Global PR firm Weber Shandwick and one of its senior copywriters have found themselves defendants in a heated legal battle between two controversial internet personalities and former podcast co-hosts.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this month in New York State Supreme Court by law firm The Landau Group, centers on a rift between two shock-jock podcast hosts: plaintiff George Ouzounian (who goes by the pseudonym “Maddox”) and former co-host Dax Herrera (who goes by “Dick Masterson”). After their podcast, The Biggest Problem in the Universe, ended in 2016, the lawsuit says, Herrera repeatedly made Ouzounian and his girlfriend a target of harassment via “violent and hateful content” that included “rape and death threats.”
Ouzounian and his girlfriend, who is not identified by name in the lawsuit, are seeking “an amount in excess of” $20 million in damages.
The lawsuit names eight defendants, including Weber Shandwick and its senior copywriter, Asterios Kokkinos, a frequent guest and collaborator with Herrera on his current podcast, The Dick Show.
The suit says Kokkinos used the IPG-owned agency’s equipment to create materials for a harassment campaign against Ouzounian and his girlfriend and in some cases did so during office hours, billing his time to an unnamed client. It also claims that the firm bears some degree of responsibility for Kokkinos’s alleged behavior because it continued to employ him after being made aware of the situation earlier this year.
“The dissemination of hate in the digital age has become accepted to an unnerving degree,” said The Landau Group managing partner Kevin Landau in a statement. “Individuals and corporations alike remain complicit or actively profit through such inexcusable behavior, by the archetype of illusory compassion. These transgressions must be challenged, and civility restored.”
A Weber Shandwick spokesperson responded to a series of questions regarding the lawsuit with the following statement: “We intend to vigorously contest the serious allegations in the lawsuit. Beyond that we cannot comment on pending litigation.”
The spokesperson twice declined to clarify to Adweek whether Kokkinos is currently employed by the firm. Kokkinos’ LinkedIn profile does not include any mention of Weber Shandwick.
The full document is embedded below.
According to the lawsuit, Kokkinos and Herrera targeted Ouzounian’s podcast sponsors, leading, the lawsuit says, to mail-order shaving service Harry’s pulling its ads after The Dick Show allegedly encouraged fans to mention the brand in messages stating that Ouzounian “advocated and supported rape.” The document quotes a Harry’s spokesperson explaining its decision by writing, “Our brand isn’t comfortable taking a risk here.”
Herrera and Kokkinos also “bought multiple targeted advertising campaigns on Reddit, and Facebook, targeting Plaintiffs’, and Plaintiff Ouzounian’s followers directly, and suggesting that Plaintiff Ouzounian’s fans should unsubscribe from his podcast.” Herrera is also accused of running a contest to create a billboard that could be placed near Ouzounian’s home “to harass and stalk him,” the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit specifically alleges that Kokkinos’ involvement in the harassment campaign included podcast recordings for which he used Weber Shandwick equipment, livestreams recorded during work hours at the firm, and a “comedy album” produced using its equipment—all of which targeted the plaintiffs.
“All the claims and allegations made by George Ouzounian and Jane Doe are false and absurd,” Herrera told Adweek in a statement. He said the lawsuit is “completely without merit” and described it as “just another one of George Ouzounian’s attempts to cause economic harm to my associates and friends.”
Co-founder Loren Baker of Foundation Digital, an SEO and brand strategy agency in which Herrera is a minority stakeholder, was also named as a defendant but told Adweek that neither he nor his company had “any involvement with the publications, productions and podcasts mentioned within this suit.”
Kokkinos and other defendants have not responded to requests for comment.
The Landau Group claims in the suit that Weber Shandwick was first made aware of the allegations in February, when an unidentified woman contacted the firm about Kokkinos “taking part in an online harassment and bullying campaign targeting individuals” using Weber Shandwick’s facilities after regular business hours.