JWTs advertisement was a symptom of a larger organisational and regulatory failure
The Failure to Orchestrate and Regulate Direction,or the FORD syndrome,strikes many an organisation. JWTs recent fall from grace is the direct result of such a failure. For the uninitiated,JWT,in its mad rush to win awards,created a poster campaign for automaker Ford with controversial caricatures of the former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi flashing a victory sign,with three obscenely clad women gagged and bound in the boot of his car,and a second with Paris Hilton riding a car with the look-alikes of the Kardashian sisters similarly tied and gagged. The headline,Leave your worries behind with Figos extra large boot,left no room for doubt. Now,what do you hold them responsible for? Contempt of women? Contempt of global leaders? Contempt of the internal leadership and team? Or all of these at a time when India is grappling with sensitive issues on these fronts?
JWTs attempt to save face and form was expected to see fall guys and fixes. But the failure of the entire system within the organisation is a bigger problem,and one that cannot be attributed merely to the JWT India leadership. The JWT global centre directly responsible for the governance of its India operations is also to blame. The system seems to have failed to imbibe in its people the idea that the organisation is larger than the individuals at the top and that there are set directions and principles that each employee must follow without exception. The FORD syndrome strikes in some circumstances and good leadership must monitor and ensure self-regulation from time to time to prevent the syndrome from becoming a chronic ailment.
One,create a manual of policies. Every employee must know and commit that they operate within these. No place should be allowed to run as an individuals fiefdom. It must be guided by the organisations enduring philosophy,which goes beyond the leaders,who come and go.
Two,set up a committee that evaluates any digression from these policies. Depending on the seriousness of the issue,the committee must be represented by some who are not directly responsible and beyond the leadership of the unit that has faulted.
Three,an internal audit of critical process adherence must be carried out in all units to ensure that organisation rules are not flouted at any level. Agency ratings must take this into consideration too.
Four,every organisation must consciously develop the next level of leadership,not as lip service but with the short-term objective of holding the reins,should the need occur,and create a planned infusion of new leadership over a period of time. A leader who feels threatened by this is only breeding workers who will remain distanced from responsibility and suffer the fate of fall guys and,in the larger context,jeopardise the organisation itself.
Five,it is time advertising awards created a category for unreleased creatives that allow for free creative expression,but of course within the guidelines of approval. Advertising can be frustrating for young minds who come into the industry thinking its a palette for their creative juices but find themselves battling restrictive briefs and business pressures.
Six,agencies must have regular workshops to explain to all employees the regulatory code of communication and the voluntary code of communication. The industry body must also develop an overall voluntary code of communication that all member agencies must commit to follow.
Finally,companies must remember that there is a new phenomenon called social media that they are perhaps not watching,but it is always watching them.
Even with all this in place,there is no immunity. The FORD syndrome might evolve and strike in an unexpected manner. The leadership has to be prepared and respond in a manner that addresses the problem and does not let it escalate,while retaining credibility and clients. Because trust,once lost,is difficult to win back,whether it is a clients or the teams. And what holds this trust is not so much the incidents that occur but how the leadership responds to it. For now,the answer seems to lie elsewhere and the responsibility,nowhere.
The writer,a former senior executive at JWT India,is CEO,Product of the Year India