How To Manage Relationships With Toxic Clients
ADWEEK|August 6, 2018

Last October, a pizza chain with a familiar face hired a new chief marketer and a red-hot, digital-first agency to shake up its brand after several disappointing quarters and PR snafus.

Patrick Coffee

It all seemed so promising.

But things didn’t quite work out for Papa John’s and now-former AOR Laundry Service after Forbes reported that chairman and founder John Schnatter had used the N-word on a May media training call and later published a lengthy expose outlining the company’s “toxic culture.” According to reports, the agency resigned the account—as did its other agencies, which included Fallon, Initiative and Olson Engage.

While the uproar led to allegations of racism, extortion and defamation, it’s also a tale as old as time—or at least as old as contractual agreements between clients and service providers.

And none of it has come as a surprise to Carol H. Williams.

Williams, who became only the second black woman in the Advertising Hall of Fame last year, is hardly a stranger to the kind of behavior that allegedly occurred on the call. In the early 1970s, she said executives at Leo Burnett Chicago were so worried about how a “major chicken brand” would react upon learning that “a black kid wrote the copy” for its newest campaign that they forbade her from presenting her own work to the client. A few years later, colleagues tried to minimize the offensive comments a cosmetics executive said to her by using his Virginia heritage as an excuse.

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