Another Round of Executive Layoffs Hits MSLGroup

By Patrick Coffee 

It’s beginning to feel like we’re ganging up on Publicis’ biggest PR agency MSLGroup, but the shop’s U.S. offices keep letting people go.

A new round of layoffs hit the company yesterday, and we hear that approximately 12-15 staffers were affected, many of them in senior positions. Those positions include the managing directors of its San Francisco and Chicago offices, its SVP/digital for North America, and both its SVP and its head of digital operations in New York.

Leaders blamed the recent “network-wide restructuring” of Publicis Groupe–a move that almost certainly stemmed, at least in part, from the pending loss of the P&G media business. Sources close to the matter, however, tell us that the primary culprit is negative growth in the MSLGroup business over the past four years, with estimated revenues declining approximately 40 percent over that period. There’s also a sense in North America that the parent company in Paris has taken its eye off the rhetorical ball.

In October, the agency paid out nearly $3 million to resolve a class action gender bias lawsuit filed primarily by former employees who happen to be women. We hear that this suit may have played a role in the newest round of layoffs and that the sexist culture which (again, allegedly) led to its filing has not improved in recent months. The larger point is that, rather than hire some of the many qualified women who work in the communications field for leadership positions, MSLGroup decided instead to continue doing its business in the same way.

A key symptom of this enduring problem: not a single MSLGroup office in the United States is currently led by a woman*. We also hear that all of the women on the agency’s global board have departed as female employees at various levels within the organization continue to complain about disrespectful and possibly sexist comments made by top executives.

In October, The Holmes Report asked of MSL, “How Much Disruption Is Too Much?” The answer to that question is not yet clear.

*Detroit is the lone exception: Kathleen Adams serves as managing director there. This was our error.