The next round of The Blame Game (h/t Kanye) went down late yesterday as WPP responded to Maurice Levy’s response to Sir Martin Sorrell’s response to the former’s initial response to Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times at last week’s 4A’s on the topic of whether advertising still employs some old-school boors.
Anyway, Maurice wrote a long internal email arguing that Publicis beats WPP on the diversity front and Sorrell needs to mind his own house before telling other people how to decorate theirs. And now WPP has issued this statement, to be attributed to itself rather than any specific executive:
“From what we’ve seen and heard his comments, which were publicly reprimanded immediately by Nancy Hill, head of the 4As, stirred up a hornets’ nest, which Levy is now attempting to deal with. Levy is clearly attempting damage limitation for ill-judged remarks at the 4As Conference. We are glad to hear he is attempting to reverse his original position. After all, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”
Damn, Ralph Waldo Emerson! The statement comes at a somewhat awkward time for WPP. Yesterday its lawyers admitted that Martinez did indeed joke about rape on at least one occasion–that occasion being the 2015 Miami gathering that was captured on video and stored on the still-mysterious DVD which the judge in this case may or may not have viewed in the privacy of his chambers. They then proceeded to make the “but his words were taken out of context” argument.
A direct quote attributed to the WPP legal team from this morning’s post in Campaign, which continues to get all the good leaks from lawyers on both sides:
“Put into context, it is obvious that Martinez’s comments opening the second day of the meeting were an attempt to lighten the tension caused by the party at the hotel and were not related to race or intended to create a hostile work environment for the company’s female or male employees.
To the contrary, the comments were intended to relieve the unpleasant environment that the employees had been exposed to by the guests at the party at the hotel.
And indeed, Martinez’s comment about fearing that he might be ‘raped’ in the elevator described a hypothetical situation involving himself, rather than another employee – he was not referencing or suggesting that a rape could have or had been committed with respect to someone else. Nor was he condoning rape.
No one should fault Mr Martinez (for whom English is his fourth language) for at least attempting to address with some humor the events that the employees had experienced.”
If we were lawyers, we might call that a specious argument. (According to multiple reports, the majority of the guests at that party happened to be African American.)
WPP’s lawyers also produced affidavits from several JWT employees who essentially agreed that this was a maybe-not-funny joke. Those people include JWT Libson CEO Susan Carvalho, JWT New York senior event technology specialist Keni Thacker, JWT NY president Lynn Power and head of events Charlotte Ibara.
Details indicate that the pool party had indeed caused a scene involving “puddles of vomit” and that Carvalho mistakenly thought her luggage had been stolen when it didn’t appear in her hotel room. (Staffers had accidentally misplaced it.)
WPP still understandably does not want the DVD to become a matter of public record. The argument is that it would cause harm to the larger JWT organization by inspiring further “harassment” by media outlets like this one. In fact, the executives involved have already received “harassing calls and emails” from Campaign’s deputy editor and longtime Adweek editor Eleftheria Parpis.
Again, from the lawyers themselves:
“The Campaign reporter has indicated that someone who has seen the video (no one at JWT had a copy of the raw footage of the video or could have viewed it) had spoken to her and identified the JWT employees visible on the video, she therefore has contacted these employees about whether she can ask them questions about what took place at the meeting.
These uninvited and recurring requests for comments from the press have resulted simply by the virtue of the leak about the video to one reporter; such unwanted solicitations will only increase in number and intensity if the video is publicly filed and made available to other reporters.”
We think you’ll agree on one point, at least: this ongoing back-and-forth is not particularly flattering to anyone, least of all the advertising industry.