Wash that e-mail message out with soap!

An innocent attempt to send, via e-mail, a portion of a magazine profile on WPP’s Martin Sorrell to HSBC’s Peter Stringham was greeted with an electronic body-slam last week. Why? “Bad language and/or profanity,” explained HSBC’s prissy e-mail server in London.

At first blush, the rejection seemed preposperous. The 3,000-plus-word Fortune piece (the link goes to an excerpt—you need a subscription to read the whole thing) largely applauded Sorrell’s success at grabbing market share, be it through pitches for global clients like HSBC or acquisitions like Cordiant and Grey. This was praise, not profanity.

Stringham was quoted twice in the piece but, as of last Thursday, had yet to see it. (He was in Shanghai when AdFreak caught up with him.) So, in the spirit of information-sharing, we e-mailed him. Then—ahem—all heck broke loose.

We think we know offensive language when we see it. But poring over the story again, we were at a loss to find any troublesome terms. Digging deeper, however, we wondered, could it be in one cheeky quote from Sir Martin? “Growing a big company by 5% to 10% consistently is a big job and difficult to do,” he says. “But if it were easy, my cocker spaniel could run the company.”

Sure enough, minus the word “cocker”—how bloody rude!—the article cleared HSBC’s e-censors and arrived in London. So much for timeliness, though. It didn’t land in Stringham’s basket until this week.

—Posted by Andrew McMains