Ogilvy staff protest Customs and Border Protection work

Ogilvy employees are protesting – vociferously – about the agency’s work for the US Customs and Border Protection agency, blamed for separating children from their parents at border “facilities”. This is said to have led to the deaths of seven children.

Pretty obvious what Ogilvy should do surely – resign the business and apologise.

Alas, business is business it seems and that’s not what Ogilvy CEO John Seifert (below) intends to do as he explains here in a leaked transcript of a meeting with employees in Buzzfeed.

Essentially Seifert’s case is that the agency was hired to work on recruitment for the CPB, not handle its PR or any kind of image campaign supporting its practices. He says all big companies or entities do bad things from time to time, which are out of any agency’s control. But that’s a bit like saying we work for the SS or FSB but not not the bits that kill or poison people.

As one employee says, in a quote Buzzfeed highlights: “We’re willing to work with companies that sell big tobacco. We’re willing to work with companies that contribute to obesity rates. And I guess, what I’m mostly hearing is that we’re willing to work with companies that are allowing children to die.”

It’s clearly doubly complicated when it’s a government client under fire. Officially at least the US government is the elected representative of a liberal democracy that enshrines humanitarian values. Trouble is, at the moment it doesn’t (as it didn’t in the past when, for example, slavery was permitted.)

Credit Seifert for confronting the issue. But credit Ogilvy employees far more for objecting to the agency’s practices even though losing such a big account might cost them their jobs.

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About Stephen Foster

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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.