The importance of Disruption in Innovation and Leadership Part 2

Second part of a conversation with two individuals who are disrupting the creative advertising space through insight and innovation: Sir Martin Sorrell, Executive Chairman of S4 Capital and Scott Spirit, its Chief Growth Officer.
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Date 16 November 2021
Author Crispin Beale

The Insight250 spotlights and celebrates 250 of the world’s premier leaders and innovators in market research, consumer insights and data-driven marketing. The inaugural list was revealed this April and created renewed excitement across the industry whilst strengthening the connectivity of the market research community. 

With so many exceptional professionals named to the Insight250 it seems fitting to tap into their expertise and unique perspectives across an array of topics. This weekly series does just that; inquiring about the expert perspectives of many of these individuals in a series of short topical features.  

This is the second part of my conversation with two individuals who are disrupting the creative advertising space through insight and innovation. Sir Martin Sorrell is the Executive Chairman of S4 Capital and Scott Spirit is its Chief Growth Officer. I had the unique opportunity to sit down with both of them together to discuss the advantages and challenges a focused strategy on disruption delivers. The conversation was so in-depth and insightful that I am breaking it into two parts. Last week Research World published part one

This week Sir Martin and Scott continue to provide their unique perspectives on the importance, pace and need for disruption and how the approach by some is significantly impacting and dramatically shaping industries and markets.

How do you continue to disrupt as a competitive advantage?

“It’s not easy. The moment you show signs of success everyone wants to copy, so you have to keep pushing out the envelope. The dimensions of VR and AR and Voice and AI are becoming increasingly important. We’re continuously looking for the growth opportunity. It’s far easier to work with a client who has rapid top line growth than one that is under pressure.”

Sir Martin Sorrell

What do you see as the biggest challenge for your industry in the year ahead?

“I think the rest of 2021 will be strong with five to six percent GDP growth. Next year will be strong with four to five percent growth. The end of 2022, for the traditional analogue companies will get rougher. The digital disruptors will have that tailwind of digital transformation. I think the opportunity for us is to get conversion at scale and we have to learn how to build a larger model.”

Sir Martin Sorrell 

“I would say specific to us, the biggest challenge is managing the growth. It’s not much fun to manage decline, but managing growth is not easy. When you have 40+ percent growth you have to hire and retain a lot of people, so that is the biggest operational challenge we have.”

Scott Spirit

Do you find disruption is a factor of culture?

“I don’t know about cultures, I think we have a group of entrepreneurs who have done very well and gotten to a level where they need more geographic exposure or need more capital. They want more opportunities for their talent globally. They also want more opportunities from a client aspect. We’re approaching 900M to 1B in revenues, so we offer geographic spread with 33 countries and 6,500 people, we offer access to capital, talent opportunities and we can certainly engage with clients more effectively at all levels. So we have a band of disruptors. Plus a lot of these individuals want to knock off the status quo.”

Sir Martin Sorrell

Sir Martin, you’ve talked about ‘faster, better, cheaper,’ in terms of the efficiency of AI do you see it eventually making marketing redundant?

“It’s a good question. When we say faster, better, cheaper, faster is largely around agility and responsiveness in the culture and operations. Better is being a better partner in understanding what is happening in industry and how to navigate this. And when we say cheaper it’s not necessarily a price comparison perspective, it’s more about making clients' budgets work harder and getting more return, so we have to be more effective and efficient in how we work with them. That is where AI and automation comes in. We embrace technology and develop workflow-based technology to help people do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. We also use talent hubs around the world to get economies of scale, but you need a technology backbone to manage that. AI is already playing a large role, but it’s broader than just AI.”

Scott Spirit

“Everybody talks about purpose and we’re heavily involved in the ESG (environmental, social and governance) areas and diversity and inclusion. If you asked me what the purpose of S4 and Media Monks is, it is to provide talent with opportunities.  At a time when the holding companies were slashing 20,000 people we were more than doubling up. Half came from deals and the other half came from organic growth. I am very proud of the fact that we have over 6,000 people with an average of three people per family, so about 20,000 people who depend on the success of S4 and Media Monks for their livelihoods." 

“I am in the school that technology will eventually reduce job opportunities, so building a service-based operation that offers people interesting careers on a global basis is something we should be front and centre on.”

Sir Martin Sorrell 

HOT TOPIC: What are your thoughts on the growing issues of diversity and sustainability?

“We are focused on diversity and inclusion with a S4 Women's Program, with our scholar’s program, we’re extending our program with Historically Black Universities. We’re very focused on this. We recently won a piece of business where 40 percent of the grade was on the diversity of the team. We’re 40 percent people of colour, we’re more than half women. Our black community is not as big as it should be, so we have areas to improve on.”

Sir Martin Sorrell

“Sustainability is important and we have to look after the planet. Our industry is not like the airline or oil industry where they’re incredibly damaging to the environment, but we shape people’s opinions on issues. I think there is a massive responsibility in our industry. There is green-washing though, where people talk about what they are doing, but when you look under the hood quite a lot of it is green-washing. So we have to not just be responsible for our own behaviour, but also make sure our clients are not making false claims.”

Scott Spirit

“In terms of green-washing, there is a press release a day about what holding company A or B or C are doing, and then we hear about women being thrown out in their 60s or ageism generally, we hear about some pretty vindictive stuff after careers of 30 or 35 years and then shown the door with little consideration. And yet the torrent of PR releases keep on coming. At its heart, many people are just going through the motions. Many of these have become bureaucracies like the civil service.”

Sir Martin Sorrell


“Take back control. I think marketers have surrendered too much control.” 

Sir Martin Sorrell

“If you want to be disruptive there are lots of opportunities out there and I would encourage people to give it a go.” 

Scott Spirit

Thanks Sir Martin, thanks Scott. A fascinating addition to the series that highlights to me that as markets become increasingly saturated with copycat products and strategies, those that emerge embracing the risks associated with innovation often end up disrupting the traditional players with new approaches and unique solutions. This is where S4 Capital stands under the leadership of Sir Martin Sorrell and Scott Spirit. Their disruptive approach has bred innovation in strategy, methodology and solutions that are shifting the advertising landscape and delivering a competitive advantage to brands. It’s this sort of disruption that often brings with it a paradigm shift that transforms markets and evolves industries. Bravo! I wish you both continued success and look forward to seeing you both continue to disrupt - lots for us all to learn from your comments. Thank you again.

sir martin sorrel

Sir Martin Sorrell is the Executive Chairman for S4 Capital, a tech-led, new era advertising company he established in 2018. He is also the Senior Monk for MediaMonks, a creative digital production company that produces websites, games and films for advertising agencies. Previously he was the Chief Executive for WPP for 33 years.

scott spirit

Scott is the Chief Growth Officer for S4 Capital and has extensive experience in management consulting, advertising, artificial intelligence, venture capital and media. He has served in an array of enterprise capacities with a focus on the Asia Pacific markets. He previously served strategic roles with WPP, Deloitte and Associated Newspapers.

Crispin Beale
ESOMAR Representative, Senior Strategic Advisor at mTab, CEO at Insight250, CEO Insights250 & Group President at Behaviorally