JWT hires Finsbury for crisis comms amid Gustavo Martinez jokes lawsuit

Finsbury began helping its sister WPP agency with crisis communications and reputation management after Martinez was sued by the agency's chief communications officer last week.

JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez
JWT CEO Gustavo Martinez

NEW YORK: Finsbury has been providing crisis communications and reputation management support to sister WPP agency J. Walter Thompson since its CEO, Gustavo Martinez, was sued by the ad agency’s communications chief last week.

Finsbury started working with the firm immediately after Erin Johnson filed a 28-page discrimination lawsuit against Martinez, JWT, and parent WPP in Manhattan federal court last Thursday. The suit claims Martinez made numerous racist comments and rape jokes, creating an atmosphere that made it impossible for Johnson to do her job. The suit states Martinez made derogatory comments about Jews and African Americans in front of employees and repeated rape jokes focused on Johnson and other female staffers.

Martinez, who recently celebrated his one-year anniversary as JWT’s chief executive, has denied the allegations.

"[Because of the allegations], the feeling was that there may be people in [JWT’s] office who may be witnesses or involved in the case in some way," Finsbury U.S. president Stephen Labaton said. "Therefore, they thought it would be prudent to have someone from a sister WPP agency who had not been there before the complaint was filed come in and provide support and deal with inquiries. So our role is to provide that support."

Labaton noted that Finsbury is a strategic comms firm with experience handling litigation matters and disputes, as well as reputational issues, so the agency is providing JWT with support and counsel in those areas.

"We are providing support to the communications team at JWT and helping them field media inquiries in connection with the lawsuit," said Labaton. "We are also advising JWT on all aspects of communications – including internal comms – around this issue."

In terms of the message Finsbury is emphasizing on behalf of JWT, Labaton deferred to the statement the ad agency released on Friday.

"We received the lawsuit on Thursday and take these kinds of allegations very seriously," the statement said. "Gustavo Martinez has asserted that the allegations are false. Following our standard practice, we are undertaking a thorough review of the matter and will comment further at the appropriate time in the course of the litigation."

Labaton would not comment further on the matter.

Johnson, who has worked at the WPP agency since 2005, remains at the company. Her suit seeks unspecified punitive and compensatory damages.

Separately, the MD of JWT's Korean office, Junghwan Kim, has been arrested and is being investigated for corruption. He has resigned and the finance director of that office has also been suspended, pending the investigation's outcome.

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