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WPP weighs fallout from Weinstein Company investment

It never rains but it pours at WPP it seems, at least this year.

Trading difficulty is one thing (not unique to WPP as all the holding companies are suffering) but, so far this year, it’s been caught in the cross hairs at Bell Pottinger (giving back its shares when the Gupta brothers scandal broke) and pilloried for lobbying for the NRA when its agencies were making pro-bono films for gun control.

Now it finds itself caught in the Harvey Weinstein scandal where the big name producer has been accused in the New York Times and New Yorker of importuning numerous actresses, and worse. Weinstein (below with one of his accusers Gwyneth Paltrow at the 1999 Oscars when his film Shakespeare in Love won) has been booted out of The Weinstein Company, which is also reported to be imminently rebranding itself as something else.

What’s this got to do with WPP? WPP invested in The Weinstein Company in 1999 and its senior vice president of corporate development Lance Maerov is one of only four remaining directors left on the company’s board. A WPP spokesman told Adweek that Maerov’s future status at Weinstein “depends on the constitution of the board.” Which doesn’t sound particularly emphatic. WPP has had sexual harassment issues of its own recently with former JWT global boss Gustavo Martinez (who’s still working for WPP) accused by a member of his former staff.

Maerov (left) has led WPP in a series of media investments including Vice, Refinery29 and Fullscreen Media. One might argue that such interests are a distraction if you’re running a whopping great ad business – working for clients – but, as long as everything else is going fine, it mostly slips under the radar.

Hollywood is notoriously uncertain territory for outsiders. There’ve been rumours about Weinstein’s antics for years and Hollywood producers through the ages have deployed the couching couch. Starlets used to say they should be fitted with kneepads in producers’ offices.

Anyone coming in to run WPP after current boss and founder Sir Martin Sorrell might look at these investments and, indeed, see them as a distraction. If the Weinstein scandal continues to set off bombs in unexpected places this will be a major distraction.

Some good might come out it mind. A WPP agency might get the job of rebranding The Weinstein Company. Only in Hollywood…

Update

WPP tells me that it never had had a direct holding in the latter version of Bell Pottinger, rather in Chime Communications, which once owned Bell Pottinger. Chime, partly owned by WPP, gave the shares back.

Also that Ogilvy Government Relations ceased its work for the NRA in 2009 although WPP’s Prime Policy Group was retained as an advisor to the NRA.

OK, but long spoons and all the rest of it.

Update

According to US website TMZ WPP’s Maerev was involved in Weinstein’s last contract with The Weinstein company, one which specified that Weinstein would not be dismissed if outstanding claims against him – of which there have obviously been many – were “settled.” Weinstein would then have to pay the money back.

Is this now deemed allowable in our lawyer-riddled world, where non-disclosure “agreements” abound? This one has a while to run yet.

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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.

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