No sooner had the news about Mr. French's exit from WPP Group following his incendiary comments about women hit Advertising Age's web site than reader responses came pouring in. And while most were no-holds-barred in blasting his statements as sexist and dated, some reactions indicated there may have been some sad truth behind his words.
"Neil French was done in by `foot-in-mouth disease' rather than `death by blog,"' e-mailed Nina DiSesa, chairman of McCann Erickson, New York. "Neil's observation that children take up a woman's time and thoughts is the least of his wrong-headedness. This statement is a sign that he doesn't respect women and thinks it's funny to damage them in business," she said. "Women are so important to have in business. We think differently and solve problems differently than men. And that adds value. The problem, in my opinion, is the shortage of women in the business community. People like Neil French should be defending and encouraging women to participate in business, not disenfranchising them with slanderous words."
"I find Mr. French`s comments to be quite insulting to say the least," said Pamela Principe-Golgolab, principal at PNA Associates, Chester, N.J. "I'm very proud of my career and my family-and sorry, Mr. French, I do and can have it all. It's called scheduling-and any creative director worth anything surely knows and understands that."
"Is `death by blog' ad-speak for `I shot myself and now blame the gods?"' asked Geoffrey Batrouney, exec VP, Estee Marketing Group, New Rochelle, N.Y. "There is no plausible explanation for his ham-fisted stupidity, just a bunch of excuses."
But there were also those who found a grain of truth in Mr. French's assessment. "The sad thing is that Neil is actually right, in a twisted sort of way," commented Jim Morgan, consulting strategic planner at Discover Financial, Chicago. "The way the biz is conducted is not conducive to raising a family. The hours, the stress and the drinking are all more suited to men and women who really don't much care about their families."
"There is nothing that Neil French is saying that every single agency person doesn't know as fact. If you want to get to the highest level in the ad biz-account, creative, planning, etc.-you must make sacrifices. This has nothing to do with talent or sex. It's about dedication," said Scott Burns, The Spark Agency, St. Louis. "It's simple: If you can't commit yourself to meeting the needs of your clients and your co-workers, I'll find someone else who can."
"I doubt that you'll get even five signed and publishable letters clearly saying `Yes, women should be kept barefoot, pregnant and fed under the table and be kept out of advertising, too!' And I'd put money on that even if I suspected that one out of every two men in the business secretly agreed with Mr. French," said Paul Zink, creative director, The Garvey Group, Niles, Ill. "Which I don't [suspect], of course; I'd say it's no more than one out of seven or eight, tops."
One person clearly not shedding tears for Mr. French is Laurie Ackerman from BBDO Detroit, Troy, Mich. "No great loss. Good riddance. Maybe he can commit himself 100% to bullfighting once again."