Why You Always Watch Your Back In Advertising

I was reminded by a Twitter conversation the other day about one of the darkest moments in the history of my show, The BeanCast.

One of my guests was booked opposite ad blogger George Parker a few years back. At the time I was relatively new to doing the program and fairly naive about how volatile many of the agency networks were toward the man. So when my guest, who was an employee of a WPP-owned shop came on, I proceeded as I would for any show.

What I didn't anticipate was the WPP George Parker hit squad.

George is flaboyant with his insults toward WPP chairman, Sir Martin Sorrell, calling him the "Poison Dwarf" along with more choice descriptions. As a result, WPP monitors the man very closely for PR reasons. So when George is on my show, WPP knows about it.

The show itself was rather par for the course with George. He hurled insults at WPP, for sure, but it was not the thrust of the discussion and my guest did a good job of deflecting and representing the the interests of his parent company.

Then came the email.

"I was let go."

I was shocked. The day after the show was released my guest was called into a room and dressed down for appearing on a program with the infamous George Parker. Then a week later he was culled as part of a larger staff layoff to save appearances.

Talk about taking ourselves too seriously! Sir Martin may or may not have been aware that one of his employees was on my program with George, but that's beside the point. The company itself made it their position that no one should even engage the man in any dialog at the risk of termination. Now that's some thin skin!

Don't think. Don't take risks. Play it safe. Advertising thrives on innovation and creativity, but how can you have either when you're more worried that your actions will lead to a knife in your back.

Obviously WPP is not alone in such behavior. I can think of a dozen such incidents at other shops, both big and small. And admittedly, maybe advertising needs to be cut-throat and petty in order to do what is does. But it sure leaves a bad taste in your mouth about pursuing a career in this business.

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