On February 1, world-renowned advertising agency Droga5 fired Chief Creative Officer Ted Royer. The agency didn’t address the nature of his dismissal; instead, it gave a vague statement about “maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all employees.”
Left unsaid in the statement and the various trade publication reports about his termination, was what many in the industry already knew: Royer was fired amid rumors he had a lengthy history of sexual misconduct in the workplace. (Ironically, Royer was one of the creative masterminds behind the New York Times’ “The Truth Is Hard” campaign about the paper’s commitment to investigative journalism, including a popular print ad about covering the ongoing #MeToo movement.)
One of the few industry publications (if you can call it that) to acknowledge these rumors also happened to be the very source of them: Diet Madison Avenue (@dietmadisonave), an Instagram account that’s emerged as the leading voice for the #MeToo movement in the advertising industry.
Diet Madison Avenue was created last fall, and its account reads, “Exposing sexual harassment & discrimination in ad agencies since Oct 2017, cuz HR won’t.” Its primary tactic is urging people to send direct messages about abuses they’ve suffered, or know of, in the advertising industry, and subsequently recirculating those accusations through Instagram stories. Most recently, the account asked followers to share stories about alleged misconduct at 180LA, a West Coast-based ad agency.
This method has proven effective at raising awareness for sexual harassment in the industry, as the account has attracted more than 15,000 followers in just four months.
But its willingness to name names has also elicited substantial criticism. For one, it’s bizarre Diet Madison Avenue is a private Instagram account considering its stated goal is exposing the truth. And its use of Instagram Stories, which disappear after a 24-hour period, to publish serious allegations of sexual misconduct raises issues of accountability.
Then there’s the larger issue of trafficking in anonymous allegations of sexual misconduct — a practice many say preemptively eliminates due process and the presumption of innocence.
“The kitschy branding, heavy reliance on anonymous sources, and of course, its medium of choice, Instagram Stories, makes this effort feel a lot more In Touch than the Washington Post. [There’s] an integrity and a code of ethics lacking that people need in the news now more than ever,” one anonymous ad exec told Advertising Age.
It’s unclear if any of the recent high-profile firings were the direct result of Diet Madison Avenue’s stories, according to multiple advertising industry executives who spoke to me on the condition of anonymity. Some say the investigations and subsequent firings at various ad agencies were instigated by Diet Madison Avenue’s activism, while others say Diet Madison Avenue has merely brought attention to pre-existing investigations that were launched independently. (Droga5 refused to say whether Diet Madison Avenue influenced Royer’s dismissal.)
The lack of clarity reflects the secrecy around Diet Madison Avenue. It’s unknown who operates the account, fueling speculation within the industry about the people behind it. On Fishbowl, a networking app where people share anonymous gossip about their respective industries, advertising employees have been guessing at the parties responsible.
In an interview with Advertising Age, Diet Madison Avenue acknowledged it was run by an anonymous coalition of 17 men and women who all work in advertising, and that they collaborate with lawyers to vet tips they receive about sexual abuse. (Diet Madison Avenue didn’t return my direct message.)
Whatever its role in their dismissals, Diet Madison Avenue gleefully cheers every time a powerful, reputed abuser receives his comeuppance. And the account isnt interested in stopping its crusade anytime soon; Diet Madison Avenue is currently soliciting harassment stories about another prominent chief creative officer.
And so, the Weinstein-esque reckoning it’s bringing to the advertising agency is seemingly just getting started.