Court Orders Chillies to Lift Ban on Phoenix Ogilvy
A District Court today ordered the Trustees of the Chillies — Sri Lanka’s only advertising creativity awards show — to allow Phoenix Ogilvy to submit entries for the 2010 awards, scheduled to be held later in May. Judge Mohammed Lafar Thahir passed down an enjoining order that would prevent the Chillies from scheduling any activities connected to the 2010 awards without first accepting entries from the Colombo ad agency.
This followed a hasty attempt by the Chillies Blueprint Committee to change the rules in March — a scant two months before the awards show — thereby making the event exclusive to members of the Association of Accredited Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and the International Advertising Association (IAA), which jointly organise and run the one-week annual event. This was a change from previous regulations which allowed any registered ad agency to nominate entries, and at first seemed merely a piece of pettiness that didn’t hold true to the Chillies stated vision of raising the bar of Sri Lankan creativity. Another year, another controversy. Perhaps an attempt to unionize the industry and exclude those that didn’t toe the party line.
However, on closer examination, a more sinister motive seemed to reveal itself. The fact is that 99% of Colombo ad agencies are members of either the 4A’s or the IAA, and in most cases, of both. The few exceptions are usually minnows or newcomers who haven’t paid much attention to either body. Except for one — Phoenix Ogilvy, one of Colombo’s heavyweights, and the local shop of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. In spite of the fact that the ad agency is a founder member of both the 4A’s and the Sri Lankan chapter of the IAA, Phoenix Ogilvy’s chairman, Irvin Weerackody, pulled out of both bodies in 1999, claiming “disagreements with other members over their private agendas”.
This enmity between Weerackody and the organisers of the Chillies has led to several conflicts over the past years, including the exclusion of Phoenix Ogilvy staff from many 4A’s- and IAA-conducted events. This cold war broke into open flames in 2010, with the Chillies appointing a Blueprint Committee consisting almost exclusively of senior members of rival ad agencies — Rohan Rajaratnam (CEO, Words), Laila Gunasekara-Martenstyn (COO, Grant McCann-Erickson), Chalaka Gajabahu (CEO, Lowe LDB), and Ranil de Silva (MD, Leo Burnett Solutions). The fifth member of the committe, Adrian Ferdinands, is a marketing consultant.
The new — and private — agenda of the Blueprint Committee was further underlined by one of its members who, when speaking on conditions of anonymity, said that the primary reason for the de facto banning of Phoenix Ogilvy was the lack of support extended to the Chillies by the agency, as well as disparaging remarks made in private by its chairman. While the latter may well be a matter of one person’s word against another, it is a fact that Phoenix Ogilvy has supported the Chillies in the best way possible — primarily by participating in the award show since 2007, but also by volunteering creative directors as judges and other panelists over the years. In addition, Phoenix Ogilvy creative directors are regularly invited by the Chillies to help out in training and other activities conducted by the 4A’s and IAA, and these individuals — including the writer — have readily agreed. In spite of this, the above committee member ignored the facts and ended the conversation by saying “this is our awards”.
In addition, Phoenix Ogilvy has just completed an excellent 2009, with several creative ad campaigns getting attention in the media. Two of these — a launch event for Goezy, and an ambient campaign for GlaxoSmithKline’s Iodex won Silver and Bronze respectively at the recently held Creative Abby Awards at Goafest in April. With Goafest being the first of the year’s string of international ad shows in which Phoenix Ogilvy is participating, industry speculation that the agency is suffering for its success might perhaps ring true.
Following the Blueprint announcement in March, at which Phoenix Ogilvy was told in no uncertain terms that it could not participate, the agency appealed to the Chillies Board of Trustees in the hope that both justice as well as commonsense would prevail. While many of the Trustees expressed disconcert at the unfolding events, two of them (Imal Fonseka, MD Hemas, and Rajiv Meewakkala, Head of Marketing, Ceylon Tobacco Corporation) admitted that they had neither seen nor approved the Blueprint document until contacted by Irvin Weerackody. There then followed an attempt by the Board of Trustees to reign in the Blueprint Committee, but this was unsuccessful, with at least one committee member stating that they would never allow the document to be changed that year. No doubt the Trustees would have remembered and tried to avoid the fatal stubbornness on the part of another committee that resulted in the fiasco that ended the Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM) Advertising Awards for good.
The Blueprint Committee however, attempted to get around the issue by suggesting that Phoenix Ogilvy apply for 4A’s or IAA membership if they wished to enter the awards show. Irvin Weerackody, along with his senior Creative and Client servicing directors rejected this option on principle, deciding that it would be immoral to join a body with the hope of winning awards.
In spite of the Chillies’ failure to relent, on April 22nd Phoenix Ogilvy submitted its entries for the awards, with Weerackody writing personally to the Awards Secretariat, stating his case that the agency had every right to enter a national industry event that it was a leader of. In spite of the fact that the Blueprint was both “arbitrary and discriminatory”, according to Weerackody’s letter, the Secretariat rejected the entries and Weerackody went to court.
Speaking to senior Ogilvy staffers today, Weerackody said, “We’re one of the leading marketing communication agencies – if not the leading in Sri Lanka, with a large and diverse client portfolio. To debar us from entering Chillies with a new stipulation introduced by the Blueprint Committee stating we should be either a member of the 4A’s or IAA was clearly an act of vengeance. It was a high-handed act on the part of the Blueprint Committee. The audacity of this committee to prevent us from entering Chillies had to be challenged in the name of natural justice.”
When speaking to court, Romesh de Silva PC, representing Phoenix Ogilvy, emphasized that it wasn’t his client’s intention to disrupt the Chillies in any way, or to exact any revenge, but merely to enable the ad agency to submit its entries as it has each year.
The two interim enjoining orders passed on 6th May are as follows:
(1) an enjoining order preventing the Defendants, their servants, agents and/or any one acting in their name or their behalf and/or under them from any way or manner taking any step in connection with the entries submitted in terms of the Chillies 2010 Blueprint marked P10 without permitting the Plaintiff to submit entries and without considering the entries submitted by the Plaintiff.
(2) an enjoining order preventing the Defendants, their servants, agents and/or any one acting in their name or their behalf and/or under them from in any way or manner causing and/or permitting the judging and/or evaluation of any entry submitted in terms of the Chillies 2010 Blueprint marked P10 without permitting the Plaintiff to submit entries and without first accepting the entries of the Plaintiff.
Each year, I write about the Chillies, and each year it ends up being about something controversial, be it scam or scoring, and I wonder how long this’ll go on. Brandon Ingram from Triad has already touched on this problem here. The Chillies continue to be run largely by agency heads, and I do mean ‘largely’ in a literal way. The Chillies are large, loud, and brash. Often it represents the personalities of these agency heads rather than the creativity it claims to. Most of these agency heads are not Creative people (I say this in ad agency-speak), and folks, we already tried that. SLIM didn’t work. How long before Chillies doesn’t work either? The awards need to be taken out of the hands of the agency heads and placed in that of an independent team that has the freedom to do things for the good of the industry and its Creative soul, and not that of its egotistical heart.
For the record, I work at Phoenix Ogilvy as a Creative Director.