Y&R stayed open post-WPP hack because ‘you don’t need computers to be creative’ says CEO David Sable

Young & Rubicam's New York offices

Young & Rubicam chief executive David Sable said his staff continued to work in the aftermath of a significant cyber attack which affected some businesses in the WPP network last week because "you don't need computers to be creative".

Speaking during a live-stream broadcast on financial news network Cheddar TV on Sunday evening (2 July), the boss said that the agency was "open for work" following the ransomware hack, adding: "Our people are very resilient and smart – they were on their cell phones to their clients very quickly."

His comments follow on from reports that the advertising giant told staff to disconnect their computers after it realised security was compromised, with some employees – including staff from GroupM –​ being advised to work from home.

Describing how employees worked from their hard drives or from USB sticks that had been "carefully" vetted, Sable said: "We're a creative business, we're about people, people just collected in groups, they were creative – that's what we do. You just don't need computers to be creative, if nothing else people woke up to [that] I think."

When pressed on whether the environment was more creative without computers, Sable said: "I don't know about that, it helps but like anything else it's an enabler, but it was so beautiful. I asked [staff] the question: 'How many people think they need a computer to be creative?' and they all just laughed."

WPP has scrambled to clear up the PR fallout from the hack, which was part of a worldwide attack which also disrupted the Ukrainian central bank, Russian oil producer Rosneft and Danish shipping company Maersk. "Our operations have not been uniformly affected, and issues are being addressed on a company-by-company basis. Many of our businesses are experiencing no or minimal disruption," the group said in a statement released on Friday.

​In an internal memo to staff, published by Adweek, WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell said: "Many of you will have experienced significant disruption to your work. However, contrary to some press reports, WPP and its companies are still very much open for business."

Sable joined Sorrell in criticisng press coverage of the event, lamenting that he thought trade publications in particular should "do something to support people who are at risk here."

The Drum spoke to a hacker last week to get some insight into the options available to companies who have been affected by ransomware attacks.

The hacker, who goes under the name of Rsnake, said it was unlikely that WPP was targeted directly in the attack and the array of those affected, such as banks and government offices, gives weight to this theory.

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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