Ad Execs Take Out Their Insecurity on…a Woman

by francine Hardaway on June 25, 2014

Everyone knows that the advertising agency business is in disarray, even though advertising itself is having a banner year. Brands are taking their ad buys in house and going to programmatic, and agencies who ditched their  focus on creative for “metrics” are struggling to find their places in the new world. What do they offer? Metrics come from ad tech companies, not agencies.  The Mad Men are restless. Only the agency trading desks are making money.

So it’s only natural that Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP and self-appointed spokesman for the Cannes regulars,  would try to stick it to one of the largest publishers in the world by asking Marissa Mayer why she didn’t return his emails.  And that leakers would tell the news media she had arrived late for a dinner and admitted to oversleeping. She’s an easy target because she’s American, and because she’s a woman. And because, heaven forbid, she probably was over-scheduled and had jet lag.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no one would have had the nerve to make these rude accusations to a man;  I’m standing up big time for Marissa, who has been “leaning in” until she fell over. First of all, she’s a product person, not a marketer. She has made amazing advances in Yahoo’s products during her two years at the helm. She has hired top talent and bought companies. She has re-designed the interfaces on the Yahoo products most visitors use, and  produced high quality mobile apps. What the hell else do you expect her to do–serve tea?

The fact that she gives a canned presentation simply means she’s trying to cover the points she has to make, not that she’s inauthentic. Most public presentations are as canned as hers; it’s not a requisite for a CEO that she be a tap-dancer, only that she know the product and the vision.  There are a few exceptions, but we all remember Mark Zuckerberg’s efforts. No mere marketer could have done the business things Marissa has done and lured back the engineering talent she has. Oh, and she’s the mother of a toddler; she practically gave birth in the boardroom to prove her mettle. What else does she have to do to be worthy of Sir Martin? Take his dictation? Sit on his lap?

Globe trotting executives fall asleep in their rooms and miss events constantly. It’s something your body does to give you a message: “this dinner is not as important for your continued life as this nap.” If you’ve ever been a CEO or a sales person you know this. They also get drunk and pass out. Especially at Cannes.

Many highly-respected Silicon Valley executives have come out in Marissa’s support, because they know that the Silicon Valley world is not the world of lavish parties and late dinners, but one of  long work weeks and outcomes-based reporting. The ad world and the tech world have never understood each other, and this is just one more occasion where that has been demonstrated.

I’d like to call bullshit on the news media reporting this, and on the leakers who think this was an event. Get over it.

(This post represents my own opinions. Disclosure: J. Walter Thompson was one of my first jobs)

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