A Discredit To His Place

There’s nothing wrong with being an old white guy. Some of my best friends are old white guys. Some of the greatest Americans are old white guys and many of history’s most important figures are old white guys. Moses. Aristotle. Benjamin Franklin. Tchaikovsky, Gordie Howe.

Old-white-guy-ness is not, in and of itself, an affliction or some sort of character flaw. Furthermore, it is not something you choose; you get it assigned to you, like lefthandedness or gym lockers. As an old white guy myself, let me just say it’s not my fault.

On the other hand, dear God, Kevin Roberts. Is he so addled by his oldness and whiteness and guyness to have lost the power to observe and to reason

In an interview with Business Insider, the Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi and Publicis head coach (whatever the hell that means) denied that sexism is a serious problem in advertising. He also asserted that male-centric notions of career achievement don’t necessarily apply to women, whose ambition he says is often satisfied without ascending to upper management. 



"We have a bunch of talented, creative females, but they reach a certain point in their careers ... 10 years of experience, when we are ready to make them a creative director of a big piece of business, and I think we fail in two out of three of those choices because the executive involved said: 'I don't want to manage a piece of business and people, I want to keep doing the work.’" 

Does that sound familiar? It’s essentially the same argument propounded by Bill O’Reilly last week about the slaves who, in bondage, were put to work building the White House.

"Slaves that worked there were well fed and had decent lodgings provided by the government,” O’Reilly said. So, you know, don’t make the mistake thinking that the darkies were unhappy; they just have simpler needs. 

Now -- as memorably stated in the 1982 USA Today headline: “Men and Women: We’re Still Different” -- social science confirms many a cultural and perhaps hardwired difference in attitudes and behaviors of the two major sexes; it may well be that standards of career satisfaction and achievement are not entirely parallel for all men and women. But to suggest there is some sort of universal feminine indifference to promotion is simply idiotic, not to mention condescending, not to mention demeaning.

And to suggest that there is no glass ceiling in the male-dominated business culture is to ignore not only the overwhelming statistical evidence, but the heartrending experience of countless flesh-and-blood victims of the culture. This is simply denialism, in its ugliest form.

But Roberts wasn’t done. He also invoked the “self-interested-agitator” trope, accusing at least one industry critic -- ex-BBH exec Cindy Gallop -- of inventing or exaggerating a non-issue for her own cynical purposes. 

"I think she's got problems that are of her own making. I think she's making up a lot of the stuff to create a profile, and to take applause, and to get on a soap[box]."

This, too, has ugly echoes from the civil rights movement and other struggles against entrenched evil in which the powers that be demonized the voices of protest.

The fact is, Kevin Roberts has no idea of what it is like being a woman in advertising -- which is, once again, not his fault. What is his fault, and repulsive in the extreme, is for him to dismiss women’s experiences, their struggles, their ambitions, their obstacles, their humiliations and even their literal sexual assaults as if they were vestiges of a Mad Men past. Does he not read the newspapers? Does he not see what is plainly in his midst?

Yeah, he’s a head coach, all right. He’s Coach Paterno. If you cover your eyes and ears, the evil does not exist. 

12 comments about "A Discredit To His Place".
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  1. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., August 1, 2016 at 11:15 a.m.

    Great piece, you managed to re-inforce the error of Kevin Robert's ways. I guess the scary part is referring to him as "Coach". And yes, great analogoy to Joe Paterno who conveniently did not want to be confused with the facts.

  2. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, August 1, 2016 at 11:43 a.m.

    Well said. Will share.

  3. Barbara Lippert from, August 1, 2016 at 11:45 a.m.

    And now Roberts and Gustavo Martinez, formerly of JWT, can join hands and claim they were railroaded by feminist firebrands. Great job, Bob. When will agencies actually admit that they need sensitivity training in these areas, and they can't keep quelling the old boys club/paternalistic attitudes with reactionary PR moves? 

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, August 1, 2016 at 12:08 p.m.

    Whether Saatchi and also Saatchi or J. Walter Thompson or BBDO or Sullivan Stauffer Colwell and Bayles have anything to apologize for I do not know. I worked for a year at BBDO and was grateful for the Junior Copy job they gave me and the time there. My earlier agency job was at D'Arcy in the mail room. Women started as receptionmists and guys started in the mail room Those old days. Receptionists got paid more than mail boys, but they also had to work harder, dress better, and fake a smile when a dimwit made a jest. BUT--the ad business as a whole was ahead of most other industries in opening doors to talent rather then chromosones. Other than teaching and nursing, advertising and publishing offered the best opportunity for women of talent to thrive. When DDB was the vanguard of the so-called Creative Revolution, Phyllis Robinson was the copy chief through the 1950s until the end of the 60s. Rita Selden, working on VW, wrote the ad headline of the century "Lemon" and Julian Koenig removed his earlier headline (This Volkswagen missed the boat) and made it the opening line of copy instead. Mary Wells left the place to go to Tinker and then Wells Rich Green because the opportunity was there for her truly to run things. Back in 40s, a married couple ran Thompson and almost the entire retail copywriting business, the inhouse ad workings of Macy's and Gimbels and Saks et al, were women. 35 years before an automotive company put a woman in charge, an ad agency put a woman I know at the end of its 150 million dollar account, national and dealer ads both. There were fewer women art directors in the past, but many more media buyers and planners and researchers. In the 80s, a client of Ally & Gargano had a young woman in charge. I asked her if she had ever thought of using her MBA to get a job at an agency. She said the starting salaries for MBAs at agencies were really far below client companies. And it seemed the biggest change over the years were advanced degree women running things at advertisers not because they were white or young, but because they were full of energy and talent. When I went into business for myself with several male partners, we were lucky to merge/acquire a place where a female partner came on. A few years later, someone said to me about our place: "you are getting a reputation as a boys' club." My only defense was to tell her we were the only top 20 agency in New York then with a woman's name on the masthead and half our 12 partners were women. But you perceive what you want, I suppose.

  5. Jeff Christian from WebMD, August 1, 2016 at 12:44 p.m.

    Let me start by saying that I have been a follower and fan of your provocative pieces for my many years in media, Bob.  Further, I agree with everything you stated in the article above...until the final paragraph.

    Not only is the comparison to Joe Paterno an utter non sequitur, it is misinformed and misguided.  Despite the Freeh Report, which has been roundly discredited for its clear biases and leaps to judgment in the absence of facts, no evidence has ever been corroborated showing that Paterno covered up the heinous acts of Jerry Sandusky.  Moreover, those of us who knew Joe and the Paterno family can tell you that this was not a man who would ever have knowingly allowed a child -- any child -- to be harmed.  

    In late 2014, the NCAA issued a handbook for the proper handling of abuse charges.  The procedure they laid out was PRECISELY what Joe Paterno had done in 2001 after being told by a graduate assistant coach that he had seen Sandusky [who was no longer a Penn State employee] inappropriately touching a young boy.  Paterno was a great coach, and a greater man, but he wasn't omnipotent or "the most powerful man at Penn State" as the media seem to want to portray him.

    Joe Paterno died after being unjustly fired by a University he helped build in the midst of horrible allegations.  His family continues to suffer years later as a result.  Please stop tarring his reputation.

  6. Laura Daly from MediaPost, August 1, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.

    Regarding Paterno:

  7. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, August 1, 2016 at 1:23 p.m.

    Jeff Christian:
    Coverup? A strawman argument.  Two pieces of thusfar-unrefuted testimony assert that on separate occasions Paterno was informed of Sandusky's predations. It's not what Joe did that is at issue, but rather what he did NOT do.  When there are allegations of a child being molested in your locker room, you do not discharge your responsibility by simply notifying the university administration. 

    As for his power and stature, I (PSU '77) don't recall for the 35 years before the scandal any complaints of exaggeration from the PSU community about the media deification of Joe Paterno. 

  8. Jim Farina from Farina Consulting, August 1, 2016 at 5:14 p.m.

    Bob, if Mr. Roberts is an old white man, then perhaps he had a bout of senility or mental illness, per se. If not and thus totally healthy and sane, then your real issue shouldn't be with Mr. Roberts but rather, Mr. Levy, his executive team and the Publicis board, as there's no plausible explanation on how his thoughts and beliefs were not understood by them prior to his statements. Or per your comparison at the end, just like Penn State was penalized by Joe Paterno's actions, well, then, I'll leave that up to you to ponder.

  9. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 1, 2016 at 6:49 p.m.

    Egyptians come in light and dark colors and in between, more light in the north and dartker in the south closer to Sudan.  Who know what colors were dominant during the times of the Moses legend in that area ?

  10. Kristi Faulkner from Womenkind, August 2, 2016 at 9:39 a.m.

    Personally, I think we owe Kevin Roberts a debt of gratitude for revealing the ugly truth about misogyny at Pubicis and in our industry. The first step towards solving a probelm is admiting it. And finally, someone has, in a big way.

    The man who created Lovemarks, espousing respect and empathy, is the ideal person to champion diversity. So I wrote him this thank you note:

  11. Jeff Christian from WebMD replied, August 5, 2016 at 12:33 p.m.

    1. My original point remains: Garfield's story has NOTHING to do with Paterno. Why we are even engaged in this debate is beyond me.

    2. Do you know the difference between an unsubstantiated, uncorroborated allegation and a proven fact? Here is a fact: Penn State has paid out tens of millions of dollars to alleged victims without ever truly vetting their claims. The Board of Trustees essentially opened a cash box to anyone who came forward. Another fact: This now 45-year old claim is part of an insurance company's attempt to avoid paying out tens of millions of dollars to Penn State. A third fact: Even if he did speak to anyone on the phone [and there is absolutely no evidence that he spoke to Paterno at all], he himself says that he told the persons on the other end of the line that Sandusky "grabbed me and I got the hell out of there." It's easy in hindsight to link that to sexual abuse, but that would not have been at all the case in 1971 at the time of the alleged incident.

    Stop vilifying a man who did nothing but good for young people throughout his whole life and career.

  12. Jeff Christian from WebMD replied, August 5, 2016 at 1:05 p.m.

    Bob Garfield:

    Bob, again, I don't know why you would drag Joe Paterno's name into an entirely unrelated article. As a fellow alumnus, I understand that you would be upset about what has been done to our University's reputation at the hands of a monster, however...

    You talk about unrefuted testimony. Paterno himself said of McQueary's allegation that it was non-specific in terms of what the then-grad assistant coach had witnessed. And McQueary's reports have been inconsistent over the years. More significant, no victim has ever come forward with a story matching the alleged locker room assault on that date.

    Regardless, Paterno reported what he was told to both the Athletic Director [his superior] and to the Head of the University Police, under whose jurisdiction the alleged crime would have fallen. Should he have fired Sandusky? Jerry wasn't a University employee at the time! Should he have gone vigilante? Joe was a 75 year old man! He did exactly what he should have done in the face of this allegation.

    I have already commented on the 1971 allegation. Bluntly, it is related to a case of an insurance company trying to save itself tens of millions of dollars in claims. While the claim is a dusty 45 years in the past and is entirely unsubstantiated, you are correct that Joe does not refute it. Because he is dead.

    Did the Media deify Paterno at one point? Certainly. Did they also spout a stream of "He's too old," "He's out of touch with his players," "He's senile," and "Joe must go." Undoubtedly. Did they rush to judgment in the absence of facts and link him to Sandusky, both in words and by showing images of the two together throughout the reporting of the scandal? Absolutely. So much so that a poll taken in August 2012 revealed that 28% of respondents believed that Joe himself had been accused of sexually abusing children.

    As a representative of that same Media, I hope you'll reconsider all the facts [not the unsupported and manipulated allegations] and stop playing into the storyline that continues to harm the family and friends of a truly decent man.

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