? Which brands aren’t digital in 2018?

To see how meaningless this is, imagine writing the opposite:

To create an old-fashioned, analog media organization that embraces printer’s ink, knocks off at 5 every evening, and serves poor, old companies focused on poor, old people.

[Disclosure: I invited Sir Martin Sorrell to speak at a Forrester event a decade ago and then managed his relationship with Forrester leading up to the event. I’ve had very little interaction with him since.]

It doesn’t get any better

Maybe the secret meaning is inside the prospectus.

Turns out it isn’t.

Try this prose on for size (translations are mine)

The Company was formed with the objective of creating significant value for its shareholders through an acquisition-led growth strategy.

Translation: We’ll buy stuff that’s growing.

The following is a list of the most significant recent trends affecting the Group and the industries in which it operates:

  • advertising spend is shifting towards an increasing number of digital channels. The shift to digital has also added importance to the ability to capture data to derive meaningful customer insights and has contributed to the emergence of digital brands;
  • a drive to disintermediate advertising has increased the strength of the relationship between brands and content producers; and
  • consulting companies with strong IT experience are developing or acquiring creative content capabilities (e.g. IBM iX, Accenture Interactive and Deloitte Digital).

Translation: Advertising is going digital, focusing on content, and embracing technology. This challenges advertising agencies.

Strategy of the Group. The strategy of the Group will be to provide global, multi-national, regional and local clients and millennial driven influencer brands with digital marketing services, which are agile, efficient, and of premium creative quality, in other words faster, better and cheaper. The Group will initially place emphasis on further geographic and functional development of its existing digital content platform; on data analytics to fuel creative content and digital media planning; and on digital media buying.

Translation: We’re a digital agency.

The Group will be global in outlook and structure and seek to grow revenues in markets and functions, which the Proposed Directors believe have the greatest growth potential.

Translation: We’ll try to make more money more quickly. And we don’t know how to use a comma.

Risk Factors. . . .  The digital media industry is highly competitive. The MediaMonks Group’s competitors include large multinational advertising and marketing communication companies and regional and national marketing services companies and new market participants, such as consultancy businesses and technology companies. The ability to attract new clients and to retain or increase the amount of work from existing clients may also in some cases be limited by client policies on conflicts of interest.

Translation: Lots of people are chasing advertising clients and those clients shift around a lot.

The MediaMonks Group is subject to credit risk through the default of a client or other counterparty.  . . . There can be no assurance that a significant client or clients may not at any future time file for bankruptcy, become insolvent or otherwise be unable or unwilling to pay sums due.

Translation: Our clients might not be able to pay us.

However, the Group may not be able to fully protect itself and its customers from unauthorised access or hacking. For example, the Group is subject to the risk that unauthorised persons could access any online payment systems used by the Group and fraudulently transfer funds. If there is unauthorised access to the Group’s or the Group’s clients’ data, whether or not such access results in financial loss, the Group may suffer reputational damage and parties could seek damages from the Group.

Translation: Somebody could hack us, just as they could any other company.

Making creativity boring

There are nearly 1,000 people in this new operation. Who knows, it could be an amazing company.

But let’s hope the people working in the company are more creative than the ones who wrote the prospectus.

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  1. That is truly terrible.

    The strategy of the Group will be to provide global, multi-national, regional and local clients and millennial driven influencer brands with digital marketing services, which are agile, efficient, and of premium creative quality, in other words faster, better and cheaper.

    Thank God that they are not inflexible, inefficient, and of questionable quality. Ridiculous.

  2. Pretty sure what’s needed here is an approach to a concept for a tactical strategy. That should clear it right up! I used to work for a company that specialized in that. Some of us suggested that the motto for the company should be “Where the rubber meets the sky.”

  3. Josh,
    Be reasonable!
    Sorrell has made a billion dollars building and overseeing organisations that specialise in flowery, cliche ridden and meaningless bullshit!
    Why change a winning formula just because a cranky few might want to actually understand what is being said?
    Clearly he has been in the cosseted ad world too long, surrounded by sycophants.