Best of the Week: Good blokes, mean girls and newly unemployed men
In a week the alleged abuser of an agency executive lost his job after she named him, Australia's media and marketing landscape was still dominated by the cliches of "good blokes" and "mean girls"
Welcome to Unmade, written while you were sleeping on Saturday morning.
Today’s writing soundtrack: Lemon Jelly - Lost Horizons.
Happy Atheist Pride Day for tomorrow.
It’s been a week where Covid has been cramping the style of Team Unmade. In Australia my colleague Damian Francis is trapped in semi-perpetual self isolation where each time end-of-iso approaches, another family member tests positive and resets the clock. And here in the UK, I’m sufficiently full of cold to stay in so as not to share my germs with the outside world, yet also testing negative. Today’s email is powered by Codral.
I’m not sure Best of the Week is the correct title for this email today. Given some of the gender politics which unfolded around Australia’s media and marketing industry, Worst of the Week may be more accurate.
We kicked off the week with a LinkedIn post from former agency executive Ella Campbell who identifies herself on the platform as “sexual assault survivor”. In recent weeks she has been reclaiming her story.
In her post, inspired by International Women’s Day the week before, Campbell named former colleague Chris Laws as culpable.
To explain Campbell’s WPP reference, until 2013, Laws had been general manger of design agency Moon, part of STW Group, which was then partly owned by WPP. After his departure from Moon, his next venture was as cofounder of branding agency Born and Raised, where Campbell ended up working with him.
In 2020, Enigma Communications bulked up by acquiring Born and Raised, and Laws - who I should admit I had not heard of until this week - came across as managing director.
Reporting such allegations is legally risky, which is one reason why so few names were named in Australia, even as the #MeToo movement took off in other parts of the world. For that reason, I’ll borrow and endorse the lawyer-approved phraseology used in Mumbrella’s reporting of Campbell’s post: “Mumbrella at this time is only reporting on the very public allegations made by Campbell and is not suggesting that Laws has committed the harassment and illegal activities complained of by Campbell. This will only be known if the matter proceeds to a Court and a determination is made.”
Campbell later reported on LinkedIn that she had declined a request from Laws’ lawyer to take down the post. Supporters started a Go Fund Me appeal to cover any future legal costs for Campbell which at the time of writing has already raised more than $10,000.
Among those who have given their public support to the fundraiser for Campbell is the high profile US-based campaigner Cindy Gallop who observed: “It isn’t defamation if it’s true”.
Yesterday afternoon Mumbrella reported that Laws has now lost his job at Enigma, with the agency saying: “The alleged events occurred before Mr Laws was an employee at Enigma and it is now a legal matter for Mr Laws.”
One of the more depressing occasional occurrences in this industry comes when I get chatting about some executive or another whose work I admire and who seems - and I know this is a loaded phrase - to be a good bloke. Oh, they’re actually a notorious “pantsman”, “root rat” or predator, I’ll be informed, as my opinion of the agency world drops a little more.
A few years back, the then editor of AdNews Rosie Baker told readers she was close to naming some names, before eventually deciding not to publish because of legal risk. I - and I’m sure many other people in the industry - had a pretty good idea about which agency executives would have been in the crosshairs.
Even when confident of the facts - which I am in relation to one particular individual within the industry, as it happens - it’s also not your story as a journalist to decide when to tell. It’s almost impossible to out an alleged predator without outing the survivor too.
The stories belong to the survivors. Putting aside legal restrictions, they should be the ones who choose when and how to tell their stories.
That was one of many of missteps in the case of The Daily Telegraph’s bungled 2017 “King Leer” allegations about the actor Geoffrey Rush. The female actor who had raised concerns about Rush’s conduct did not want the newspaper to publish the allegations, which were later found in Federal Court to be defamatory.
What has perhaps altered the landscape this week was Campbell’s use of LinkedIn to tell her story. I can’t think of anybody else who has done that in Australia, certainly not in the agency world. Stating once again that I offer no judgement on the truth or otherwise of her allegation, this tool gave Campbell the power to control how she told her story. It was then followed up in the trade press and mainstream media and was, it would seem, the trigger for Laws’ exit from Enigma.
Again, legal factors come into play. Campbell made clear in that and follow up posts that she was aware there were potential legal consequences of making an allegation and that she was prepared to back it up in court.
One of the vagaries of Australia’s legal system is that platforms like LinkedIn also become legally liable as a publisher of allegations once somebody claiming to be defamed complains about it. I’ve no idea whether Laws’ lawyer has been in touch with LinkedIn, but it’s interesting that at the time of writing, Campbell’s post remains visible.
I wonder if there are other people who have been weighing up whether to tell their story who might use the same means.
And yet, there are also many who hate the idea of LinkedIn being the (imperfect) forum. The only published comment from a Mumbrella reader on the news article complained: “We need to consider the impact to all of us, if anyone can simply call you out amongst your business peers without following due (legal) process. Linkedin is not the place for justice. Mumbrella this is unacceptable for you to cover what is essentially gossip at this point.” It got more than 100 upvotes, something I don’t think has happened before.
I also saw a comment from an academic on Campbell’s post demanding to know why she was saying it on LinkedIn.
People’s fear of being unjustly accused is understandable, although there are legal remedies available when that occurs. The law as it stands weights defamation cases in favour of the plaintiff.
And there is a visceral defensiveness from parts of the industry. A couple of weeks ago I chatted to the male founders of an independent agency. I asked what they thought of a proposal I’d recently heard that part of future pitch processes might include asking an agency to demonstrate that they are a safe place for people to work. It was the most animated they became during the lunch. Although they had nothing to hide, they said, they hated the concept. It would be unfair to ask people to disprove a negative.
And yet, for victims of predatory behaviour within agencies, the current situation is even more unfair.
If not by putting the onus on agencies pitching for business, or by allowing survivors to use LinkedIn to tell their story (and provide media the ability to then report it, as occurred this week), then where will change come from?
Speaking of “good blokes” losing their jobs, News Corp parted ways with one of its journalists this week.
On Wednesday night, Fox Footy’s AFL reporter Tom Morris was the target of what looked like an unjustified attack by Western Bulldogs coach Luke Beveridge. After Morris asked a question at a press conference, Beveridge laid into him, accusing him of “gutter journalism” for having revealed unannounced team news. It looked like one of those classic cases of a journalist doing their job and being unfairly attacked for it.
But Morris was not the hero of the story for long. Even as Beveridge was apologising for the attack, two private videos were emerging.
In one Morris made racist, sexist and and homophobic remarks while being filmed by what seemed to be a mobile phone, perhaps in a stadium.
It was an odd rant, but at least did not seem to be targeted at any particular individual.
The other was even more damaging for his employment prospects. It was a leak from a group chat and featured a voice memo from Morris outing to the “boys” one of his female on-air colleagues as a lesbian. I won’t share it here.
As one woman observed on Twitter, it was how women working in male dominated newsrooms fear they are talked about behind their backs.
Fox Sports quickly suspended, then fired Morris.
Last night, less than 48 hours from receiving his apology from Beveridge, Morris was issuing his own apology.
On the one hand it was a perfectly crafted apology, covering all the how-tos of a PR-friendly apology: Don’t use the phrase “If I offended”; say sorry unconditionally; promise to work to be a better person.
On the other, it was such a perfectly worded apology it felt like it could have been written by a PR robot.
And another female journalist at the receiving end of sexism this week was The Guardian’s Amy Remeikis.
She tweeted about speculation from Labor senator Murray Watt that Liberal senator Gerard Rennick might defect to One Nation.
Rennick responded by suggesting that Watt was Remeikis’s “boyfriend”.
Like Luke Beveridge, Rennick hid behind the lazy “gutter journalism” claim. He refused to back down or apologise.
And that wasn’t even the most demeaning political conversation about gender going on this week.
The Australian was among the outlets going big on the death of Labor senator Kimberley Kitching. Even before her funeral on Monday, it’s become a debate about whether a rival “Mean Girls” clique had contributed to Kitching’s heart attack.
Certainly there was a rival faction. As Laura Tingle points out in today’s AFR, fellow MPs within Kitching’s party including Penny Wong, Kristina Keneally and Katy Gallagher did not trust her because they thought she was leaking to the other side. Framing their reaction to that as “Mean Girls” is harder to justify. It was hardball politics but it wasn’t gendered.
And finally on the depressing topic of gender in the media, we end where we began.
Yesterday Mumbrella published a feature chatting to a dozen executive creative directors about the future. (Ironically, one of them, was the ECD of Chris Laws’s former agency Enigma.)
Eleven of the 12 ECDs featured in this discussion about the future were men.
As Cindy Gallop put it (mildly, in the circumstances) on LinkedIn last night: “Where do you see the role of the ECD going in the next 10 years?' 11 women and 1 man will respond in a piece like this, versus 11 men and 1 woman; the majority of those women will be indigenous/WOC; and the work will be 11 times better.”
Unmade Index: Ooh Media back in the two comma club
The Unmade Index continued its slow recovery on Friday, with Australia’s listed media and marketing companies growing by 0.66%, the same as the wider ASX All Ords.
The biggest improvement came from outdoor media company Ooh Media which jumped by nearly 5%, moving back above $1bn market capitalisation and overtaking the value of Seven West Media.
Time to let you go about your Saturday.
As ever, we’re keen to know what you think. Drop us a line to email@example.com or via the button below.
Damo and I will be back on Monday with the Start the Week podcast.
Have a great weekend.