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Sir Martin Sorrell – a fit and proper Olympic torch-bearer?

July 10, 2012

“Millionaire at centre of ‘fat cat’ row will carry the Olympic torch through streets of East London” howled the Daily Mail, in one of its ‘world exclusives’.

Downpage, there were 57 varieties of indignation from the good folk of the north-eastern London borough of Redbridge, all queuing up to express their disgust and dismay at the soiling experience of having someone not themselves carrying the sacred flame through their hallowed land.

Charlotte Law, 19, was typical (of Daily Mail reportage, at any rate): “I would be much better at carrying the torch than him. At least I’m from around here. Did he have to apply like everyone else? I don’t think so. It’s a disgrace.”

And you could sympathise with her. The bastard. He may have given up his £20m bonus rights, but here he was trying to worm his way back into the big time by wielding an Olympic torch.

But no, not Bob Diamond. It was someone most of them had never heard of, until coached by Mail hacks. Some bloke called Sir Martin Sorrell. Something to do with a big advertising company and a scandal. He’d asked for much too much money (don’t they all?) and been told he couldn’t have it.

We don’t want his sort round here. Michael Aldridge, a 51-year old care worker, summed it all up: “It goes completely against the Olympics spirit, but it’s not about that any more, it’s about money.”

Let me put you right on that, Michael: it always was. Even in ancient Greece, where a prodigious amount of vicious cheating and betting invested the quadrennial games like a swampy miasma. Come to think of it, the Olympic Torch Relay itself isn’t exactly of blameless historical pedigree. It was introduced in 1936, just in time to fanfare the Nazi games. The Nazis were very good at that sort of thing.

But, coming back to Sir Martin, what is it – precisely – that he has, or hasn’t, done to qualify as one of 8,000 bearers of the Torch? Well, behind the scenes, he has since 2005 been giving a good deal of his valuable time to promoting and supporting, pro bono, the London Olympics. And, as if that weren’t disqualification enough, he has actually been asked by the International Olympic Committee in Switzerland to carry the torch!

Outrageous. You know Sir Martin’s problem? He’s not one of the Little People – except of course in the literal sense. He’s one of them, the elite, who rule our lives. But then, the last I heard, the Olympics – motto: Faster, Higher, Stronger –  is all about elitism. It’s a gladiatorial contest where the best man – and woman – always wins. How inegalitarian is that?

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Admen watch out: health Bannism is back

April 16, 2012

It’s been a while since the medical profession got onto its high horse about banning the promotion of fast-food and soft-drinks brands.

But now, sensing the increasing vulnerability of the Coalition Government, it’s charging straight for the breach.

The militant assault comes from the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, an umbrella organisation which can count on the (at least passive) support of 200,000 doctors. It’s being directed by the academy’s vice-president Professor Terence Stephenson, something of a zealot in these matters.

Specifically, Stephenson wants:

  • A ban on brands like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s sponsoring major sporting events such as the Olympics. Carling, sponsor of the Carling Cup, also comes in for some harsh words;
  • Prohibition on the use of celebrities or cartoon figures in promoting “unhealthy” food and drink to children;
  • A safe area around schools, free from fast-food outlets;
  • “Fat taxes”, as in Scandinavia, levied on such foods;
  • Much clearer labelling on the calories, salt, sugar and fat contained therein.

Same old, same old, you may say. And you would be right. This is the “Bannist Tendency” making a not-very veiled attack on the Government’s proclaimed policy of collaborating with industry via so-called “responsibility deals”, which emphasise self-regulatory restraint rather than expensive-to-police and often-ineffectual red-tape.

When I say “ineffectual”, I should qualify that. In the short term, the proposed bans might well have a debilitating effect on commerce without achieving concomitant success in combatting national obesity. Longer term the strategy is tried and tested, however. It amounts to demonising fast-food and soft drinks in the same way the medical profession has managed to demonise smoking. At this very moment health secretary Andrew Lansley, the arch-proponent of industry “responsibility deals”, is contemplating stripping the last vestiges of marketing support from the tobacco industry with a ban on branded packaging. That’s what, in a generation’s time perhaps, the medical profession would like to see happening to Big Food brands.

Reducing the amount of salt, fat and sugar in our diet is of course a commendable aim, and it is right that the medical profession – of all special interest groups – should embrace it. But is it also right to equate the variable impact of HSSFs on our health with the addictive and truly pernicious effects of smoking? There is a matter of degree here, which does not seem to be adequately reflected in the uncompromising messianic fervour of the medical profession. Or, rather, some of the zealots who seem to have hijacked it.

Stephenson himself is a case in point. He may be an eminent paediatrician, but he also harbours some eccentric views. Among them, that second hand smoke (from tobacco) is a significant contributor to cot-deaths. He is also someone who clearly lives in a bubble blissfully sequestered from the inconvenient realities of commercial life. Here he is on the subject of football sponsorship:

“For adults, beer is a source of calories. I like going to a football match and drinking beer, but it’s the high-profile sponsorship that means that every time we mention this trophy, we mention in the same words Carling Cup.” So, let’s ban it, eh? Personally, I’m all the way with Stephenson on renaming it the “English Football League”. Period. But I do wonder where all the extra money is going to come from if we prohibit the likes of Carling, Coca-Cola and (heavy heart, here) McDonald’s from investing in sports events.

Surely, a little more personal responsibility exercised over how many HSSFs we ingest at any one time, not to mention how much exercise we take, are more salutary – and certainly less puritanical – solutions to the national obesity problem?

And, if we’re going to consider banning any advertising at all, what about reviewing the wall of money Big Pharma spends on targeting the medical profession?

Now there’s an unhealthy relationship.


How Brett and Lee won the Olympics for McCann

May 1, 2009

A lot of people must be asking, how on earth did ill-favoured  McCann Erickson manage to beat the mighty WPP to Locog’s prestigious 2012 Olympics advertising account? Not least among them, Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP’s nettled chief executive.

The short answer is: Brett Gosper, McCann Worldgroup EMEA president and his secret weapon, Lee Daley.
It can be no coincidence that, weeks after McCann Worldgroup appointed the somewhat tarnished, but nevertheless clever, former Saatchi & Saatchi chief executive to the newly created role of EMEA chief strategist (reporting directly to Gosper), McCann walks away with the Olympics prize.
Another non-coincidence is Gosper’s familiarity with the workings of Olympics committees. He happens to be the son of Richard Kevan Gosper. Ring a bell? Then I’ll refresh your memory. Gosper senior is a former Australian athlete of some renown, and more to the point, a former IOC vice-president of 20 years standing at the venerable body which holds supreme sway over the Olympic Games.
Just for the record, Kevan – as he prefers to be called  – won an Olympics silver medal for the men’s 400m relay in 1956, and managed to take in being Shell chief executive and chairman Down Under during his long and successful career. So he’s not lacking influential political connections. He’s practically a national hero. What you might call Gosper junior’s inside track, in fact.
One other non-coincidence is Daley’s own brief and colourful connection with high octane sport. Remember his four-month stint at Manchester United? He’d probably rather you didn’t. But by the law of unintended consequences, it has served him well in the end.

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