The Martin Agency’s sexual harassment scandal is bad. It’s also the tip of the dick in an industry long overdue for reform.
Suzanne Vranica, a reporter at The Wall Street Journal, spoke to some of the women who once worked for the Martin Agency, where they were sexually harassed by the agency’s former chief creative officer, Joe Alexander.
In 2011, Mr. Alexander made several unwanted advances toward a female copywriter at the agency, harassing her on multiple occasions, according to people familiar with the woman’s account. That year, on assignment in Los Angeles to shoot a commercial for Wal-Mart, Mr. Alexander touched her inappropriately and tried to kiss her, but she rejected his advances, according to the people familiar with her account. Days later, he invited her to his hotel room to discuss business. After a short conversation, he got naked, got into bed and said, ‘You decide what you want to do,’ according to the people familiar with her account.
The woman involved in the 2011 incident was let go by the Martin Agency in 2013 and received a settlement of $275,000, including a provision barring her from working for Interpublic Group agencies.
There’s more. A lot more…
In a previously unreported incident, Carolyn McGeorge, a senior art director at the Martin Agency from 1992 to 1995, said she was assaulted by Mr. Alexander in a hotel room during a business trip to France in the 1990s. Ms. McGeorge said he groped her, pushed her onto the bed and tried to kiss her. She says she pushed him off. Several months later, when she reported the incident to the agency’s then-president, Mike Hughes, he told her it would be handled. She said she was fired roughly six months later and was told she wasn’t the right fit for the agency.
It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to see that the abuser was tolerated, possibly encouraged, by the other agency leaders around him. The victims, on the other hand, were summarily dismissed.
The WSJ reporter notes that the Martin Agency was widely understood to be a collegial place to work with a family-like culture. “If it can happen at the Martin agency, then Lord knows, it happens everywhere else,” said Jen Mageau, a former Martin Agency employee.
Given how damaging it is for one’s career to rub up against the boy’s club, it makes sense that more women in advertising are not yet naming names. Cindy Gallop, for one, is encouraging them to do so, and if you know where to look on Facebook, the evidence of rampant sexual harassment in the agency business is mounting.
Do you know any women who work for or once worked for a powerful, famous ad agency? Chances are good you know women who know the perps, either because they were harassed, or someone close to them was. I know women who once worked at Wieden + Kennedy. The agency just had another puff piece written about them by Adweek. Nowhere in the piece does it allege that a sexual predator works there, or did.
The trades are not going to take down a Wieden + Kennedy, a Martin Agency, or other agencies that they rely on for access. To get to the bottom of things, to surface the facts, and get people to speak on the record, we need a real reporter or team of reporters.
Also, as more women come forward, the momentum builds for speaking truth to power. Here’s a comment on Cindy Gallop’s Facebook page from a former Martin agency staffer:
Thank you for encouraging all of us to come forward and tell our stories. You gave us strength to relive a lot of pain and sadness. Many of us have lost our jobs and some have had careers ruined. Many of us have witnessed the pain endured by our female colleagues. I honestly would not have gotten through some days without the support from them. We helped each other.
In related news, WPP has had a whistleblower hotline for staff—run by a third party—in place since 2003. That’s good, but what are agencies doing to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace? I think it’s safe to say, not nearly enough.