Multiple U.K. Agencies Admit Departing Male Employees Sent ‘Top 5’ Emails Ranking Female Co-Workers by Attractiveness

Paul Martin, formerly of The&Partnership's London office, apologized

Agencies now say they will curtail the emails. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Scandal hit the London agency world this week as several industry veterans shed light on an apparently common practice in which departing male executives rank female colleagues via “Top 5” and “Bottom 5” lists gauging their physical attractiveness.

Word of one particular “Top 5” email began making the rounds at the end of last week on social media.

The rumor appears to be true.

The email in question was written by Paul Martin, a planner at The&Partnership’s London office, upon accepting another job, but it is unclear which company he left The&Partnership for. An individual provided screenshots of the message to Adweek; it began with a series of jokes about Martin breaking into the ad industry and devolved into a segment in which he speculated about how much he’d have to drink in order to have sex with certain staff members.

The email also included the following lines referring to women who work at The&Partnership: “After watching this video, I am forever flaccid”; “You’re having a baby now and three’s a crowd. Sorry, you’re missing out”; “If you were the last girl on earth. I would use you as bait to trap a wild animal I would be happier fucking.”

Martin has since written an apology note, also posted to his Twitter account, in which he said his goodbye email was “meant to be a stupid, ironic attempt to subvert and mock the sexist ‘Top Five’ emails that have been sent around agencies for many years,” adding, “I have totally missed the mark and take full responsibility.”

Before sending it, he said he asked co-workers if he could include them in the email. “All the women mentioned in it are friends and people I very genuinely love and respect,” he wrote. “I thought that [getting their permission] was enough to validate me pressing ‘send.’ It wasn’t and should never have been.” Martin promised to donate money to the Time’s Up Legal Fund.

In a statement, agency CEO Sarah Golding said, “We do not condone sexism of any kind at The&Partnership London.”

The agency has since tweeted the same quote.

Golding’s initial response to Martin’s email, which Adweek obtained, contained no such outrage. “We shall miss you Mr Martin. Thank you for everything,” it read. “Take care, Goldie.”

The CEO claims that she did not read the offending email before responding.

“When I received Paul’s leaving email I was out of the office attending the Women of Tomorrow awards. I replied to him with a standard thank you for your service, without reading his full message,” she said in a statement to Adweek. “Having done so subsequently, I immediately emailed the agency and then called the agency together to discuss both this email, and the whole premise of leavers’ emails, and have ensured nothing like this will ever happen again at The&Partnership London.

“Never have I condoned or encouraged such emails as appropriate behaviour, nor do I believe they reflect the culture of the agency,” she wrote. “Most leavers messages are gentle, warm and affectionate of colleagues and time spent here, but Paul’s went much further and shines a light on the dangers of a practice that no longer has a place in our agency or industry.”

According to sources with knowledge of the matter, Martin’s apology came only after partner and joint managing director Sarah Clark wrote an angry response to the whole company over the weekend. Adweek acquired that email, dated 7:24 a.m. on Saturday—two days after Martin’s note initially went out. It is unclear whether Clark’s email to the company came before or after Golding’s call to the agency to discuss the email.

“And here ends the Top Five leavers email I’m afraid,” Clark wrote. “Not sure who started it in the first place, but it is not something to be continued. What has been written below by Paul is completely unacceptable.”

Adweek reached out to several London shops to ask how common “Top 5” emails are. A spokesperson for Iris London said it’s trying to curb the practice.

“We have always made it clear to staff that they should not send Top 5 emails on their last day of employment,” the representative said. “There have been incidences in the past where this policy has been ignored and leavers have sent out an email before their email accounts were shut down.”

The statement continued: “Nonetheless, when we launched our new brand positioning ‘For the forward’ we wanted to mark a clear step-change in who we are, how we behave, and ultimately leave behind aspects of our culture that could be deemed negative culture. This included a reiteration that Top 5s are not accepted or welcomed by any past, present or future employee. Recently the policy has been reinforced and there have been no emails in 2018.”

This news arrives on the same day that several European trade groups including the Advertising Association, NABS and WACL announced the launch of an initiative called timeTo, or the U.K. equivalent of Time’s Up Advertising in the states.

“TimeTo builds on the global #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, but with a recognition that all parts of the advertising industry are affected—all sexualities and genders, agencies, marketers and media-owners—and that, by taking action together, the industry will be better placed to make positive change to stamp out sexual harassment,” read a mission statement from the group.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.