Opinion

The vindication of Paul Fishlock

The Campaign PalaceWow.

You may have noticed that not much went up on Mumbrella over the last couple of hours.

That’s because I’ve been reading the judge’s findings in Paul Fishlock’s case against The Campaign Palace.

I’d always known that agencyland can be a brutal place. But the picture of the cynical, ego-driven, unsentimental world that comes through in the findings of Justice John Sacker is something else. I recommend you take the time to read it yourself.

The reputation of Young & Rubicam’s global creative director Tony Granger certainly takes a battering in my view. The word “bully” is a hard one to come back from.

And former Campaign Palace CEO Mark Mackay comes across as someone you might think twice about either hiring or working for, based on the evidence presented. The judge calls him contemptuous of both Granger and Fishlock.

Paul Fishlock

Fishlock

And Fishlock is entirely vindicated in his claims that he was unfairly axed as national creative chief of the now defunct Campaign Palace.

I’m astonished too about what appears to be a near obsession with trade press PR. I was surprised to read that the reportedly negative views of Campaign Brief boss Michael Lynch towards Fishlock carried weight in management’s discussions of how to treat him.

The emails published in the judgement tell an astonishing story.

Paul Fishlock – one of Australia’s creative greats and the F in BMF – had been national executive creative director of Campaign Palace since 2003.

By the time Mackay returned to the helm of The Campaign Palace – part of WPP’s Y&R Brands Group  – in 2010 after a couple of years away, the agency was on a downwards slope.

The chain of events began when the Sydney creative director departed in 2010. Quietly, the management began to look for a national lead to replace Fishlock rather than a Sydney lead to work under him. They began to focus on Reed Collins, an Aussie working at Leo Burnett Chicago.

mark mackay

mark mackay

Tony Granger

Tony Granger

Granger and Mackay begin talking about how to get rid of Fishlock. An email from Mackay to Granger reads:

“We probably should book a call on Paul F…. it’s a difficult one, with Cam going he obviously provides a degree of stability/continuity. Clients like Panasonic and Dominos are already pissed about the high turnover rates, so I think we need to ease him out after Reed and Michelle have had some time to engage. I accept that he is not the future but if he left at the end of March 2011 this might be workable. Let me know what you think.”

Later Granger emails Mackay: “Fishlock is a problem and has to go.”

Three days later though, Mackay is still indicating to Fishlock that they are looking for a Sydney replacement, not a national role. His email is headed “Sydney CD”.

Russell Howcroft

Russell Howcroft

And Mackay worries what the agency’s remaining clients might think. He emails Russel Howcroft (now GM of Ten in Melbourne), at the time CEO of parent company Y&R Brands:

“As mentioned on the phone, Reed’s request for the national ECD title appears to be a deal breaker. I reminded Reed today of the plan we discussed when we interviewed him. This was to spend 3-4 months as Sydney CD. We could better manage/migrate him across to ECD. Why? Because this afforded us some time for Paul to complete some major new Anti-Tobacco work. It also prevented Paul exiting at a time when the Palace is pretty damaged….

“In all honesty, I fear that Panasonic and other Government business will see this as the final straw.

Beyond this I also fear that we could be in for some legal action from Paul so that we could have used the time to get our house in order.

“So our dilemma is: How do we give Reed the title and keep Paul engaged? Options I have are four fold.

“1. Exit Paul and hope for the best.

“2. Ask Tony G and Michelle D to help us resell the original plan into Reed.

“3. Migrate Paul into new Palace Group Company, called Palace G and C (Government and Community).

“4. Sell Paul as Chairman relinquishing the National title to Reed…I become CEO again.

“I favour 2, 3 and 4 in that order. Something to sleep on. In the meantime I hardly need to remind you that the thought of Reed going cold on us is ever present.”

Reed Collins

Reed Collins

Meanwhile, Collins is pushing to be “the guy” from day one rather than there being a transition.

Granger supports this from New York. He believes that immediately appointing Collins as the new national creative chief will create a bigger story for the trade press.

He emails: “He needs to be the CCO from day 1. Big PR story !!!!!”

Granger adds in a second email: “Our discussions… with Reed have been joining as ECD or CCO, whatever role would make the biggest PR/new business story. He just would not move for anything else…”

In January, the plan begins to unravel, US based website Agency Spy reveals that Collins is leaving Leo Burnett in Chicago to become chief creative officer at The Campaign Palace. It was the first Fishlock had heard of it.

This is where the influence of the trade press really comes to bear.

Campaign Brief’s Michael Lynch follows up the Agency Spy story with Granger. Granger emails Mackay to say that Lynch has had unfavourable things to say about Fishlock:

“Lynchie asked a lot about him. He is not a fan at all btw. He really needs to move on so Reed and you can sew your thing. The sooner the better!

“Spoke to Hamish who agrees.”

That’s Hamish as in Hamish McLennan, then global CEO of Y&R (and now boss of Ten back in Australia).

Mackay later emails Granger: “Let’s just hope Fishlock does not walk immediately and take another million in revenue with him.”

When the judge moves from the email exchanges to the testimony, he makes it clear what he thinks: “I found Mr Fishlock despite his obvious, and if I may say understandable, anger to be forthright and candid in giving his evidence. I have no misgivings about accepting his evidence in its entirety, especially in relation to his role and the lack of reporting in any practical sense, or the lack of any supervision or direction to him from any person technically senior to him, on creative matters.”

The next piece of commentary on Mark Mackay and what he thinks of Granger is best left in the judge’s words, for legal reasons:

He accepted that the persons in New York favoured immediately forcing Mr Fishlock out. Mr Mackay, when asked about a number of emails which passed between himself and Mr Granger, described Mr Granger as “an arrogant leader in New York”. A little later he described Mr Granger as lacking “commercial savvy” and also as a “bully”. He said: ‘One needs to humour bullies and the way that one does it is as I have outlined in these emails’.”

The judge goes on: “I have serious misgivings about Mr Mackay’s evidence. In particular I do not accept his description of Mr Fishlock’s duties and responsibilities… Mr Mackay was it seems to me both contemptuous of Mr Fishlock and his American superiors.”

Not surprisingly, the judge ruled that Fishlock was entitled to nine months’ pay  worth $262,500, plus an additional $40,384 to cover the termination period. He reduced the amount by $35,000 because of earnings Fishlock made during that nine-month period.

Costs will be agreed in the coming weeks. The cost to reputations may take longer.

Tim Burrowes

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