Ad agency M&C Saatchi has issued a public apology over its decision to kick off its 21st anniversary party by having a woman jump out of a cake and perform a burlesque striptease routine.
The statement came nearly 48 hours after the agency held its Club XXI party at The Beresford Hotel in Sydney’s Surry Hills.
As Mumbrella reported on Friday, after speeches from founder Tom Dery and CEO Jaimes Leggett, the night kicked off with the woman stepping out of the cake and peeling off most of her clothes in a burlesque routine.
Later in the night, another performance saw female dancers do a routine which included them peeling off their business suits and putting handbags on their heads.
The night also included a drag queen on a trapeze, music from Deni Hines and a DJ set from Norman Jay.
As well as being CEO of M&C Saatchi, Leggett also chairs ad industry body The Communications Council.
The issue of diversity within ad agencies has been a key issue within the industry in recent months, following an outcry over ad agency Leo Burnett Sydney announcement of a group of creatives, all of whom were male.
However, although the performances involved the women taking off most of their clothes, according to the statement, Saatchi did not see this as “striptease”.
McFarlane, left, watches the cake routine
The following morning, M&C’s regional creative director Tom McFarlane – who was credited on the night with the ideas for the party – initially defended the performances, saying there had been “a diverse repertoire of acts”.
But the last 24 hours saw the event become a national story, with coverage across titles including The Australian, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Daily Mail, Nine News, Sky News and SBS.
In the statement sent to Mumbrella and other trade press on Saturday, M&C Saatchi said:
“On Thursday night, we held a party for our 21st birthday. At no time was there a ‘striptease’ performance. However, as there was a series of performances, the consideration that a burlesque routine may not have been appropriate in this context was overlooked. This has been a strong reminder to be more diligent about ensuring these sensitivities are always at the forefront.
“Throughout the evening there was a diverse repertoire of acts – soul diva Deni Hines, dance duo Hip Hop boys, satirical performance artistes The Bag Ladies, drag trapeze acrobat Decoda Secret, top Sydney DJ Alex Taylor, acclaimed London DJ Norman Jay MBE and Miss Burlesque Australia 2012, Briana Bluebell.
“We are devastated this has caused offence and concern around this issue. This was not our intent. M&C Saatchi has made huge efforts to champion gender diversity within the Group.
“We have a diverse workforce and the professional development of all our staff, both men and women, is of paramount importance. We have four women on the leadership team, including our General Manager, and 50% of our department heads are female. Over the last year, over half our key senior hires have been female (52%) and 72% of our employee promotions were women.
“In 2014, 18% of our Creative hires were female and in 2015 this increased to 30% of hires. This does not excuse the mistake we made and we have learnt a very important lesson. We hope others have too. This is a critical issue and one that M&C Saatchi will continue to promote. We are committed to doing more to further continue this important conversation.”