Sexual harassment in adland surely exists but real evidence remains obstinately elusive

Everybody is in danger of being outed these days in the wake of the Weinstein scandal – a list of “shitty media men” seems to be doing the rounds in the US for example although it’s not clear if this extends beyond alleged baddies among media owners.

Fox in the US has already owned to more than its fair share of instances, ones which might derail the Murdochs’ renewed bid for Sky. There’s l’affaire Martinez at WPP/JWT which rumbles on.

Cindy Gallop (below) is on the case of course, inviting women (and men) to email her at [email protected] She says she’s received over 100 emails although no precise accusations have been made public yet.

What nobody seems to have quite worked out is what’s sexual harassment and what’s everyday behaviour. Many people meet partners at school, college or work. Is asking someone for a date now out of order? If they say no and you sulk does that count as aggressive behaviour?

Adland has previous in these matters of course: former Madison Avenue copywriter Jane Maas has written extensively on the subject, with what we might call robust good humour. There isn’t much of that around these days – but that was then.

We wait to see if any cases of proven sexual harassment come to light. If they don’t does that indicate a culture of fear in adland? Or just that we’re making a fuss?

It’s all rather messy.

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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.

One comment

  1. Actually, it’s not messy. It’s extremely clearcut. It’s a culture of fear, because the men who are doing the harassing are the gatekeepers of everything – jobs, payrises, promotions, awards, fame. Please read Brit Marling’s excellent piece on ‘Harvey Weinstein And The Economics Of Consent’ – exactly the same applies in the ad industry:

    To understand the dynamics and how much the environment is stacked against women in a way that actively encourages sexual harassment, please read this report of a research study done in partnership with the 3PercentConference – it’s the best summation of advertising industry culture and why it is the way it is that I have ever read: The study was done in the US but applies to our industry everywhere. As you read it, ask yourself a) is this the culture that should exist in an industry whose primary target in terms of purchasers and influencers of purchase is women? and b) how does this culture influence the end creative product, and the fact that 90% of women say they feel advertising doesn’t speak to them, engage them and empathize with them?

    And when you say ‘No precise accusations have been made public yet’, please be aware that THIS is what it takes to report on sexual harassment – the New York Times on ‘How To Break A Sexual Harassment Story’: and brave reporters Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey on what they went through: I’m asking our industry trade press to do the same thing – to commit large amounts of time, effort, resources, budget, sensitivity and courage to breaking open the appalling saga of abuse of power, human misery and systemic cultural endorsement and collusions (impacting men as well as women – women are harassed by powerful men in our industry, men are harassed by powerful gay men in our industry) that is filling my inbox every day, from all around the world.