Shareholders at the world's largest advertising agency WPP gave a thumbs down to a big pay rise for chief executive Martin Sorrell today.

59.5% of votes at its AGM in Dublin opposed the group's remuneration report.

A number of advisory groups and leading shareholders at WPP had criticised a proposed 60% increase in Sorrell's pay because it far exceeds the scale of returns enjoyed by investors.

Sorrell has argued that he deserves his £6.8m sterling pay for turning WPP into the world's leading advertising group with more than 160,000 employees across 108 countries.

He has also noted that he has much of his personal wealth tied up in WPP in the form of a 1.4% stake worth over £130m and argued that his pay should be in line with CEOs at other major global media groups.

The pay rise comes after bosses at major British retailers such as Sainsbury and Tesco took pay cuts and following a round of high profile shareholder revolts over pay at companies like Barclays, Inmarsat and Prudential.

The so-called "shareholder spring" has also led some executives such as Aviva boss Andrew Moss, and Sly Bailey, head of newspaper group Trinity Mirror, to quit.

The revolt came as WPP said it had made a strong start to the year with operating profit both above budget and above last year's level.

"2012 has started well with all geographies and sectors growing revenues," chairman Philip Lader said in a statement to be delivered to shareholders and an annual meeting in Dublin today.

"Operating profit is above budget and last year and the increase in margin is in line with the group's full year margin target of 0.5 margin points improvement," he said.

Sorrell has argued that he deserves his £6.8m sterling pay for turning WPP into the world's leading advertising group with more than 160,000 employees across 108 countries.

He has also noted that he has much of his personal wealth tied up in WPP in the form of a 1.4% stake worth over £130m and argued that his pay should be in line with CEOs at other major global media groups.

The pay rise comes after bosses at major British retailers such as Sainsbury and Tesco took pay cuts and following a round of high profile shareholder revolts over pay at companies like Barclays, Inmarsat and Prudential.

The so-called "shareholder spring" has also led some executives such as Aviva boss Andrew Moss, and Sly Bailey, head of newspaper group Trinity Mirror, to quit.

The revolt came as WPP said it had made a strong start to the year with operating profit both above budget and above last year's level.

"2012 has started well with all geographies and sectors growing revenues," chairman Philip Lader said in a statement to be delivered to shareholders and an annual meeting in Dublin today.

"Operating profit is above budget and last year and the increase in margin is in line with the group's full year margin target of 0.5 margin points improvement," he said.