For the past week, much of the conversation in the agency world has revolved around The Martin Agency and its now-former chief creative officer, Joe Alexander.
You probably read yesterday’s Adweek story regarding the many allegations made against Alexander by women who spoke to us both on and off the record.
The industry at large has yet to fully process the series of events that led us to where we are today, but several Martin alumni tell us they are attempting to move forward.
Some moves have already been taken. Today, a spokesperson for the 4A’s said that the organization will be removing Alexander from the “100 People Who Make Advertising Great” list released this summer to celebrate its 100th anniversary.
“I can confirm that the 4A’s will be rescinding the 100 People Who Make Advertising Great honor,” the representative said. “We support agencies that take action to create safe and respectful environments for all employees.”
The VCU Brandcenter, which has long been closely tied to the agency and Alexander himself, also responded.
“My heart breaks for The Martin Agency,” said a spokesperson. “They are our family and have supported the school since day one in countless ways. I don’t know any details related to this situation but what I do know is that if there’s any agency who can take this tragedy, learn from it, and emerge better and stronger, it’s Martin.”
Yesterday, the agency’s leadership released an end of day all-staff memo which it then forwarded to the two major advertising trade publications as well as the hometown Richmond Times-Dispatch. Despite the agency’s clear indication that Alexander was fired over sexual harassment claims—particularly those brought by one unnamed employee earlier this month—he continues to insist that he resigned of his own free will and that he has done nothing wrong.
But how do current employees feel?
Kelsey Johnson, an account supervisor who has spent nearly two years with the agency, summed up her thoughts on the events of the past week in a Medium post titled #NotMyMartin that several former staff members have shared with us today.
The post, in full:
It has been a rough week, Martin.
Most of the people I talked to yesterday said they felt sick.
Sick because we are surprised at what we read, or not at all surprised, but seeing it all in print makes it something we can’t ignore anymore.
Or, for the women who didn’t ignore it, feeling the sickness of seeing what happened laid out in front of you. The experiences that shaped you, the ones you spend sleepless nights thinking about. The time you spent agonizing over what you would say and if you would say it. Countless hours of pain and stress, all laid out in a few words on a page. The sum of your pain is a sentence in an article.
And it’s good. But it still hurts. And it feels unfinished.
We need to finish it. And to finish it we have to recognize two things.
- That we do not condone the behavior of Joe Alexander, or any of his enablers, or those who sexually harass, speak down to and demean women.
- That we do not condone the environment and the culture that allowed him to feel safe and comfortable in his behavior. The environment that allowed him to stay here and prey on women for over twenty years.
That last one is hard. Because we take our culture so seriously. It is so much a part of who we are and why we love working here.
Culture is supposed to be the real difference between any agency.
And we are proud of ours. When I started here I thought we lived it more than other places I had worked.
So it’s hard to face the reality that there is not just one person at fault here, but a system that enabled that person.
But we have to face it.
In order to break that system, we have to acknowledge that it’s bigger than just letting one person go. It’s not just something we can just fix with training, while that is a start.
It’s something we have to recognize. When we see it, we have to speak up. If we’re brushed off, we cannot give up. The only way to change this culture is if men and women refuse to accept a system that allows for predatory behavior.
If we refuse to accept and condone a system where women are treated like objects. Where women are viewed in a binary way: as either fun plaything to have at work, the target of flirtation and fantasy; or viewed as not worthy of sexual objectification and thus demeaned, not listened to, and pushed to the side.
Neither is right.
You know it when you see it. And I’m sure after training, there will be no excuse.
No excuse to not speak up directly in a meeting when you see something happening. Not to pull someone aside and ask them to stop. Not to put a stop to the boy’s club talks, even when there are no women present. Because that mindset, and those words, spill out of those clubs and affect behavior towards women.
If you see something, say something.
We can do it. Many here have been optimistic, even in the face of this, and I’m starting to feel it too. I’ve been conflicted, but this group has made me optimistic.
Optimistic enough to encourage us all to not crumble under this weight, but to persevere. To recognize this is not the Martin we want, and change it to be the place we all love and feel safe to work in.
We owe it to ourselves.
One of my favorite shows this year was The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s based on a book written by Margaret Atwood about a dystopian society in which women are treated as second class citizens. Valued either for breeding or for servitude.
In it, Atwood explores not only misogyny, but also the relationships between women, and the relationships between like-minded men and women. How they can build each other up, encourage each other, even in the most terrible circumstances.
In that story, the main character, Offred, is beaten down and depressed, but she faces a choice: continue in her life of servitude, trying to survive, or join a resistance of these women and men.
As she’s debating this, there’s a scene that shows her beaten and starved, laying on her side in her closet. And as she lays there she sees something scratched into the wood by her predecessor.
It’s Latin. What Atwood uses in her book is known as a Latin joke, words that are not grammatically correct. It says: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.
Which roughly translates to: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”
It has served as a feminist rallying cry. Words to remind us all that we can’t let the behavior of others stop us from progressing, from fighting every day for the world or the culture we want. One that respects women.
Saying it always makes me feel powerful and hopeful. It helps me remember that there are others out there who feel the same way and will take action.
We can do this.
Nolite te bastardes carborundorum, Martin.
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