It was a bad weekend at Saatchi & Saatchi
Steve’s breakdown: And we think you should take a look around at their clients and call the ones who don’t take too kindly to chauvinists. P&G comes to mind.
Read on to see what happened.
NEW YORK, NY: One of the world’s biggest advertising companies has placed a top executive on leave over dismissive comments he made about gender diversity in the advertising industry.
In an interview with Business Insider published on Friday, the executive, Kevin Roberts, chairman of the prominent agency Saatchi & Saatchi and head coach at its parent company, Publicis Groupe, said that the debate about gender diversity on Madison Avenue “is all over” and that he did not spend “any time” on gender issues at his agencies. He also said the problem was “way worse” in other industries and suggested that women were happier in nonmanagement roles.
Mr. Roberts’s comments were immediately met with derision and anger on social media, and a number of prominent advertising executives were quick to respond.
Wendy Clark, the chief executive of the agency DDB North America, responded on Twitter: “25 yrs ago I was an ad agency receptionist. Today I’m the CEO. I’m much happier in the c-suite, thanks all the same.”
In an internal memo on Saturday, Maurice Lévy, the chief executive of Publicis, wrote that Mr. Roberts’s comments were “extremely disappointing, shocking, uninformed and counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe.”
“I, in no way, can rationalize or support the opinions and statements made by Kevin,” he said, adding that he had asked Mr. Roberts to take a leave of absence “effective immediately” and that the company’s supervisory board would “further evaluate his standing.”
Mr. Roberts’s remarks came a few months after a female employee at the creative agency J. Walter Thompson filed a lawsuit accusing its chief executive, Gustavo Martinez, of blatant racist and sexist behavior. The lawsuit, filed in March, shook the advertising industry and forced it to confront longstanding problems with its culture. WPP, J. Walter Thompson’s parent company, initially stood by Mr. Martinez, but he later resigned.
Many executives in the industry, male and female, have since spoken out about gender and racial diversity in the industry and said they were focused on improving the issue.
But Mr. Roberts’s comments were a stark reminder that problems with gender diversity persist. “ I am very proud of being part of the Groupe that is doing so much on gender equality but I acknowledge that we, our industry and business at large are not where we need to be or where we aspire to be,” Arthur Sadoun, the chief executive of Publicis Communications, wrote in his own memo to staff on Saturday.
At an annual advertising industry conference two weeks after the lawsuit against Mr. Martinez was filed, Mr. Lévy was widely criticized for calling the accusations in the J. Walter Thompson lawsuit “a one-man mistake” and not representative “of what is happening in our industry.” Mr. Lévy later clarified his remarks in an internal memo, calling the allegations in the lawsuit “jaw dropping.”
Women now make up nearly 50 percent of the advertising industry, but only 11 percent of creative directors, according to a survey by the 3% Conference, which supports female creative leadership at agencies. Twenty-five percent of women in advertising said they had personally experienced gender discrimination, according to the survey.
In his interview with Business Insider, Mr. Roberts said agencies did not understand how women thought about success. “Their ambition is not a vertical ambition, it’s this intrinsic, circular ambition to be happy,” he said. “So they say: ‘We are not judging ourselves by those standards that you idiotic dinosaur-like men judge yourself by.’”
He added: “I can’t talk about sexual discrimination because we’ve never had that problem, thank goodness.”
He also criticized Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive who often speaks about gender discrimination in the industry. “I think she’s got problems that are of her own making,” he said. “I think she’s making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile.”
In an interview on Sunday, Ms. Gallop said that she was “impressed with how swiftly and decisively Publicis moved” but that Mr. Roberts’s comments were indicative of the broader issue.
“When the old world order feels under threat because there is a new world order emerging, I think white men feel insecure,” she said, “and that manifests itself in surprising ways, such as Kevin Roberts’s remarks.”