Biegel Ready to Move On -- but Will the Industry Let Him?

Q&A: Busy Building a New Business, Former Dentsu Executive Reflects on Scandal

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- After creating a ruckus by levying a slew of scandalous charges against his former employer, Dentsu America, and two former bosses, Steve Biegel has lately remained mum with the press.
Steve Biegel
Steve Biegel

But now that the tales of Czech brothels and Japanese bathhouses have drawn to a close, Mr. Biegel, the agency's onetime senior VP-creative director, agreed to chat with Ad Age a bit about whether at the end of the day it was worth it to bring his lawsuit (resolved via a confidential settlement earlier this month), his new agency gig at a shop with yet another strange moniker, and more.

Ad Age: What do you say to the argument that some of the practices you complained about are commonplace in business, and just part of a boys' culture?

Mr. Biegel: There are many "boys club" situations that go on in the industry, but there is a line that I assume is understood that is not crossed in those situations. In plain English, there's a lot of "entertainment" in the industry and that's not an issue, but there's a line that one shouldn't be pushed over, and that's what one shouldn't stand for -- being pushed over that line.

Ad Age: Is the "entertainment" you are referring to more prevalent in the ad business than other business sectors?

Mr. Biegel: No, probably not. Wall Street probably leads the pack in that regard. I don't think it's endemic only to the advertising industry. Socializing is a very important part of doing business for any industry, whether it's advertising or investing. But it does happen in advertising ... when you go on shoots, when you go out with clients all around the world, you have to socialize. And most of it is innocent, and can be enjoyable. Playing golf with the client, going out to dinner with the client, showing family pictures.

Ad Age: Given the media firestorm that erupted in the wake of your filing the lawsuit, do you think that this chapter of your life had a negative impact on your professional and personal reputation?

Mr. Biegel: You would have to ask those who feel like they are in a position to judge me. I feel like I was a victim who sought justice and was within my rights as an American citizen to stand up to that injustice, and people can form their own opinions about it.

Ad Age: Where are you working now, and how did you land at your current job?

Mr. Biegel: For a long time I've considered having my own company, and one rainy day at Starbucks I met with Dan Howald, an ad agency veteran of 20 years, and had a conversation with him. The two of us agreed that we should try something on our own, despite the poor economy, and open the doors of Scarlet Heifer, an agency specializing in helping emerging brands define themselves, distinguish themselves and grow to profitability.

Ad Age: Where did you get that name?

Mr. Biegel: Almost every client meeting we go to, people ask where it came from; it makes for good conversation. The name came from an ancient Talmudic lesson that once you recognize you're at the bottom is the moment that you begin to rise to the top. It's a paradox based on a ritual where a red heifer is slaughtered. The people slaughtering the heifer become impure but after the ritual become pure. It is the only ritual that King Solomon did not understand. We took the name because of the many paradoxes in this business and because the way to propel a brand and break through barriers is to first understand them all. The story sounds a lot better after three or four beers.

Ad Age: Have any clients expressed concerns regarding the scandal?

Mr. Biegel: Not one. Most of them know nothing about it, and when we tell them about it they shrug and say: 'Good for you.'

Ad Age: At the end of the day, was it worth it to you to bring the lawsuit?

Mr. Biegel: I can look at myself in the mirror without any problems. I can talk to my son honestly about standing up to bullies. I honor my father from him teaching me how to stand up for myself. And people can think what they want to think. As long as I'm truthful and true to myself, then it was worth it.
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