The Martin Agency CEO Matt Williams and President Beth Rilee-Kelley said in a letter to employees that the agency has “had a painful wake up call” and that the behavior former employee Joe Alexander is accused of is “inexcusable.”
Alexander, a 26-year employee who had been the company’s chief creative officer since 2012, abruptly left the agency on Friday, Dec. 1.
The two top executives at the Richmond-based agency sent the memo to the company’s approximately 400 employees late Thursday afternoon.
In an interview, Williams and Rilee-Kelley would not disclose the specific details of the allegations against Alexander.
Asked if Alexander was accused of sexual harassment of an employee, Rilee-Kelley said, “We are acknowledging that he was accused of that. Whenever an official complaint is lodged, we do conduct an investigation. We did that in this case,” she said.
They said the agency will begin department meetings Friday to review its sexual harassment policy with employees.
“There’s been some frustration about the language we used to talk about Joe’s exit. We get it,” the top executives wrote in their letter to employees. “Let us be clear: we chose our words to protect the anonymity of the person who came forward. She deserves that.”
But Williams and Rilee-Kelley in their letter said: “… the only alternative was for him to leave The Martin Agency. That decision was ours.”
Alexander in an email Wednesday said that he resigned. Contacted Thursday about the letter sent to employees by Williams and Rilee-Kelley that said otherwise, Alexander maintained that he left on his own accord.
“I stand by my previous statements. The decision to resign was mine,” he wrote in an email Thursday.
In an email Wednesday, Alexander said: “The Martin Agency is my family. Rather than a drawn-out, hurtful investigation, resigning was the proper thing to do to protect my family and all the people I’ve worked so closely together with in my 26 wonderful years. I will always love that place and people who make it so special. Please respect my privacy during this very, very sad time,” he said.
Advertising industry publications Adweek and AdAge this week have published online articles about the sexual harassment allegations against Alexander with interviews from women, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Williams, who joined the agency in 1991 and became its CEO in February 2013, said in the interview Thursday that the stories “have been heartbreaking for us.”
“There is nothing more important to me or Beth than that this place be a positive influence in the lives of people who work here. When these stories come out, we have to face them down and we have to say ‘What can we do differently and what do we need to do to make sure this does not happen at The Martin Agency’ because this is not who we are,” Williams said.
Rilee-Kelley said over half of The Martin Agency’s employees are women. The person who made the complaint regarding Alexander “came directly to them,” she said.
“We acted quickly,” said Rilee-Kelley, a 34-year agency veteran who was named its president in 2016.
Alexander’s departure comes two months after the agency’s parent company, the New York-based Interpublic Group of Companies, issued a memo to its 50,000-plus employees detailing the company’s zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. The issuance of the memo was reported by the trade journal Adweek in late October.
The memo included an IPG AlertLine for employees to call to anonymously report complaints about sexual harassment, Adweek reported.
Rilee-Kelley also said the agency has reached out to its clients, which include national companies such as Geico, Oreo, Benjamin Moore Paint and Subway.
“We called all of them last Friday when things started to come out. We made them aware,” Rilee-Kelley said.