Neil French Defends Himself to Ad Age


In an interview with Ad Age following comments regarding his belief some women in advertising are crap because of their inability to commit themselves 100 percent to the job due to childcare issues, WPP Creative Chief Niel French defended himself. Unfortunately, he just dug a bigger hole with his answer to Ad Age's last interview question:

So you didn't use the word "crap," then, in reference to women?

"Oh, of course, I did, yes. But I didn't say all female creative directors are crap. If you can't commit yourself to any job then, by definition, you're crap at it. If you can't commit 100 percent to your job, don't pretend you can. Nobody deserves a job unless they can commit to it."

To most people, the world does not revolve around their jobs alone. That era is gone. There are far more important things in life. French is out of touch with reality. Martin Sorrel should be happy he's leaving. Of course, now a debate over the definition of "commit" will likely ensue.

by Steve Hall    Oct-20-05   Click to Comment   
Topic: Agencies   

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Hmmm...s, what does his wife and daughter have to say about this? Does he have a family?

Women are capable of giving 100% - and more - as we've amply demonstrated throughout history, even with children, family responsibilities, and - ahem - husbands like French.

This when more and more people are waking up that it's quality not quantity time (for both sexes) that is the key success factor in today's knowledge-driven economy.

The photo really does say it all, doesn't it?

Posted by: Mary Schmidt on October 20, 2005 8:52 PM

Mary Schmidt did you fail grade four math? It is impossible to give more than 100%

Posted by: Jenny Henderson on October 21, 2005 8:12 AM

He speaks the truth in gerneral. Families and children are much better off with a mom and a dad with one of them at home full time. That is a fact. If women want to have kids and be on top of things at work then you better have a stay at home dad around. Our children should have nothing less. If you can not aford to have a full time parent at home then do not have kids until you can. Tom Leykis has been saying these things for years. Yes you can do both but your children will be more likely to be tomorrows car jackers and such. It is a statistical fact. So hats off for Neil French for having the guts to say the truth in this world of single mothers.

Posted by: Ian Mounsey on October 21, 2005 12:25 PM

Please, Ian, STFU. Yes, kids need two parents. And that includes a dad who doesn't live at work and enslave himself to the job. French was singling women out, however. And saying that they couldn't be good creative directors if they were mothers. And that's just horseshit.

Posted by: KW on October 21, 2005 12:57 PM

I was at that fateful gathering in Toronto when Mr. French spoke out. Unfortunately, the context was in error. He described himself as a "craftsman" and said that most Creative Directors had lost sight of that craftsmanship or craftwomanship, because of their new duties, to encourage and review the creative teams under them. He did not encourage people to become CD's but to keep being a copywriter or art diector..His dissing of women in general was not totally appropriate, but added to the humor of his whole swaggering presentation. I was accompanied by a female producer who was not particularily offended. It is interetsing that the sensitive females in the crowd were in fact Creative Directors. The audience was a mixed bag of ad types and Mr. French reeled on everyone from planners to AE's to producers, of which I am one of. He may be a dinosaur, but he is honest, no BS, and entertaining, and I thought that was the point of the whole gathering.

Posted by: Greg Meny on October 21, 2005 1:14 PM

Ian - Are you for real? Sure, it's definitely better for a child to be raised by two parents and having one at home can often be better. But not always. You are making it as if women should choose between motherhood and career. And you're tying in women who work as being single mothers and that being a single mother is somehow a stain on them. I'm a single father myself. And I can assure you my son ain't gonna be a carjacker.

Posted by: Jonathan Trenn on October 21, 2005 1:19 PM

Honest, no BS, entertaining. Mussolini was that, too.

Why anyone would want to pay money to see this old, sour clown is beyond me. The guy wrote some wordy ads that no one outside our industry can recall, nor cares about. Time to move on.

Posted by: Duffman on October 21, 2005 1:20 PM

While I feel that the advertising business today has no need or room for arrogant idiots like French, I agree with the jerk that women should not work, but stay home with their children. Plus, they're irritating to work with to begin with.

Posted by: Ted Bekens on October 21, 2005 1:39 PM

If you have to work all those hours then do not have children at all. Man or women. Why have kids if are not the one bringing them up. Jonathan, people should choose between a demanding job and bringing up a family. Male or female. and Jonathan you will not know what you have until they older. Good luck.
Rules for guys
Complete school,fullfill your dreams,
no relationships untill they are met,
After the age of 25 and succesfull start relationship,prenup, No children until married for 3 years or more,, No children unless there is a fulltime parent at home.

Bringing up children is a fulltime job if done right. Families should be planned.

Posted by: Ian Mounsey on October 21, 2005 2:12 PM

Ladies and gentlemen, that was Ian Mounsey and his pompous recipe for family success! Let's give him a round of applause.

Drive safely.

Posted by: KW on October 21, 2005 2:26 PM

KW I love you

Posted by: Ian Mounsey on October 21, 2005 2:37 PM

This mom-at-home, dad-at-work idea is very short lived, historically speaking. Most of the time both parents (and in pre- and early industrial days the children too) all worked, for survival. All those men who plowed their way to the top didn't do it by themselves. There was undoubtedly a cadre of women bootin' their butts up the ladder and, as Dr Phil [sorry] would put it, making for them a soft place to fall at the end of the day so they didn't have to think about paying bills, cooking, cleaning, laundry, freshly pressed kiddies for the family photo etc. And if she's lucky she gets a patronizing pat on the head. There's a reason dinosaurs are extinct. Too bad there are still too many human ones roaming the earth.

Posted by: Scott McGee on October 21, 2005 7:07 PM

haha, he says it like advertising is hard or something.. most creatives write ads on the back of envelopes on the train into work. The rest of the day is spent in tedious meetings and playing table top football. He talks about it like its shark hunting or mining.

Posted by: john hassmat on October 22, 2005 5:20 AM

In the latest Vanity Fair Proust Questionaire they interviw Mike Wallace and when they ask what is his motto he says...

From my high school year book "Hold the fort, I'm coming." Now. "Fuck 'em'"

I say the same to the wimps, the woman who are so easily offended and can't cut it. Not because they aren't "dedicated" but because they are no better than the welfare mothers or federal bureacrats who demand that the world change to fit their own spoiled reality.

Boo-Hoo. And you are the same people who refuse to be measured or accountable for ad results. My dream is someday to earn a high salary for creating crap like you do.

Posted by: John Shoemaker on October 23, 2005 1:51 AM

Being a single mother, Ian, is different to being a working mother. Secondly what statistics do you have for car jackers being the product of hard working parents - or are all hard working mothers the same as single mothers who are the same as child beating alchololic swilling drug abusing mothers? There's a lot of male fear still lingering around here... Performance is an individual thing and its based on personality and personal goals. Trust me just because men have been encouraged to stay away from their families for centuries doesn't mean that women want to repeat the stereotype, we want to work and we want our husbands to have more focus at home and on the chidlren - it's very doable if both partners commit to it and the fact that the workplace has already changed to incorporate that hasn't led to a crash in our economies and a clockwork orange society......The world might just be a better place....

Posted by: Luce on October 23, 2005 2:08 AM

Ian, You seem absolutely clueless about what it means to have kids and a career. I know some of the smartest women who manage full time jobs and at the same time raise good kids. You don't have to have a full-time parent at home to raise kids. According to your thinking, all single parents with kids would be poor (since they can't work). Grow up dude, didn't you know that in life everything doesn't happen as per your plan!!!

Posted by: DP on October 23, 2005 4:27 AM

I read an article on the internet about an ad agency exec being fired for saying bad things about woman executives and I did some reasearch and found this web site.

I see that there is a lot of dissent among men and women about work and family. I also see that there are personal issues each member who posted a comment have regarding this issue.

I think it is in part because the way the US and other western countries have moved to reduce the role of the man/father/husband and inflate that of the woman.

I think more debate will focus on this issue during the next few years and something will ensue.

Let the revolution begin.

Posted by: Jose L. Sanchez on October 23, 2005 11:41 AM come no one has bashed Ted? He made the most sexist, inane and baseless comment in this thread so far.

Women are irritating to work with, eh? A lot of guys are quite irritating to work with too, you know?

Being irritating has nothing to do with gender. And why should the women be the ones to stay home to take care of the children? Parenting is a mutual responsibility between husband and wife.

Posted by: sugar on October 23, 2005 8:52 PM


Posted by: Ian on October 23, 2005 11:14 PM

Ted is the most pathetic in this group of posts. I believe a battle of the sexes is best not fought online with cowards- instead women have to continue fighting AND WINNING these battles in each and every office until men as stupid as Ted is irritating us by asking for a job... men like Ted make all women continue to strive harder in this continuingly sexist world.
To Mr French, using a woman as an example of anyone being "crap" at a job is still sexist and pathetic. Like the person who swears because they can't be bothered to think up an intellectual idea- your giving up on the greater good. If in life you have a mic and people are there to listen to you - CHOOSE TO INSPIRE! If I were there I would have been dissapointed.

Posted by: Tower on October 24, 2005 1:52 AM

He could be right. Because Canadian ads specially the one on TV, they are all a bunch of "craps", selling sex (a gum add and these 2 sex-starve guy, making out while buying a sofa, a wholllashit) and copy cats.

Posted by: Lulu on October 24, 2005 12:43 PM

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yaddayaddayadda.

Thing is: who drops the career to take care of kids MORE OFTEN? Men? Or is it women? The answer to this question settles things.

Oh, but this is a problem, all those whiners will say. It's wrong. Men and women alike should stop working 24/7 as CDs to spend more time with their families. Wow, yeah, I think it would be great too.

But Neil French was talking about REALITY, not about utopia.

So get a grip and face up to the facts.

Posted by: Woman tired of whiners on October 24, 2005 7:10 PM

You guys miss the point. "Dropping the career" is an outdated concept, and the demographics prove it. If a woman or man stays home to do the kid thing for a while, it's just as easy to jump back in the business later. Sure, you may not be an ECD at JWT, but you can do very well. So why don't you all pay attention to the trends, stop living in the past, and let outdated ideas about men and woman drift away. French is a clown.

Posted by: KW on October 25, 2005 6:19 PM

here's what concerns me...

if you read the adweek article concerning neil french's comments, everyone treated it more or less as if it was business as usual. yes, he pointed out a problem we need to do something about, but no one mentioned doing anything about it. he's a cad, a scoundrel, a mischevious man.. but no solutions. why aren't more women in positions of power? why isn't there a woman president of the one show? why doesn't communication arts have a female advertising editor? why hasn't barbara lippert said anything about this? where are all the women in advertising? sally hogshead is a shameless self promoter, where is her voice? where is kara goodrich? where is charlotte moore? kathy delaney? hello? why so much lip service but no real change? rick boyko, shame on you. you head up the vcu adcenter, you should be doing more. neil french only pointed out the elephant in the room and then resigned. why? is advertising really so politically correct that it can't handle a spotlight cast in its direction?

Posted by: gossage on October 25, 2005 10:11 PM


we don't have any women in power at the martin agency. but we're from the south. mike hughes did try and let sally hogshead open up martin la. a few years back & she had a shot at crispin west. she has had kids and came back to the industry, albeit to promote herself. anyone know where all the other "power women" stand on this? where are all those ladies that wrote that powerful nike women stuff a few years ago? why aren't they in positions of power?

Posted by: martin agency on October 25, 2005 10:15 PM

who cares about what sally hogshead or any of those self righteous copywriters have to say? why isn't lippert writing something about this? when adweek comes out with their agency report cards, they should have a section on cultural diversity and be graded on it, that would put it in the forefront. more sites like adcritic & adfreak should have blogs like this. the industry can monitor this and make a change. question is, does anyone have the guts? i agree.. calling david baldwin. mr. baldwin, your legacy is calling. you can make a difference. let's maket this a topic in the one show magazine. heck, let's make this an advertising challenge for ad schools to compete on.

Posted by: wowzer on October 25, 2005 10:20 PM

everyone can just save their breaths. no one in advertising is going to step up and put their necks on the line. david baldwin? are you kidding me? he's not going to make waves! it's going to take someone who really wants to make a difference or really promote themselves. i think hogshead is the best bet. she has nothing to lose, more publicity to gain. check out her website. post a comment on it. she'll be the face person on this. it'll further her cause. hey if not her, then who? none of the schools are going to address this. no agencies are going to sweat about this. this will blow over in a couple of days. get back to work & do some ads. all of you, but especially you slacker women! just kidding! kinda.

Posted by: ian on October 25, 2005 10:24 PM

Here's what I wrote to Virginia Galt, Globe & Mail, October 22, 2005:
It's unfortunate that Neil French's remarks have been taken out of context and re-interpreted to suit the need for headlines. But given that's how reputations are lost, embellished and sometimes won, let's re-interpret some more and get him off your skewer. Let's imagine instead of 'women' he had simply said 'committed caregiver' - which is undoubtedly what he really meant, right? Because everyone knows that, when organizations look for people that can lead them to success, given a choice between two people with identical capabilities, the one that can work 80 hours a week and travel weeks on end, without random exposure to unplanned time off due to caregiver obligations, is the one who'll get the job. Simple. Happens everywhere and for good business reasons. And all your quoted experts either missed or avoided the issue too. Very neatly done, and disappointing too.

If you want to expose a related problem attitude, how about making it the one about overwhelming choice of women as primary caregivers, hence they're the ones most likely exposed to random time-off obligations away from businesss commitments? That's the real problem isn't it? Then you can segue to that other ridiculous corollary that in the event of separation and divorce, overwhelmingly the default parent to whom custody of children are awarded is the mom. How incorrect and inappropriate is that?

Oh so many oxen to gore and so few half-pages available! Make your headlines out of issues - not conveniently-shaded interpretations.

Posted by: Ross Morley on October 26, 2005 10:47 PM

Ian and Ted, if you haven't been hit up the side the head by a woman yet, than duck!!!!

All I can say is that I can't wait for this old generation of Neil French's to retire or die. The world is certainly not a better place with these damn ignorant, pompous dick heads running around.

Posted by: aleks on October 28, 2005 3:33 PM

Excert from Neil French comment:

"... women are apt to "wimp out and go suckle something."

His mother did indeed suckle "something", and that was a giant asshole, not a baby.

Posted by: Evil Progressive on October 30, 2005 8:46 AM

Nancy Vonk positions her views as being representative of all women. I'm a woman, but I'm not offended by Neil's sexist remarks because I can see the humour in it - as I am sure many of us do. I think the whole affair was no more than a personal vendetta disguised as a worthy cause.

Let's look at the context in which those words were spoken. Neil French was in Toronto, making his speech in the presence of Nancy Vonk, Head of Creative, Ogilvy Toronto. He said 'women are crap.' It's easy to see why Nancy took it as a personal attack on her own performance. Her response to the perceived insult was to take it out on Neil on a global scale rallying support from half the human race. I think he was merely drawing his opinion on a stereotype in order to humour his audience (knowing the character that he is) - looks like it didn't go down too well.

I feel she over-reacted to Neil's somewhat irresponsible speech and dealt blows that were far more damaging than anything he might have said in jest. It was an ill chosen joke no doubt, but Nancy is equally guilty of stereotyping women in Asia, and the thing that concerns me most is that her remarks weren't meant in jest.

Nancy said, "It's too easy to discount Neil's views as those of a man from an era and geographies that reinforced that the role of women should be reserved for pleasing the men, marrying them, bearing and caring for their offspring."

She also said, "Too bad for him that his experience working with women has been so limited, considering he's spent his career in the most notoriously sexist environments in the world."

I find those statements not only racist, but extremely insulting particularly to the women in the Asian countries he's worked in. It implies that they are backward, brainless and "live to please their men"- as she put it. It shows how narrow, biased and limited she is in her knowledge of the world in which Neil lives.

Nancy's sweeping sexist statements demonstrate her inability to accept that women in Asia have come a long way in recent decades. Singapore, for example (where Neil is based), is one of the most modern, technologically advanced and sophisticated cities in the world. The women he works with are as educated, independant, 'liberated' and successful as their western counterparts.

Besides, Neil was virtually single-handedly responsible for elevating South-East Asia to a creative hotspot in the global arena, and along with that, the many successful admen and women who have had the privilege of working under him. When Nancy mentions the 'era' to which he belonged, she is referring to the years he spent pulling the Asian industry out of the backwater and into the limelight.

Nancy's statement that "we should replace all French's female references to 'black'" went a step too far, and did not help her argument at all. Her article smacks of ageism, sexism and racism at its worst as disguises it by masquerading as the paragon of political correctness.

Posted by: Bojangles on November 1, 2005 12:03 PM

I write in support of Mr French, and I need say this in advance because it may not sound like it.

There are, God help us, far too may Creative Directors running around, who should never have been let out of the janitor's basement. Alas,the overwhelming majority of this sorry collection are men. And in all this storm in a tea cup, I am very concerned that truly crap male Creative Directors have escaped being examined for their commitment, their abilities and their effectiveness. Or excoriated for their lack of it. One Creative Director casting aspersions on "female" Creative Directors does not absolve the thousands of "male" CD's out there who should have been taken out the back door and shot through the head.

After almost 20 years in advertising, I know but a few who I would dare call genuine advertising talent that is a bunch that includes as many women as it does men.

But I must concede that I simply cannot see how NOT being able to bear a child, or bring it up, or tend to a home makes you a better advertising person. How on earth does sitting in an office all day make you MORE able to sell billions of dollars worth of brands to women?

I am a "male" Creative Director. I've worked on "female" brands, and in each and every time, I deferred to the women on my team, stepping in only to help present and defend the work, which more often than not didn't need my testosterone muddying the waters.

It all proves nothing.

Except that I don't understand why you people paid $125 to hear a brilliant, pull-no-punches talent like Neil French speak and got all wound up because he didn't do a polite powerpoint.

This is Neil French, people. The man is dynamite. He's lived a hell of a life, and he's earned his stripes. If I was there and Neil didn't do what he usually does, I'd want a refund.

If you think Mr French called you names, call him some right back. He likes that kind of thing, (I've heard he likes all kinds of things, the naughty chap) but above all, he's one of the few that can take it as well as he dishes it out.

Posted by: Alvin Saldanha on November 1, 2005 7:10 PM

All right all you man haters. Family and role playing work for bringing up children. I live for for my kids and so does my wife. we are a team. there are to many single mothers in the world thinking it is OK. It is not ok to bring up children without a farther around. Don't blame men for your bad judgment. Have a kid with a dead beat and will have a dead beat dad. Stop pumpin out kids like they are teady bears.

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Posted by: francis gibson on April 25, 2006 4:43 AM

All this trashing about over gender is silly. Anybody who is so locked into their job that they don't have a life outside the office inevitably falls into inbred thinking, regurgitating the same solutions over and over. Curiosity and wit are all that is required to be creative. Not a particular genitalia or hours spent in the office. And, as any writer or art director knows, creativity comes in bursts, not by sitiing on the crapper until something comes out. I'll take creativity over commitment any day. So get out everybody... have fun... make babies. As any parent knows, kids are the greatest fountain of creativity. Some famous somebody said "We spend most of our life trying to remember what we forgot when we were born." Or something like that...

BK (married, father of four)

P.S. I still like Neil French. And Hal Riney. Remember, before you become a cynic you have to be a romantic. More wine?

Posted by: BK on June 6, 2006 10:54 AM

hi i'm not sure if this request is appropriate, but could someone lead me on how to get in touch with Mr Neil French please? I admire is tenacity and I think Mr French is one of the most gifted human being.

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Posted by: Elias Bryant on November 24, 2006 8:11 PM

This comes after the gun has gone off. The horses are distant puffs of dust on the horizon. However, what Neil French said was: “You can’t be a great creative director and have a baby and keep spending time off every time your kids are ill ... Everyone who doesn’t commit themselves fully to the job is crap at it.”

Read that quote again.

Now, did you read any comment there that says
"I hate women creatives, they're crap"? No, you did not, because he didn't say that.

The key word in Neil French's statement is commit. Without committment there is no great creative work, and one's sex has NOTHING to do with one's ability to exhibit, offer, and deliver committment.

Without committment to the craft, there are no ads. Without ads the brand suffers. When the brand suffers accounts are lost and people get fired. But the most important element here is people. People use brands and brands are built by talented people who, when asked, tell you the truth. But brands are destroyed when talentless assholes don't do their jobs, or when they have gold delivered to them and they're too tied up with their own ego to recognise the voice of experience when it booms in their ear.

Many people who have contributed to this thread will not like this next comment, but those people can follow the directions in the next paragraph. When it comes to creativity, brand building, and the ability to write about people, there is no greater writer working today than Neil French.

Except that he's now out of a job.

For those of you spitting nails at this opinion, here's what you need to consider doing: go to your nearest lumber yard or home improvement centre, purchase 1,000 feet of 6" x 1" decking, cut into 8' lengths, 250 3" x 4"s, a battery powered drill, and 2,000 deck screws. Then, build a bridge and get over yourself.

Advertising isn't about brands, it's about people. Neil French gave his opinion, and sadly, when you ask someone like Neil, a creative of courage, integrity, and class ... someone who is an expert in his field ... for his two cents' worth and he tells you what he thinks and you don't like it, then IT'S YOUR PROBLEM, not his.
Sadly, it's been made his problem. If a woman had been hounded out of her job for expressing an opinion in the same way Neil French was, the posts here and elsewhere would have a very different tone.

Posted by: Gary Bloomer on January 13, 2007 9:02 AM