Some groups in UK adland are protesting vociferously about coverage of Jo Wallace, a leading player in the JWT sex discrimination case. Specifically an article on Mail Online. Complaints have been made to IPSO, the rather toothless replacement for the (equally) toothless Press Complaints Commission.
In fact the article covers the case of Chas Bayfield, Dave Jenner and their unnamed colleagues against (now) Wunderman Thompson pretty accurately; the only bone of contention (as far as I can see) being pictures of Wallace (above) and her female fiancee, which look like they’ve been taken from a public social media feed as they’re pretty flattering. Some people have also complained because the piece says they live in East London but that’s a pretty big area, bigger than most UK cities.
But why Wallace, a global creative director on Nestle? Although, as WPP has pointed out, she played no part in the redundancy of the white, middle-aged creatives she did say, at a conference, that such people should be “obliterated” from JWT as it strove to bridge its cavernous gender pay gap. The five objected to this and their careers at JWT ended days later after a meeting with the head of HR (or should that be chief redundancy officer?) and a creative bigwig.
Wallace is also on record as referring publicly to “white, stale males” so she can hardly grumble if she arouses controversy.
Of the current farrago Wallace says: “What does this tell women already underrepresented in this industry? Why would [they] want to go into this industry when you see myself being treated like this?
“I had nothing to do with this case. I had nothing to do with the decision to make them redundant. [Pictures of] me wearing a bikini is clearly an attempt to take me down and embarrass me in public, so it’s incredibly distressing.”
People in adland could save themselves a fair few problems if they didn’t strive for maximum impact in everything they say, even if skews and distorts the meaning. If, say, Wallace at the ‘Crisis: The Mother of All Change’ meeting recommended “radical action” rather than “obliterate” this might not have happened. In fact the title of said conference is typical adland hyperbole: crisis isn’t the mother of all change – it might be the cause of some of it. Similar “white, stale males.” Is stale in there just because it rhymes will male?
One of the things I find most bewildering about the way this started is that James Whitehead, then CEO of JWT, was in the audience. Did he see Wallace’s presentation first? On the basis of one meeting (to discuss a rebranding of JWT – we know what happened to that) Whitehead struck me as sensible.
Let’s hope the five made redundant are, at the very least, walking away with sizeable cheques. Online trolling of Wallace should crease too, of course. But anyone who ventures online pretty well knows what they’re going to get.
As for Wunderman Thompson owner WPP, it needs to examine if it’s far too quick on the trigger in such instances. People shouldn’t lose their jobs without due consideration of natural justice. This is rather akin to Nick Emery’s defenestration at Mindshare when he was fired for a Zoom spoof in the loo. Emery is now forming a rival media division at You & Mr Jones. Such decisions have consequences.