Singing Out of Tune on Loeries

An internal spat at the Association for Communication & Advertising (ACA) over a board director’s public criticism of the annual Loeries Awards has left some in the industry questioning the relevance of advertising’s representative body.

One senior ACA board member tells the FM the ACA is seen by some as anachronistic, representing traditional old-school agencies in a digital-first world where operators in that space are perhaps better served by the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

A rival body to the ACA has been formed and is called the Black Agencies Network Association. Its complaint is about a lack of transformation in the sector and that adspend remains in the hands of agencies represented by the ACA.

The row started when ACA board member Jarred Cinman, joint CEO of VMLY&R South Africa, wrote an open letter to the industry after the Loeries event in October. In it he raised issues about why winning work was not better highlighted, a poor script for the host and why the room was three-quarters empty.

The Loeries recognise creative excellence in the industry and are held under the aegis of the ACA.

What got ACA’s goat was Cinman asking about Middle East agency participation and whether the event has become “a money-making endeavour”.

He wrote: “Why must the Loeries — a South African event, an African event at a stretch, held in South Africa, judged largely by South Africans and owned and controlled by the South African ad industry bodies, seek to be the awards vehicle for the Middle East? “What comes directly after chasing a particular region for money is an effort to make it worth their while. And that can so easily taint the juries, the categories, and all judgment calls.”

Soon after the letter was published, Cinman was summoned to an ACA meeting at which his expulsion as a board member was threatened.

In essence, the ACA was upset that dirty laundry was being aired in public.

Cinman prepared a lengthy defence, which said in part that he rejected assertions that he had failed to exercise reasonable care, good faith and due diligence in the affairs of the ACA.

He said: “The constructive feedback in my article fulfils my duties as it seeks improvement that serves the interests of the ACA and its members. “To the best of my knowledge, when I became a director of the ACA, I did not surrender my rights to freedom of speech in terms of the constitution of South Africa.

“At no point have I agreed that any opinion I express needs to be cleared with the ACA board first. Indeed, that would be an outrageous requirement for a board member in an industry that is all about sharing ideas and expressing opinions, sometimes unpopular ones.”

He also told the ACA that allegations of ethical infringement require reasonableness, rationality, reasons and proof, “and you have provided none”.

Cinman told the ACA he believed “debate and dissent are central not only to this industry’s wellbeing and success but of our country as a whole”. He added: “You have chosen to take the most extreme legal action you could as a form of punishment and public shaming. Not only is that an overreaction, it is an attempt to silence, gag and censor a voice some of you happen to disagree with.

“That kind of heavy-handed flexing of organisational muscle is contrary not only to the values you as an organisation espouse, but contrary to our constitutional democracy and the values our entire industry fights to protect.”

A vote then went overwhelmingly in favour of Cinman, with only five out of 60 ACA members with voting rights electing to expel him.

A statement from the ACA, which neglected to mention the vote count, reads in part: “The actions of Mr Jarred Cinman … were deliberated and voted upon at a meeting of the members with voting rights. The vote was held following representations, with the outcome in favour of Mr Cinman. As a result, it was resolved that Mr Cinman retain his role as board director with no further action deemed necessary.”

After the vote, one board member tells the FM: “I suspect this will be a wake-up call for all of us to focus on representing the industry and dealing with real issues instead of picking fights.”

This piece originally appeared in the Financial Mail.