WPP CEO Mark Read Tries to Apologize for Ageist Comments

By Minda Smiley Comment

ICYMI, the CEO of WPP Mark Read found himself in hot water last week. During the company’s earnings call on Aug. 27, he said the “average age of someone who works at WPP is less than 30.”

“They don’t hark back to the 1980s, luckily,” he added.

These comments, unsurprisingly, did not go over well. On Twitter, MakeLoveNotPorn founder Cindy Gallop, former Ogilvy ecd and copy chief George Tannenbaum and Fearless founder Ian David criticized Read’s remarks and described them as ageist.

Over on LinkedIn, things aren’t much better. A handful of people have called Read out: Matt Kandela, CEO of brand and experience design agency Dear Future, said it is “frankly terrifying that [Read] believes this is a real benefit to clients.”

Somewhat bizarrely, Read spent part of the weekend individually responding to criticisms in copy-and-paste fashion (with typos to boot). He told two LinkedIn users that “all ages are we valued at WPP and the last thing I would want to suggest is otherwise.” On three separate posts, he wrote that he doesn’t want to “suggest that age is any way a good thing on it’s own and I’m sorry that is how it reads.”

Read also attempted to explain his rationale: “I was asked by an analyst if we had too many people who just did TV ads and this was my response,” he wrote below one post. “I guess I said it to make a point in defence of all our people. It is an average and we luckily have many above the average, including me.”

On Twitter, he said he was “wrong to use age to try to make a point.”

Read’s comments, and his subsequent attempt to make amends, come as the advertising industry grapples with ageism and its longstanding fixation on youth.

A quick glance at WPP’s 2019 Sustainability Report shows that the majority of its employees, or 74%, are under the age of 39. Only 7% are between the ages of 50 and 59, while a mere 1% are over 60.

Last year, Duncan Milner, a TBWA\Media Arts Lab creative executive who led some of Apple’s most iconic ad campaigns, sued the agency for age discrimination. A similar lawsuit is currently unfolding between Doner and one of its former creative directors, Susan Walsh.

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