Sexism case sparks heated debate in ad agency world

Dive Brief:

  • Diversity was a top-of-mind issue at the American Association of Advertising Agencies' annual conference after a high-profile discrimination lawsuit alleging racist and sexist conduct led to the resignation of Gustavo Martinez, the CEO of WPP's J. Walter Thompson agency, according to Digiday.
  • At the event, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell said that sexism is pervasive in the ad agency industry and the JWT case is not a "one-off."
  • The comments came in direct contrast to remarks made by Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy, who called the former JWT CEO "one man" that made a mistake.
  • Others, including DDB North America CEO Wendy Clark, criticised the comments and argued that issues of sexism and racism are rife in the agency landscape. 

Dive Insight:

The debate over sexism and racism in the ad agency world comes at a time when the industry is still trying to shake off the image that sexual and other types of discrimination are simply part of the business. 

Reporting from the Wall Street Journal found the conference included diversity of opinions on the topic of ad industry diversity.

“I don’t believe that what happened at JWT is exemplary of what’s happening in our industry," said Publicis CEO Maurice Levy. "It’s a one-man mistake … but it’s not a fair representation of the industry.”

That view came in sharp contrast with comments from others at the conference.

“I don’t think we’re in a good place at all,” Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson said about industry diversity. 

DDB North America CEO Wendy Clark added: “We’ve got to stay restless on this discussion. We can’t allow it to become a conversation when something goes wrong.”

Nancy Hill, CEO of the 4A’s, was a bit more diplomatic, saying that “most of would not agree with” Levy’s assertion the issue was limited to Martinez and the lawsuit his actions sparked.

After news of the lawsuit came out, Martinez handed in his resignation. Ad Age reported last week that Tamara Ingram, most recently chief client team officer at WPP, has been named to the new CEO. 

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