From the WPP Archive: under fire WPP settles Johnson/Martinez case at JWT

The messy Johnson/Martinez affair at JWT signalled the end for the venerable agency as a separate entity (WPP merged it with Wunderman with Wunderman in the driving seat.) It also pre-dated, just, Sir Martin Sorrell’s ousting at the company he founded. It wasn’t the only such embarrassment for WPP: Mindshare boss Nick Emery was ousted over a Zoom prank (he’s now at You&Mr Jones Media) and JWT’s five “white stale males” court case seems to have been another misjudgement. Big creative agencies need to re-establish themselves as credible business leaders – you can see why.

After two years JWT and owner WPP have settled the sexual harassment case brought by chief communications officer Erin Johnson against former JWT global boss Gustavo Martinez.

JWT says it has “reached an amicable settlement agreement with Erin Johnson, chief communications officer of the J. Walter Thompson company, in the Johnson vs. J. Walter Thompson lawsuit. The terms of the agreement are confidential and will not be disclosed. Additionally, Johnson has resigned from the role of chief communications officer.”

Johnson says: “The past few years have been challenging to say the least, and I am grateful for the love and encouragement from family, friends and those of you in the industry who spoke up and offered support, thank you. Most importantly, I would like to thank Anne Vladeck, Debra Raskin and Jeremiah Iadevaia at Vladeck, Raskin & Clark (her lawyers), a brilliant legal team and force to be reckoned with. I hope that my personal experience will encourage others to speak up and follow their convictions. Moving forward, I wish Tam (Ingram JWT’s new global boss) and the JWT team success.”

Martinez, who resigned shortly after Johnson sued, is still employed by WPP somewhere in Spain. According to a WPP spokesperson: “He is and continues to be working on assignments for WPP in Spain but is not the country lead.”

It may be a coincidence that WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell is currently being investigated by an outside law firm after allegations surfaced of “personal misconduct,” seemingly involving WPP assets, money presumably. WPP has said that the sums in question are “not material.”

Sorrell has firmly denied the allegations although he says the company is right to investigate. He is believed to be behind JWT’s hard ball response to Johnson’s suit and subsequent employment of Martinez in Spain.

But it may be that someone else at WPP has decided that the Johnson/Martinez has gone long enough, causing untold damage to JWT’s reputation. J. Walter Thompson was the foundation of the WPP empire when Sorrell bought it for $566m in 1987.

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