Lawsuit Claims StrawberryFrog Is No Prince

Former CSO Ilana Bryant wants $2 million

StrawberryFrog might be  a prince of an agency, but a $2 million lawsuit recently filed by a former employee last week attempts to paint CEO Scott Goodson as a real toad.

Ilana Bryant, who quit as the chief strategy officer in April, wants what's allegedly being held from her and paints a portrait of Goodson as a tyrannical, corrupt boss. She charges that Goodson has "treated Frog as his own personal fiefdom, misappropriating Frog assets to fund personal ventures and hiring relatives for positions for which they are thoroughly unqualified."

Bryant, who has 17 years in the ad business working for Brit ad firms Bartle Bogle Hegarty and HHCL, wants $75,000 in severance, $700,000 in outstanding commissions and $250,000 for her 5 percent equity in the firm. She’s also asking for $1 million in punitive damages.

The Madison Avenue company says it’s all sour grapes.

"This a contract dispute with a former employee with the firm and it’s totally false and baseless,” said Ramesh Rajan, a partner in the company, "This disgruntled former employee left the firm two months ago and is lashing out at everyone else."

In the suit, Bryant describes Goodson as an "incompetent and emotionally unstable boss" whose "erratic and dictatorial" behavior" have made it impossible to work there.

This is not the first time that Bryant, who has an arts degree from Oxford, has butt heads with Goodson: She left the company once before in 2006 after a falling out.

But the next year, Goodson wooed her back, according to the suit, offering her the position of global chief strategy officer, equity in the company and a sweet $82,000 signing bonus.

Goodson told Bryant that the bonus money would come from the French ad giant Publicis, which he told her was in the final stages of a takeover.

"Goodson knew that the impending deal with Publicis had fallen through at the time that he was aggressively recruiting Bryant, and flatly lied about that deal in his effort to say anything to entice Bryant to accept a position at Frog," she charges in the complaint.

Last December, Goodson upped Bryant’s salary to $300,000 and raised her stake in the company to 5 percent. Still, she says she made $200,000 less than the other partners at the agency.

Bryant says her role in the company catapulted StrawberryFrog from a $3 million a year company with 20 employees to a $20 million a year company of 85-plus people.

She claims that she cultivated all their new accounts—Frito-Lay, Proctor & Gamble— and prevented other clients—like Unisys—from jumping to another agency.

The whole time, she says she chaffed against Goodson’s leadership style.

"Goodson was a highly erratic and ineffective leader, and sabotaged many of Bryant’s successes," she claims in law suit. "While Bryant would win new business for Frog, Goodson’s poor decision-making and leadership would often result in Frog losing the very clients Bryant had worked so hard to win."

Still, she says she stuck it out because she felt personally and professionally invested in the company's success.

That all changed this February, though, when Goodson, CFO Ramesh Rajan and an outside consultant, Jeff Schur, orchestrated a "coup to completely undermine and marginalize Bryant and her key role at Frog," she alleges.

Four employees were transferred from under her supervision in the strategic planning department to a "parallel" strategic planning department.

Bryant says she let her irritation be known and told the group that they were violating the terms of her contract.

Goodson tried to smooth things over by sending a bouquet of flowers to her home in New Jersey, but the  final straw came when Goodson hired his wife, Karin Drakenberg, to be the chief operating officer, "a position for which Drakenberg is grossly unqualified," says Bryant

She quit after learning of her new boss in an email.

For his part, Goodson, who did not comment to Adweek, released a memo to staff this week that read, in part, "Dear Frogs: A former employee, Ilana Bryant, left our agency  couple of months back and now she is in a contractual dispute with the agency. She is saying really negative things about the agency. These are false and baseless. She is trying to get as much as she can from us."

Beside Bryant, six department heads have recently left the company.