LONDON: WPP Group said it is
moving as quickly as possible to sell a Young & Rubicam-affiliated
subsidiary in Zimbabwe whose majority owner serves as communications
adviser to the country's president, Robert Mugabe. The regime is embroiled in a violent election fight, and the UN Security Council recently condemned the violence against the opposition party.
Bernard Barnett, corporate VP for Young & Rubicam Brands in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, said in an e-mail statement provided to PRWeek that Y&R's policy of prohibiting its agencies from working on behalf of political campaigns was not breached, because Sharon Mugabe, the MD of the Zimbabwe affiliate, Imago, was working on behalf of President Mugabe's campaign in a “private capacity.”
“[But] Zimbabwe is of course a special case and we decided immediately to sever any connection with Sharon Mugabe,” Barnett said. “The only way to do this, as Ms. Mugabe is the major shareholder, is to dispose of our minority interest in Imago as quickly as possible. We are working to make this happen this week.”
Barnett said that neither Y&R nor WPP have received any income or profit from Imago but simply maintained the affiliation in case any international clients needed to market products or services in Zimbabwe.
In addition, Barnett said that when Y&R sold the majority stake in Imago to Sharon Mugabe in 2006, it found, after doing “due diligence” on the matter, no evidence that she was related to the president.
“She also came to London and we asked her face-to-face whether she was related,” Barnett said. “She replied ‘No.'”
Y&R was first informed of the link between the agency and the Mugabe campaign on June 13 by "a member of the public in Zimbabwe," Barnett said.
PRWeek in the UK reported the news earlier this week.