Mat Baxter, CEO of Naked Communications, the agency behind the girl-in-the-jacket controversy, has quit the firm.
The announcement came in a brief press release from Naked.
Baxter was one of the agency’s founders when it launched in Australia a little over four years ago. The other two – Adam Ferrier and Mike Wilson – remain at the helm. The announcement stated:
“Mat Baxter will be leaving Naked Communications today to pursue other new business opportunities. Adam Ferrier and Mike Wilson will continue to lead the company and will be considering the optimum management structure for the business moving forwards.”
The agency was based on the model of its parent agency in the UK, which featured three founders of complementary skills. In the Australian Naked’s case, Wilson is seen as the calming, client-friendly influence, Ferrier as the intellectual of the agency and Baxter the polarising, get-things-done member of the trio.
Last February, the agency was sold to the ASX-listed Photon for $37m, seeing it become Australian-owned.
The agency’s model has always been unusual – with many of its staff coming from media agency backgrounds, but not actually doing media buying or detailed media planning. Its clients use it for advice on communications strategy, although in some cases, including the Witchery jacket hoax, it also executes non-traditional campaigns.
The agency has also tended to polarise opinions. Many of its clients are evangelical about the quality of thought it produces, although rival agencies have often expressed cynicism.
The Witchery campaign, in which Naked recorded a video of an actress who claimed to be trying to find the man of her dreams who had left his jacket in a cafe, and put it on YouTube, was, within Australia, the agency’s most talked-about stunt. It suffered a backlash from social media commentators who opposed the deception involved in the campaign.
But the storm appeared to have passed until Friday, when The Australian’s Wish magazine published a full page advertisement from Naked for Witchery naming the journalists and media that had been fooled into writing about the stunt. It angered the journalists and triggered a promise from one of them that the media would not “forgive and forget”.
While there is no indication from Photon that this had any connection with Baxter’s departure, it would not necessarily have been welcomed by an ASX-listed company with a depressed share price which could potentially be influenced by what is written in Fairfax and News Ltd newspapers. However, it is also worth noting that the first anniversary of Naked’s sale to Photon passed at the end of last week, and it is not unusual for those involved to be on a one-year golden handcuffs period.
Baxter, Wilson, Ferrier and Photon chairman Tim Hughes all had their mobile phones switched off at the time of posting.