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Crude Guru Was Good For Ad Industry.

NEIL French, creative head of the WPP Group, the world's second largest communications company, was always known for his ability to provoke.

So, it should have been no surprise to industry watchers across the world when he resigned over a week ago in a cloud of controversy. Mr French had allegedly described women creative directors as "crap".

The WPP Group has refused to comment on the incident. Mr French has argued that he was taken out of context and described the whole incident as "Death by Blog".

The rest of the advertising industry has been in a quandary. Trade publications like AdAge have been asking if there are ways to address the "gender gap", and Marketing Magazine online edition conducted a poll to see what marketing communications professionals thought of the whole incident.

Boorish as most took his comments to be, there is so far no evidence to suggest that Mr French discriminated against women in advertising and hindered their advancement.

For a man who apparently thinks women are "crap", he married ? and divorced ? a highly successful and driven creative director (Ms Linda Locke, chairman and regional creative director of Leo Burnett SEA and former CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi Asia-Pacific).

Being boorish was never an offence worth having to resign over.

Secondly, the advertising industry has not proven itself to be "woman unfriendly". Women have broken the "glass ceiling" in the industry.

As well as being married to Ms Locke for seven years, Mr French also reported to Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, when he was Ogilvy's worldwide creative head. Singapore's advertising industry has seen prominent female creative directors like Lim Sau Hong, CEO and executive creative director of 10AM Communications.

Mr Frank Young, creative director at Crush Advertising says: "When you look at the way little girls play, you realise that women are much better at communicating than men. Girls will sit around, gossip and chat. Little boys are more one tracked and there is a subtle hierarchical mindset in men.

"Women tend to make better PR people and advertising account handlers. They get things done ? it's easier for a man to give in to a woman than another man. Women have been a positive influence in the industry."

Mr French is undoubtedly brilliant at his job. Whatever the truth of the incident, nothing should detract from the fact that the advertising that Mr French was responsible for was provocative and, more importantly, effective.

People did not pay Mr French to be politically correct; they paid him to get results.

In a survey done by Marketing Magazine online edition, the majority of Singapore's marketing communications professionals felt Mr French should have resigned. Yet, in a survey two weeks ago on the state of advertising creative work, the majority also felt that standards in Singapore have declined.

Mr Kelvin Pereira of Crush Advertising felt that when Mr French was active in the Singapore advertising industry, there was a buzz not quite felt today.

He added: "Let's not forget that some of the best creative people (in Singapore) came out of O&M when he was ECD. For the rest of us he was an inspiration."

This is surely a sign that Mr French, whatever one thinks of him, did play a positive role in the industry.

Perhaps there is a lesson here. Singapore needs risk takers who will shake up industries and make them globally competitive. Mr French did that for Singapore advertising.

So instead of castigating Mr French for being a boor, shouldn't we be looking for more people like him?

Tang Li - The writer is a freelance writer.

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