Presidents Club Dinner tops a sorry week for WPP

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

On the same day that J Walter Thompson London was trying to sell in to Campaign research about the attitudes of "Elastic Women" (women aged over 50), reports were beginning to emerge of the experiences of a different, rather younger, group of women.

These women were working as hostesses at the Presidents Club Charity Dinner, an event at which WPP, JWT’s parent company, had booked a table.

Most people will, by now, be familiar with the story which was uncovered by reporters from the Financial Times. It doesn’t make for particularly edifying reading or reflect well on those companies from a variety of sectors that were there.

While the guests of WPP – and wouldn’t it be intriguing to know who they were? – are reported to have claimed to have seen none of the sexual harassment the original story says happened (perhaps they made their excuses early and left), WPP has now severed ties with the Awards dinner. Quite right too, although the real tragedy is that the Great Ormond Street Hospital has lost out in funding having now refused to take donations from the event.  Wouldn’t it be good if WPP – and those other companies there – made up the shortfall? After all, surely you don’t need to attend such events – sleazy or otherwise  to support good causes? Just ask the Instagram followers of Richard Huntington’s dog.

Back to JWT. This agency has done a good job in positioning itself on the right side of the gender debate thanks to initiatives such as its Female Tribes research. Along the way it has also - sort of - made people forget about all the "unpleasantness" that surrounded its former worldwide chief executive Gustavo Martinez. It’s been a new business winner too with a variety of female-focussed brands  including UN Women and Girlguiding  handing the shop their business. It’s unlikely that the Presidents Club Charity Dinner farrago will diminish this laudable initiative.

Equally, however, it’s improbable that Female Tribes will help JWT much in its attempts to retain its giant global Shell account, which has just been put up for review alongside the media account held by sister agency MediaCom. JWT has produced some memorable and award-winning work for Shell – the petrochemical company even picked up a Lion at Cannes this year, which is quite an achievement for a brand from such an unfashionable sector. Following the loss of Debenhams, JWT will presumably be throwing as much at keeping Shell as Mindshare is at keeping HSBC – its loss won’t be mitigated by the likes of Girlguiding.

Anyway, as Sir Martin Sorrell hobnobs among the global elite in Davos, he’s probably reflecting that WPP has had better weeks. Maybe that charitable donation might cheer him up.

Jeremy Lee is a contributing editor at Campaign

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