Ogilvy CEO Tells Staff That Agency Will Continue To Work With Customs and Border Protection

John Seifert tries to make the case for why the controversial account should stay

Ogilvy logo, white letters on red background
Ogilvy's will continue working with CPB despite criticism.
Headshot of Minda Smiley

After facing weeks of criticism from employees for the company’s work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Ogilvy CEO John Seifert sent a memo to staff today informing them that the agency will continue its work with the law enforcement organization.

“Some of you feel strongly that we should stop working for CBP,” he wrote in the memo, which was first reported by the Wall Street Journal. “While I do understand and appreciate this point of view, I have concluded that our work for CBP is genuinely intended to improve the quality of this government agency’s public services. And we should continue to do all we can to support this objective.”

Adweek has seen the memo and can confirm the Journal’s reporting.

When reached for comment, a spokesperson for Ogilvy said, “Nothing to add.”

In the memo, Seifert said that Ogilvy strictly works on recruitment advertising for CBP. His remarks come in response to a tweet by RAICES, an immigration advocacy group based in Texas, that falsely claimed Ogilvy provides public relations support on issues related to detention conditions to CBP and created a video shared by CBP’s Arizona office.

“Our assignment focuses exclusively on hiring better and more diverse applicants across the CBP organization; it does not include any work related to CBP detention operations,” he wrote.

CBP has come under harsh criticism in recent months due to the poor conditions and inhumane treatment of migrants at border facilities. And in the weeks since Ogilvy employees were made aware that CBP is a client, Seifert has attempted to explain Ogilvy’s decision to work with CBP and curb criticism; on July 9, he met with a group of employees to hear their concerns (a transcript of the conversation was published on BuzzFeed News).

Seifert said in the memo that Ogilvy “should have done a better job in explaining our work for CBP from the moment our company was referenced incorrectly for content appearing in social media. I take personal responsibility for that mistake.”

He concluded the memo by stating that he wants “employees to feel comfortable in raising any questions or concerns directly with me and with Ogilvy leaders across the company.”

One current employee, speaking on condition of anonymity, said many staffers plan to “lay low” after the BuzzFeed article. In the agency’s employee-only Fishbowl group, arguments went back and forth over whether the client presented an ethical dilemma or not.

@Minda_Smiley minda.smiley@adweek.com Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.