The Campaign Palace may be dead, but its messy aftermath continues to haunt WPP. Marcus Casey was in court to hear about creative egos over job titles, salaries and the battle for creative control of what was once one of Australia’s greatest agencies.
It began with a battle over job titles and saw highly respected creative director Paul Fishlock being forced to leave once renowned agency The Campaign Palace before it went out of business in June last year.
Fishlock has spent the week in the NSW Supreme Court suing his former employer for long service leave and redundancy payments to the order of $500,000. The Campaign Palace was owned by Y&R Brands and is still a registered business despite no longer being in operation as an agency.
Justice John Sackar is presiding over the case, which has so far revealed a certain preciousness in the Australian advertising industry.
The drama began when Chicago-based former Leo Burnett executive Reed Collins was appointed to Fishlock’s executive creative director job in The Campaign Palace’s Sydney office in January 2011.
Problem was that Fishlock – the chairman and ECD of the Palace – had not been told, and found out via the trade press that Collins was taking over. But not only that – Collins was given the new title of national chief creative officer, Y&R’s New York-based global creative chief Tony Granger, who referred to Collins – the court was told – as “the guy” he wanted for Australia.
National chief creative officer was not a title previously much used in the Australian industry, and put noses out of joint in the company, the court was told by Fishlock’s chief counsel Max Kimber. It meant Collins was given official responsibility for The Palace’s Melbourne office as well. Fishlock had previously had a mainly advisory role over Melbourne creative directors Brent Liebenberg and Gerhard Myburgh.
The court heard this week that Collins demanded the title, and was granted it by Granger. It led to Fishlock’s exit from the agency which had, the court was told, lost the faith of key clients such as Target, Domino’s Pizza and Westpac.
Fishlock had cut back his week to four days, his salary dropped from $400,000 to $350,000, while Collins came in on a salary of $325,000 to $340,000, the court heard.
Fishlock’s senior counsel Kimber told the court his client had an ongoing contract from 2003 as chairman and executive creative director at the agency, but was astonished to find he had been “denuded” of his role and title by Collins. Fishlock was then reporting to managing director Mark Mackay, who told the court on Wednesday that when he re-joined the agency in February 2010, he felt Fishlock was not performing as his employer wanted him to.
“I returned to the business because it was a mess,” Mackay told Justice Sackar. Collins was then recruited by Y&R’s Granger in New York to take over. But a key point for Collins was the job title.
Asked by Kimber if too much ego and importance was put on titles in the industry, Mackay replied: “I think that’s fair comment.”
Kimber responded: “Collins was hot and heavy about his title?”
Mackay said: “Yes, he wanted national chief creative officer.”
Kimber asked: “People are ego-driven by their titles?”
Mackay responded yes.
While Collins was granted the title, he was on a trial period before taking responsibility for the Melbourne office too. The agency ultimately closed and was folded into fellow WPP agency JWT in June last year.
Mackay suggested Fishlock had not been paying enough attention to the Melbourne office, but its co-creative director Liebenberg – who now works for The AJF Partnership – told the court it was an operation where he reported to Fishlock on creative matters and to Melbourne managing director Tom Cooper on general agency business. “He (Fishlock) didn’t have an ultimate say on the work of the clients but we kept him up to date,” Liebenberg told Justice Sackar.
“We had a management meeting every Friday and we would take him through where we were with clients.”
Asked whether he understood Cooper to make the ultimate decisions rather than Fishlockl, Liebenberg responded “no.”
Liebenberg and Myburgh were charged out to clients at $375 an hour, Mackay revealed, while Fishlock’s time was worth $600 an hour.
TCP’s leading counsel Arthur Moses asked Liebenberg: “Do you agree that within the organisation while you were there, in the Melbourne office of The Campaign Palace, Mr Fishlock would be used as a resource from time to time in terms of getting his, without being disrespectful, his grey-haired experience or input into campaigns?”
Liebenberg responded: “Like every agency, yes.”
Y&R’s regional brand group CEO Nigel Marsh – ultimately responsible for the agency from 2008 to to 2010 – told the court Fishlock had been a “mentor” to creative employees in the company and agreed with Fishlock’s counsel Kimber that he was held in “high regard”.
Marsh – called as a witness by Fishlock – said the structure of the company was split between Sydney and Melbourne. “There was a creative director in Sydney, creative director in Melbourne, a national creative director which would be Paul, and you task the person in charge of Sydney to run Sydney to Paul. You task the person in charge of people – there are two actually in charge in Melbourne (Liebenberg and Myburgh) – to run that to Paul,” he said.
Marsh said that Fishlock ultimately reported to him, rather than taking full responsibility for the creative side of the agency.
Justice Sackar, due to go on leave in April, indicated he will hand down his finding after that.
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