Jon Sharpe leaving VMLY&R is unsatisfactory all round

Jon Sharpe leaving VMLY&R is unsatisfactory all round

Sharpe is leaving VMLY&R in the midst of an investigation. It didn't have to be this way.

Ten weeks isn’t a particularly long time to decide to leave your job to "pursue new opportunities" – in fact, it’s two weeks less than what Y&R London’s Katie Lee had before she was forced to do the same. But Jon Sharpe, European chief executive of VMLY&R, says he has resigned from the agency, which was only created in October, to do just that.

In the background, of course, is an ongoing disciplinary process involving external counsel and his suspension, following "reports" from employees. It should be noted that he says he strenuously denies these allegations and claims he was vigorously defending himself against them.

You’ve got to feel some sympathy for the WPP chief executive, Mark Read – another migraine not of his making and in need of trepanning. The nature of the investigation, which unsatisfiyingly now looks unlikely to be resolved, also casts another unpleasant cloud over the industry.

It really didn’t need to be this way for VMLY&R. When the merger between Y&R London and VML was announced in October, there was already a very capable, proven and hungry management team in place to run it. What’s more, they were prepared to do so, aware that a merger between them made sound strategic sense. The tragedy is that Lee, Paul Lawson and Jonathan Burley weren’t even given the chance to do so; VML’s chief executive, Jon Cook, had already decided that Sharpe was his man. In retrospect, this decision has come back to haunt him.

Away from the investigation, David Bain wrote elegantly earlier this week that advertising is in market failure and agencies are responding in the only "rational" way they can – cutting cost, which is people. Unfortunately, this means that good people with talent are losing their jobs when they are the only item of real value that agencies have. This is bad news for agencies, bad news for the people involved and bad news for clients.

A look at the roll call of 2018 casualties shows some real talent that – much like Lawson, Burley and Lee – should never have been allowed to go. Someone needs to break this cycle and achieve an unfair advantage by having an unfair number of talented people. In short, focus on the smarts.

It's up to VMLY&R, which is now rudderless in the UK, how it gets itself out of this mess. The romantic choice would be to bring back Lawson, Burley and Lee, but whether they ‘d be willing to do so or would find it akin to a dog returning to its vomit is another matter. But the industry really needs to up its game on identifying, selecting, nurturing and keeping its very best while simultaneously discarding the bad.

Jeremy Lee is contributing editor at Campaign

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