- The London International Awards' annual conference in Las Vegas sparked controversy after Ted Royer, an executive fired from ad agency Droga5 last year, made a surprise appearance.
- Ad agency network FCB, part of giant holding company IPG, told Business Insider it would stop participating in LIA events due to a "disappointing and unsatisfactory" response by the organization.
- A source who attended Royer's speech said he and other attendees felt "manipulated" and worried that their travel expenses would not be reimbursed if they left.
- Royer was terminated by Droga5 in early 2018 after more than a decade with the agency, but the reasons for his firing have never been made public.
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The London International Awards, an annual gathering of ad industry professionals, apologized to attendees upset that its event in Las Vegas October 6 for up-and-coming creatives featured a surprise guest speaker: Ted Royer, the former chief creative officer of Droga5 who was publicly fired by that agency last year.
Agency network FCB, which is part of holding company giant IPG, told Business Insider it would no longer participate in LIA events.
"A recent presentation given at the LIA was deeply upsetting to some of our team in attendance, and the reaction and response by the LIA has been very disappointing and unsatisfactory," said an FCB representative. "We are therefore terminating our partnership with them."
One person who attended Royer's speech told Business Insider that multiple women were "visibly shaken and emotional" as they walked out of the venue.
A veteran creative leader was fired by one of the industry's hottest agencies last year
Royer spent more than a decade at Droga, where he led creative for several of its most significant clients, including The New York Times. In January 2018, Adweek reported that the agency had placed him on leave pending the results of an unspecified investigation; two days later, he was let go.
The reasons for Royer's firing have never been made public, and he had not commented directly on the circumstances that led to his termination until this event. At the time, Droga5 issued a statement that read, "We are committed to maintaining a safe and inclusive environment for all our employees."
AdAge reported on the October 6 speech the following day. It was part of the LIAisons program, described as an opportunity for agency creatives age 30 and under to learn from top executives in their fields. The anonymous employee said that, though attendees received an agenda the week before the conference, he knew of none who were aware that Royer would be speaking.
An LIA Instagram post on the day of the event simply described it as "guest speaker."
A key part of the controversy stemmed from the fact that some attendees felt like they would be penalized for leaving the event. "On day one, we were told that if we did not attend each and every session — making sure to sign in twice a day — that they would not reimburse us for airfare and would evict us from our hotel rooms," the source said.
The source said he was "disturbed" by the way the event was structured, with Royer's speech beginning directly after a presentation on empathy from journalist Lara Logan.
One attendee reported feeling manipulated because Royer followed a speech on empathy and because attendees feared punishment for walking out
"We were intentionally manipulated to be in the room to sit and hear this man," the source said. "We were primed to know that there would be consequences if we left the room and we were primed to have empathy at the forefront of our minds based on Lara Logan's discussion."
A second person who was present for Royer's speech described it as "a little all over the place." This person said Royer's main message was that the ad industry overall needs to communicate "face to face" and demonstrate greater empathy.
The first source said, "No one I have spoken with has argued against apologies, redemption, or forgiveness."
"What I and others in attendance are blown away by is that this conference and this man felt it was appropriate to hijack the time during this opportunity for such an out-of-touch and tone-deaf apology," he said.
He added that LIA founder and president Barbara Levy took the stage to tell attendees her intention was not to make them uncomfortable.
LIA clarified its attendance policy
The event inspired contentious discussion on Fishbowl, a mostly-anonymous ad industry networking app. One user posted a picture of Royer at the LIA podium in front of an image of The New York Times article about his
departure from Droga5.
An LIA representative jumped into the conversation to clarify the organization's attendance policy. The rep said the show funds the young creatives' travel fees "to give back to the industry" and that "if an attendee does not show up because they are partying in Vegas or choose to sleep in then LIA will notify their [executive creative director]/agency as the program is not meant to be a free vacation."
The LIA rep went on to say in Fishbowl that the organization has never fined an agency for violating that policy and apologized "if this was communicated incorrectly."
Royer did not return an email seeking comment. The LIA organization has not responded to multiple requests for comment.