Publicis Groupe has put Kevin Roberts, executive chairman of agency Saatchi & Saatchi, on leave after Roberts made comments about women and diversity that the Groupe concluded were “counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto ‘Viva la Difference!’”
The controversy began Friday when Business Insiderquoted Roberts on the topic of diversity as saying that the “fucking debate is all over.” Many in the industry, of course, believe that debate is heating up in the wake of recent lawsuits at J. Walter Thompson and Rapp that have alleged sex discrimination, retaliation and related behavior in the Adland work force. And many industry leaders have acknowledged the industry does indeed have a diversity problem.
Roberts also told BI that "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.’”
In the interview, he also called out Cindy Gallop, the long-time agency executive and well-known advocate of diversity and women’s rights, saying, "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]."
BI asked Gallop to respond and she commented: “The best response to that is to throw it open to the industry, and ask the women and men of the ad industry, all around the world, to tweet at @krconnect to let him know whether they think I'm 'making it all up'."
And they did. Brad Jakeman, President global Beverage Group at Pepsi, called Roberts “Out of Touch” and said “proud to say that I am not a client” at Saatchi.
DDB CEO Wendy Clark tweeted that “25 yrs ago I was an ad agency receptionist. Today I'm the CEO. I'm much happier in the c-suite, thanks all the same.”
And Airbnb CMO Jonathan Mildenhall tweeted at Roberts, “If I were CMO @ P&G I would be questioning your understanding of my core consumer.”
Roberts also said in the BI interview that he devotes no time to the diversity issue at his agency.
Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy responded early Saturday with a statement: "The opinion expressed by Kevin is neither shared nor supported by myself or the Groupe. It is his own, expressed in his unique and provocative way and does not reflect the Groupe opinion or policy."
Later Saturday the company put out a statement that Roberts had been put on leave and that the Groupe’s Supervisory Board will determine what further action might be taken.
Here’s the full statement:
“Following the comments made by Saatchi & Saatchi Executive Chairman and Publicis Groupe Head Coach, Kevin Roberts, in a recent interview with Business Insider, Publicis Groupe Chairman & CEO, Maurice Lévy addressed a statement internally to all Publicis Groupe employees to reiterate the Groupe's no-tolerance policy towards behavior or commentary counter to the spirit of Publicis Groupe and its celebration of difference as captured in the motto Viva la Difference!
It is for the gravity of these statements that Kevin Roberts has been asked to take a leave of absence from Publicis Groupe effective immediately. As a member of The Directoire, it will ultimately be the Publicis Groupe Supervisory Board's duty to further evaluate his standing.
Diversity & inclusion are business imperatives on which Publicis Groupe will not negotiate. While fostering a work environment that is inclusive of all talent is a collective responsibility, it is leadership's job to nurture the career aspirations and goals of all our talent. Promoting gender equality starts at the top and the Groupe will not tolerate anyone speaking for our organization who does not value the importance of inclusion. Publicis Groupe works very hard to champion diversity and will continue to insist that each agency's leadership be champions of both diversity and inclusion.”