‘Find a moral compass’, Atomic 212 chairman tells Dooris as Telstra becomes latest brand to deny client link

Atomic 212 chairman Barry O’Brien told his chief executive Jason Dooris to “find a moral compass” in the days before Mumbrella published its investigation into the agency’s exaggerated award entries.

Dooris: Colleague told him to “find a moral compass”

Internal emails seen by Mumbrella show O’Brien berating Dooris for his leadership and instructing him to “grow up”. In the terse email, O’Brien adds: “This bullshit layer is a disaster”.

The email, dated December 4, came days after Mumbrella confronted Dooris over dubious claims of spectacular “all media” client wins made to award juries and 72 hours before Mumbrella published the story.

An investigation by Mumbrella found the work carried out by Atomic 212 was far removed from the broad and high profile nature of work presented to juries.

Telstra has today become the latest big name client to refute claims of any relationship with Atomic while other claims of 100% client retention and 97% staff retention rate are also under scrutiny.

Dooris has denied any wrong doing.

O’Brien’s withering comments came in response to an email from fellow Atomic founder James Dixon which has been viewed by Mumbrella.

In the note O’Brien – whose previous roles include being the founder of PHD’s local operation and sales chief at Network Ten – warned that the agency faced a “shit sandwich” when the revelations were published.

He added: “The bullshit layer is a disaster.

“Time for you to find a moral compass on the right thing, and the right thing is to formalise”.

The leaked emails also saw O’Brien dismiss Dooris’s assertion that CEO Magazine had been responsible for a typo in a claim the agency’s revenue had soared 1000%.

Dooris was last month named runner-up to SBS chief executive Michael Ebeid as CEO of the Year, with a story on the magazine’s website praising Dooris for “a business model transformation” that generated “a phenomenal revenue increase of more than 1000%”.

Dooris delayed answering questions about the 1000% figure for several days before later claiming CEO Magazine has confirmed “it was an error in their release”. The 1000% figure was then amended online to 100%.

Yet the 1000% figure had also appeared in two internal Atomic documents seen by Mumbrella.

In the email chain, O’Brien told Dooris: “Dodged a bullet on CEO awards. 1000% revenue increase, shows how shallow that all is you didn’t make a typo you called in a massive favour.”

CEO Magazine has been approached for comment.

The emails highlight the clear, and rising tension, that exists between O’Brien and Dixon in one camp, and Dooris in the other.

But questions are also being asked of O’Brien and Dixon, over how much they knew and why they didn’t do more to act.

O’Brien previously said he had not seen the Campaign Agency Head of the Year entry, which contained claims of major all media wins for several blue chip companies, until alerted to its content by Mumbrella.

O’Brien and Dixon have been approached for comment, as has Dooris.

As news of the internal friction emerged, Telstra became the latest big name client to distance itself from any suggestion it has worked with Atomic.

Dooris claimed Telstra Health as a client in its entries for the 2017 Mumbrella Awards and also in the APAC media agency of the year category of the Mumbrella Asia Awards. The agency did not win anything in either one.

Dooris pictured presenting at this year’s Mumbrella Asia Awards in Singapore. Telstra’s name is visible on the slide (click to enlarge)

Telstra was also named as a “newer client” in a round-up of the AdNews Awards, which it won. AdNews said last week it was happy that Atomic 212 met its criteria.

During an interview with Mumbrella, Dooris said the agency had worked directly with Telstra on the launch of a Telstra Health product during 2015/16. He revealed the product name but asked it remain off-the-record as it was “client confidential”.

“This was strategic work to launch a particular new area of their business,” he said. “Why that client did not go directly to their own agencies is something I can’t answer. We did consumer audience planning and media and channel planning and media strategy.”

Dooris added it had performed other work directly with Telstra “on quite a few occasions”.

Contacted by Mumbrella, Telstra investigated the claims but could find no record of working with Dooris.

“We can confirm that we have had no commercial dealings with Atomic 212 or Path 51 across our business, nor have they completed any work for us,” a spokesman said.

Other discrepancies have also emerged in recent days. During the 2016 Campaign Agency Head of the Year judging period, which ran from September 2015 to October 2016, Dooris said the agency had grown billings by 281%, or $231m, increased revenue by 230% and overseen increases in EBIT profit and EBIT profit margin by 194% and 90% respectively.

But the same figures also appeared almost 12 months later, in this year’s B&T Awards entry which had a judging period of August 2016 to July 2017. Atomic 212 was named B&T’s independent agency of the year earlier this month.

It is also understood Atomic’s multi award-winning Lucy the Robot campaign which took place in September 2015, was also included as a 2016/17 case study in the 2017 Campaign Awards.

Atomic 212 has been shortlisted in a number of categories in this year’s Campaign Asia Awards, including Australia Media Agency of the Year, Digital Agency of the Year and Independent Agency of the Year. In the shortlist for Agency Head of the Year – which Dooris won last year – Atomic 212 is named as a finalist, rather than an individual name.

The awards presentation takes place in Singapore this coming Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Media Federation of Australia has reminded members, which include Atomic 212, of their responsibilities.

“While the MFA is not responsible for other industry award programs, we expect our members to adhere to our code of behaviour for all client and public engagements,” the MFA said in a short statement to Mumbrella,

The MFA code tells members to “respect your competitors, compete on merit and encourage keen and vigorous competition.”

It also instructs members not to “discredit others” and to “follow your good conscience and demonstrate self regulation”.


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