Denver Post Advertising Ranks Pummeled by Mass Exodus, Lawsuit

Paper charges employees colluded in breach of their employment agreements and good faith

Earlier this month, the Denver Post simultaneously lost three key employees from the advertising side: senior vice president of advertising Reid Wicoff, director of digital advertising operations Nicole Brennan and senior digital sales strategist David Staley. Even more dramatic is the alleged reason for their departure.

According to a lawsuit filed Friday by the paper against the three individuals and their nascent company Digible, it all went down when other newspaper employees confronted Wicoff about the trio’s plans to set up an outside advertising agency. The lawsuit alleges that these plans have been in the works since February 2016 and that preparations were made for a different kind of subterfuge. From the complaint’s list of General Allegations:

34. The group even went so far as to plan their staggered departures from the employ of the Denver Post in order to avoid suspicion and, before leaving, to provide misinformation to others within the Advertising Division regarding a key customer’s account in order to make that account, which they were planning to take, appear less profitable and less attractive to the Advertising Division.

Brennan and Wicoff quit over the April 8-9 weekend, while Staley tendered his resignation Monday April 10. The real kicker in the lawsuit is the Post’s comparison of the pitch used in 2015 for parent company Digital First Media’s Adtaxi operation and the one presented on Facebook this week by Digible. The language is identical.

The paper is seeking injunctive relief and monetary damages.

Update (June 12):
Following a May 4 hearing, the Post was granted a preliminary injunction against the three employees. From a Westword report:

Much of the testimony dealt with how Digital First Media had spent millions developing Adtaxi, a kind of glorified in-house ad agency, as well as hush-hush, proprietary online marketing tools–and the potential losses the company might endure if these weapons of mass seduction fell into the wrong hands. But amid these speculations, there wasn’t much in the way of hard evidence that the defendants had shared confidential information with anyone outside the company; the defense contended that, amid the staff cuts and other turmoil, the handling of such material at the Post was so casual that you could hardly classify the material as “trade secrets.” Both [Reid] Wicoff and [Nicole] Brennan had signed confidentiality letters, but none of the three had signed non-compete agreements. …

In an e-mail exchange with Westword, Wicoff expressed his disappointment in [Denver District Court Judge Edward] Bronfin’s ruling: “Being enjoined from competing with the Post while not having signed a non-compete is frustrating. However, we are still very confident headed into trial. I believe the limited amount of time we had to prepare for the preliminary injunction hearing was our biggest hurdle, which clearly won’t be the case at trial.”

Update (Aug. 21):
The lawsuit was terminated last week. Terms are not being disclosed, but there is this official statement:

The Denver Post, MediaNews Group, Reid Wicoff, David Staley, Nicole Brennan, and their company, Digible, Inc., have reached an agreement to resolve the disputes between them and to dismiss the lawsuit filed in Denver District Court case no. 2017CV31375. None of the parties have admitted any liability.

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.