What on earth did WPP do to JWT – and what’s it going to do next with its troubled network?

Time was when J. Walter Thompson was the epitome of the top-of-the-world ad agency; a big quoted company in the US and top of the heap in London, with posh account execs (said to have introduced Brook Brothers button-downs to London), decent creatives, loads of research and all that stuff and a genius planner in Stephen King.

It was a bit floppy in the UK at times but class.

Then Sir Martin Sorrell’s nascent WPP bought it in 1987 for $566m (the freehold Tokyo office wasn’t in the books) and it’s been downhill ever after.

Now JWT London is in the mire because it’s accused of firing a number of white, male, straight creatives because they didn’t fit with the management and creative director Jo Wallace’s drive to exchange such people for alternatives. JWT London had just been exposed as the British company with the biggest gender pay gap, 44 per cent in favour of blokes.

JWT globally went through hell when CEO Gustovao Martinez was accused of harassment and sexism by communications boss Erin Johnson. Martinez left, eventually.

Now we still don’t know whether JWT London did fire these people because they complained about Wallace’s remarks. But it’s a big embarrassment at best.

Back in the day JWT London was run by civilised people like Jeremy Bullmore (still something or other at WPP) and a bunch of Saville Row-suited account execs with double-barrelled names who may not have been much good at adverts but knew how to behave.

Then, somehow or other, it all went pear-shaped.

The reason, I suspect, is WPP. It wanted more performance, whatever the cost.

New WPP CEO Mark Read is probably wondering what to do with JWT. But what it used to be still has a value.

PS Creative director Wallace said she wanted to “obliterate” JWT’s reputation as a white, male enclave. OK, but why do these senior female creatives always go a word or phrase too far? You want to change things for the better, that’s enough. Calm down..

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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. I’d say bring them back and fire HER – in order to get rid of this skewed, rubbishy mindset. I’m a woman, and increasingly I haven’t been able to get jobs because of people like her. If you don’t like the heat generated by a lot of boisterous males, then get out of the fire.

    I think we should all be very honest about which side we bat for. That way, with any luck we could hire accordingly and run our companies smoothly.

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