Periscope's entire agency walks off, forcing apology from parent company Quad
After more than a dozen employees at Minneapolis-based Periscope walked off yesterday to protest parent company Quad/Graphics’ response to its efforts to address the country’s current racial strife, the rest of the agency has joined them.
Today, Periscope released a “Declaration of Independence” which announces that the remaining members of the agency are "walking off in solidarity," as "we no longer have confidence in our interim President’s ability to lead our agency and represent our values.”
The interim president referred to in the statement is Eric Ashworth, Quad exec VP-product and market strategy, and president of agency solutions. He stepped in after the former President Liz Ross departed the agency in January.
Periscope employees say Quad/Graphics, including Ashworth and CEO Joel Quadracci, made repeated attempts to undermine the agency’s racial injustice initiatives, including preventing the company from using the term “Black Lives Matter” in any of its statements and barring them from supporting and sharing posts of any company that uses that term.
“As an agency, we have prided ourselves on our fierce independence,” the statement (reprinted in full below) continues. “Since our acquisition, we have lost that independence. Today, we are reclaiming it.”
The statement ends with the words that until now, the agency could not publicly use: “Black Lives Matter.”
Sussex, Wisconsin-based Quad/Graphics announced in late 2018 it would be acquiring Periscope for $132 million as part of its attempt to broaden its marketing capabilities after building a name in the printing industry. The deal was finalized in January 2019. This year Quad ranked No. 16 on Ad Age’s list of World’s Largest Agency Companies and No. 21 on its list of World’s Largest Consolidated Agency Networks.
According to Periscope Group Strategy Director and 600&Rising President Nathan Young, one of the staffers who walked out yesterday, the agency had an all-hands meeting last night that lasted for about three hours. At the beginning of the meeting, Quad CEO Joel Quadracci addressed the group and gave what Young says was a very “corporate non-apology. He apologized for things nobody was looking for an apology for—’I’m sorry that we couldn’t move faster. I’m sorry we didn’t do enough and 13 of your employees felt they needed to walk off.’”
Young says he confronted him directly before the group about a previous hour-plus conversation they had and said, “I told you how hurtful it was to your employees of color that you took this stance, and for me personally as a Black man—that I had to delete ‘Black Lives Matter’ from something that I made. It does not hold water that it would take you this long to respond to this issue when one of your employees told you that to your face.”
After Quadracci signed off, Young says the entire agency remained on the call until well after midnight, during which they all came to the decision about the walk off and drafted their statement.
“What happened last night was the most impactful thing I’ve done in my first days here," he says. Young joined the agency in March as part of Periscope's leadership overhaul designed to “provide marketers with a preferred alternative to the agency model.”
"I think we found our sense of purpose again and when we all return to work, we will be on a mission to do better, more impactful and bold work," Young says. "A fire has been lit underneath us and we are going to see a difference in terms of the work we put out, the clients we select and our commitment to the values we hold dear."
Periscope agency leadership added in a separate statement that "we are supportive of these employees and their desired outcome. The reasons behind their actions reflect our beliefs and culture at Periscope." While the walk-offs may cause "disruption in our work, we believe the day is necessary for us to reaffirm our values and our commitment to real change–not only for ourselves but for our wider community," the statement continued.
"As a white leader a creative leader, it was a little scary what Nathan and the others were bringing but it's the time to say yes right now and time to listen," says Periscope Chief Creative Officer Peter Nicholson. "Part of the issue for us has been speed—how fast are you willing to do things, to commit, and Nathan’s inherent character is to go fast. That’s why he is able to make impact so quickly."
The agency will return to work on Monday, when a new president, Cari Bucci Hulings officially starts her role. She previously served as president of MARC USA. “Many of us have spoken with Cari and are confident she’s going to stand behind what we said and lead us through this transformation,” Young says.
Following the release of the Independence statement this morning, Quad/Graphics came out with a response to the recent events.
“Our integrated marketing agency Periscope in Minneapolis has witnessed first-hand the nation’s reawakening to persistent, systemic racism,” said Quadracci in the statement. “In recent days, our Periscope colleagues have made it clear that we, as a company, failed to act with the urgency, transparency and sensitivity required on this important social issue, and we agree. Quad can and will do better as we move forward on this journey together. Unfortunately, we were slow to communicate our position so, today, I want to unequivocally confirm that Black Lives Matter and apologize for any pain I may have caused our employees, clients and others for not explicitly stating this fact sooner. I am sorry.”
Quadracci also said that the company will be addressing the demands laid out by Periscope employees yesterday and will “support Periscope’s desire for freedom of expression, release Periscope’s full and accurate diversity data, and mandate diversity and inclusion training for all Quad leaders and managers.” He added the the training will extend to all employees.
The company also stated it is re-issuing Periscope’s diversity data with additional details as the staffers requested yesterday. “Originally, we released data on the 1,100 employees who comprise our Agency Solutions group of which Periscope is an integral part," Quadracci said. "However, as requested, we provided a breakout specific to Periscope. We respect the criticism and are responding to it.”
"I know not everybody will see it this way, but I think Quad is listening and acting," Nicholson says. As agency leaders, "it's our responsibility, and we've failed a little bit over the last few days to protect Periscope and remind Quad what makes it special here, what needs to be done. I think we’ve taken that to heart and can now move forward."
See Periscope's full statement below.
Declaration of Independence
For four weeks, the leadership at Quad has prevented Periscope leadership and staff from expressing our beliefs as an agency and taking the urgent action necessary to address systemic racism.
On June 4th, [Quad/Graphics president and CEO] Joel Quadracci issued a video statement saying that the murder of George Floyd and the resulting protests were a “wake-up” call, and that “it’s not going to get better until people like me, in my position, who think we do a lot to address the issue understand that a lot is not enough.” He pledged to do more and do better. Days later, he struck the words Black Lives Matter from a statement drafted by Periscope for release.
We do not know why the leadership at Quad took the position that we could not post the words Black Lives Matter. We heard that it was because Black Lives Matter is too closely associated with defunding the police, and that making that statement is derogatory to law enforcement officers. We disagree. We heard that it was because Quad is a publicly traded company, and that they cannot make political statements. We disagree and so do hundreds of other publicly traded companies.
Black Lives Matter is not a political statement — it is a fact. And to deny that basic fact, for any reason, is not just wrongheaded, it is morally reprehensible.
Yesterday, 13 of our staff walked off in protest to stand for what they believe in. Today, the rest of the agency is walking off in solidarity with them, as we no longer have confidence in our interim President’s ability to lead our agency and represent our values.
As an agency, we have prided ourselves on our fierce independence. Since our acquisition, we have lost that independence. Today, we are reclaiming it.
We will never again compromise our values as an agency to make our parent company feel comfortable. Their actions and inaction have had an irreversible impact on our colleagues of color and we regret that we did not take stronger action sooner to right this wrong.
On Monday, our new President Cari Bucci Hulings will take on the unenviable position of leading an agency that is deeply wounded and mistrustful of the management decisions of our parent company. She has the full support of all Periscope employees including the 13 who walked off yesterday. We are hopeful that Monday will mark a new chapter for Periscope: one where we move past doing things people love and start doing better.
Black lives matter.