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WPP scolds Publicis boss Maurice Levy over apparent JWT sexism row U-turn

WPP has intensified its spat with advertising rival Publicis Groupe, issuing a statement blasting Publicis boss Maurice Levy’s recent controversial comments around the JWT scandal in addition to a subsequent company memo attempting to clarify his position.

During a 4A’s conference (22 March), Levy claimed that allegations of immoral conduct including disparaging black and Jewish people on top of rape jokes made against former JWT chief executive Gustavo Martinez, were “one man’s mistake” and not “exemplary of what’s happening in our industry”.

He continued: “Maybe […] he learned from [Donald] Trump and listening to Trump thought he could behave badly.”

At the time he was condemned by Cindy Gallop, founder of Publicis-owned BBH New York tweeted “'One man's fault'? Are you fucking kidding me, Maurice?”

Meanwhile during the conference, WPP chief Martin Sorrell went on the offensive stating that Levy "has a habit of ignoring the facts" completely contrasting the views stated by Publicis’ head at the time.

In response, Levy issued a lengthy Publicis memo to address the accusations. An extract reads: “I must say that his [Martinez] comments, if true, are jaw dropping. To such an extent, that in my opinion, they can only represent the unforgivable fault of one man, as opposed to an industry-wide evil… On this point, I maintain my position, and I dare hope that I am right - I can’t for one second imagine that it is common in our industry (or in any other) to make jokes at every turn about women, blacks and Jews, and to speak of a subject as sensitive as rape, as it was depicted in Erin Johnson’s complaint.”

A WPP spokesperson, responding in turn to the memo, told The Drum: “From what we've seen and heard his comments, which were publicly reprimanded immediately by Nancy Hill, head of the 4As, stirred up a hornets’ nest, which Levy is now attempting to deal with. Levy is clearly attempting damage limitation for ill-judged remarks at the 4As Conference.

“We are glad to hear he is attempting to reverse his original position. After all, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

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