WPP’s Sorrell wins another legal case as Edelman execs in Australia apologise for wooing Hill & Knowlton clients

One of the constant strands in Sir Martin Sorrell’s long reign at WPP (26 years so far) is his insistence that agency assets do not go up and down in the lift, or they don’t at his agencies anyway.

So ‘gardening leave’ clauses in WPP contracts (non-intervention, non-compete requirements) are rigidly enforced.

The latest execs to fall foul of this are former Hill & Knowlton execs in Australia, CEO Michelle Hutton (pictured) and director of consumer practice Anna Macintosh who have moved to rival PR firm Edelman in similar roles.

Both have had to apologise to WPP for their errant and, it has to be said, routinely widespread behaviour.

Both women chose the same words to make amends:

“Following my departure from Hill and Knowlton Australia, I was involved in soliciting certain clients and staff of H&K. This occurred in the course of my employment by Edelman Public relations Worldwide. I recognize that my conduct was not appropriate in the circumstances and I apologise to H&K unreservedly.”

Does any of this matter? After all, they’re now both at Edelman and their former clients, even the ones they didn’t have a private word with, will be well aware of the fact.

But Sorrell, who has recently pursued similar cases against the agency marriage brokers Oystercatchers and Young & Rubicam breakway Adam & Eve in the UK, is making a point to clients as much as anyone else.

Firstly that his agencies are not reliant on the services of particular individuals (difficult to prove one way or the other) and, secondly, that he’s not afraid to go to court. So clients thinking of following their favourite execs somewhere else will probably hesitate to do so, at least before they’ve given the new agency management ample time to perform.

So there’s commercial logic in Sorrell’s legal shenanigans.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.