Neil French enters sexism in adland debate with post suggesting Cindy Gallop ‘protests too much’ over sexual harassment claims

Neil FrenchNeil French, one of the most revered figures in Asian advertising of the last 30 years, has entered the debate over sexism in adland by attacking a post by prominent ad exec turned gender equality activist Cindy Gallop.

The always outspoken French, who left his role as worldwide creative director of WPP in 2005 after remarks he made about female creatives, suggested in a post on Facebook that Gallop had overblown an account of sexual harassment she suffered one year at Cannes.

French shared a post by Gallop in which the former MD of BBH Asia Pacific described the recent resignation of the global CEO of J. Walter Thompson Gustavo Martinez following racism and sexism allegations as the “tip of the fucking iceberg”.

Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 23.30.17 Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 23.33.32In Gallop’s post, she linked to a Business Insider article that revealed the time that, at a dinner party in Cannes, a man had become abusive towards her after she had declined his advances. Sexual harassment would only be countered by companies adopting a gender equal working environment or even a higher ratio of women in management roles, it was argued in the article.

French suggested that Gallop had sensationalised the scenario.

“I get proposioned [sic], still, at every conference I speak at. Mostly by ladies. Can’t TELL you how that makes my day! So. She wasn’t groped; she wasn’t assaulted; she wasn’t raped. Methinks she protest too much,” he wrote.

The comments beneath French’s post suggested that the Englishman was tempting fate by inviting accusations of sexism that have been levelled at him in the past.

Bodhisatwa Dasgupta, a senior creative at J. Walter Thompson India, noted: “Careful Neil French. Getting a bit of deja vu here.”

Comments on Neil French's postBob Garfield, editor-in-large at Mediapost, was less diplomatic. “Neil, this comment is repulsive. REPULSIVE,” he wrote.

French retorted: “Thanks, Bob. Honesty isn’t always what people want to hear. I believe in equality for women. Not preference.”

Female creative director Louise Plaun, who runs the creative department at Danish agency Klausen + Partners, defended French’s viewpoint.

She wrote: “So she [Cindy Gallop] had a (one) bad experience which leads her to conclude that ‘this is what virtually every woman in the industry goes through’. How bizarre is that? So if I have one bad oyster or one bottle of corked wine virtually all oysters and all bottles of wine are bad? I seriously hope not.”

Plaun finished her comment with: “Greetings from a female Creative Director with +20 years in the industry.”

After sharing the post with her, Gallop told Mumbrella that her response to French’s point of view would be the same that she had for Publicis Groupe boss Maurice Lévy, who said after the Gustavo Martinez scandal that it was simply “one man’s mistake” and that there was no inherence sexism in the industry.

“The white men at the top should never presume to speak for women in any industry,” she said via email. “Neil French’s experience is not our experience.”

“I have a huge number of emails from women in the Australia ad industry post the Leo Burnett Sydney issue last year,” Gallop noted, referring to tweet she made in November that called out the agency for hiring seven white males creatives in one go.

“And an even huger number of emails from women in the ad industry as a whole post the news of the Gustavo Martinez lawsuit (as well as years of confidences from women in the industry), with stories of sexual harassment in our industry – stories that involve retaliation when advances are refused, failure of management to act, careers derailed and female talent and creativity missed out on as a result,” she continued.

“I try to persuade these women to tell their stories to reporters, completely anonymously, and they are too terrified for what they presume (correctly, given Mr French’s remarks) the negative impact for them and their careers would be.”

“I see evidence of what we go through every day, every day on Facebook in posts from women and comments on the thread from other women,” she added, pointing to a post she made yesterday linking to an account of sexual harassment.

Gallop also referred to an article by games designer Ken Burnside in which he pointed out that “All it takes for sexism to prosper is for good men to see nothing.”

Gallop suggested that the recommended actions for men made in the article – which include taking women seriously who come forward to complain about sexism – “all the men in our industry need to undertake.”

She finished her response to French’s post with the question: “Why is it so hard for you to simply believe and listen to women?”

Gallop rose to prominence in the industry when she started the Singapore and New York offices of Bartle Bogle Hegarty. She made headlines in 2009 when she gave a TED talk launching the MakeLoveNotPorn initiative, and is an outspoken critic of the gender imbalance prevalent in ad agencies across the world.

The ever controversial French, who in his earlier career tried his hand as a bullfighter and was a manager of British rock band Judas Priest, is credited for wielding huge influence on Asia’s advertising markets when he was with The Ball Partnership in Singapore, and he remains an influential mentor to many.


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