Skirmish over workplace harassment in the advertising industry

Credit: Arisa Chattasa via Unsplash

The issue of workplace bullying has sparked a public skirmish between a top consultant, who puts on competitive pitches for big-budget brands, and bodies representing the advertising industry.

Industry insiders say the ad industry doesn’t like a consultancy telling it what to do when it comes to responding to workplace bullying, harassment and assault.

The consultancy, TrinityP3, wanted industry bodies to help provide advertisers with assurance of the validity of their choice in the agencies they partner with, rather than relying on rumors and gossip about a “endemic and persistent problem”.

TrinityP3 CEO Darren Woolley said he had spoken to the three industry bodies – the Media Federation of Australia (MFA), the Advertising Council of Australia (ACA), the Independent Media Agencies Australia (IMAA) – since March.

Woolley’s pitch – which he says was sparked by inertia on the issue – has been an open secret in the industry for a few months, but has not been publicly solicited so far.

The move was met with suspicion. The industry didn’t need a policy advisory on an issue that needed to be addressed by all parts of the industry, insiders said.

When the industry, according to Woolley, said “No”, he announced that TrinityP3 would ask any agency wishing to be considered for a pitch organized by TrinityP3 to complete a statutory declaration of its status and processes regarding bullying, harassment and assault at work.

Insiders say that any agency presented with a statutory declaration would have it checked by lawyers anyway. Industry bodies could not do that.

Two other pitch consultants, pushing with TrinityP3, dropped out with rejection from industry bodies.

AdNews confirmed that the industry had rejected the proposal in a confidential letter.

Woolley says he consulted widely with advertising executives before approaching industry bodies in March.

“Then in late May, industry bodies responded, completely dismissed our suggestions and concerns,” he told AdNews.

“We thought about what we can do because they were clear in their belief that it was too difficult and not necessary.

“In the end, we took the only measure available to us.

“While it wasn’t perfect, it was the only action we could take, other than to continue to be complicit through silence.”

The Media Federation of Australia (MFA) says Woolley’s speech only arrived this week.

Woolley says that’s wrong. “While it might be convenient to suggest they were hacked, the fact is that we officially raised this issue over three months ago,” he said. AdNews.

Sophie Madden, CEO of the MFA, in a statement: “The safety of industry employees has always been and continues to be very important to our Board and our members, and we welcome any initiative that increases accountability. and supports safe and respectful workplaces.

“The MFA will continue its ongoing work on formulating industry-appropriate support services for our members – including advice, training, minimum standards and policy advice – in addition to employee assistance programs. (PAE) that many of our members already have in place.”

“We remain open-minded to suggestions for initiatives and we are evaluating the proposal from P3, which we received shortly before 5 p.m. on Friday July 1.

“We believe consultation and a holistic, thoughtful approach that includes customers and media owners is the best way forward.”

The ACA and IMAA have yet to comment.

Wooley, writing on LinkedIn, “Over the past year, we have become increasingly aware that issues related to workplace bullying, harassment and assault still occur in the advertising industry. Too often these issues are presented as historical and that the industry was ‘not as bad as it was’.

“But one only has to look at the stories and concerns that have emerged during recent International Women’s Day events to realize that the issues are still very apparent and directly affect this generation of adland employees.

“These issues that we whisper about are endemic and ongoing. We discuss them over drinks, we console friends, colleagues, even family, who may have been affected, but no one takes a stand.

“No one in power is moving to force change.

“Our fear is that this could impact business. It ends up in the basket too hard. But the reality is that marketers and brands are exposed by ignoring these issues. After all, who wants to deal with the backlash of choosing to work with an agency that has allowed the issues of bullying, harassment or worse to continue?

“Instead, we are burdened with a collective inertia in the face of an industry-wide culture of silence. And we are all made accomplices.”

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