This story has been updated. If you’re from Minneapolis, you should be familiar with the funk/rock group The Time’s song, The Walk. The lyrics go,
Everybody walk your body
Everybody walk, yoo-hoo-hoo
Everybody walk your body
That is exactly what African American employees, an LGBTQ+ ally and the Copy Department did at Minneapolis-based agency Periscope yesterday. Led by chief strategy officer Nathan Young, the team members left work objecting to the “unethical leadership and actions” of parent company, Wisconsin-based Quad/Graphics.
Young alleges that Quad/Graphcis:
- Interfered in Periscope’s social media communications about the Black Lives Matter movement.
- Released deceptive data about its employee diversity for #CommitToChange
- Underreported directors and overreporting managers to make their leadership seem more diverse.
Periscope was purchased by Quad in 2018. The agency has been in the news recently for layoffs due to COVID-19 and then less than a month later, restructuring the leadership team by bringing in former MARC USA President Cari Bucci-Hulings as new President.
Nathan Young, who recently co-founded 600 & Rising and penned an open letter to ad agency leaders addressing their hiring practices of African Americans, refuses to return to work until Quad has taken “tangible steps” to address diversity at the agency.
Specifically, Young said, the participants in the walkout are demanding that Quad:
• Make diversity and inclusion training mandatory for all levels of leadership and management.
• Stop interfering with Periscope’s “editorial independence” in terms of content it releases online and elsewhere.
• Release full, accurate diversity data for Periscope.
He explained the team’s actions in a series of tweets yesterday:
Young tweets that the original issue with Quad emerged when the company prevented Periscope from using the phrase “Black Lives Matter” in social media posts in the wake of Minneapolis resident George Floyd’s killing by a police officer on May 25.
Young said he drafted a statement in response to Floyd’s killing but that the response was held up for a week and words were “softened and struck down.” He accuses Quad of forcing Periscope to remove the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”
Young also claims that he explained the importance of Black Lives Matters to Quad CEO Joel Quadracci. According to the tweets, Quadracci promised to eventually support and “do the right thing” but then went back on the promise.
According to Adweek, Quad evp Eric Ashworth said that the company’s early resistance to include “Black Lives Matter” in the agency’s statements on the Floyd killing was due to Quad leadership wanting to take time in understanding the issues involved before connecting Periscope publicly with the movement.
“We will [now] be using the hasthtag #BlackLivesMatter,” he added. “We appreciate what it stands for as a movement and as a phrase.”
Young tweeted that Ashworth personally directed him to delete the phrase “Black Lives Matter” from a Periscope statement and provided an image of an email from Ashworth informing him and other recipients at Periscope that “until Defund The Police efforts get better defined, we cannot support Black Lives Matter publicly via Periscope in any form.”
Young stresses Periscope is supportive
Young stressed that Periscope had been supportive of employees’ attempts to address systemic racism and moved toward more progressive diversity and inclusion goals.
“Periscope leadership is not to blame here,” he said, calling agency leaders “committed and enthusiastic” about these efforts.
UPDATED: All of Periscope walks in solidarity
In a show of being united, all of Periscope has walked out of the agency, addressing the primary concerns of alleged interference by Quad in Periscope’s social media communications about the Black Lives Matter movement (until recently barring the use of that phrase) and concerns that Quad was releasing deceptive data about its employee diversity.
Young tweeted out Periscope’s Declaration of Independence:
Declaration of Independence
For four weeks, the leadership at Quad has prevented Periscope leadership and staff from expressing our beliefs as an agency and taking the urgent action necessary to address systemic racism.
On June 4th, Joel Quadracci issued a video statement saying that the murder of George Floyd and the resulting protests were a “wake-up” call, and that “it’s not going to get better until people like me, in my position, who think we do a lot to address the issue understand that a lot is not enough.” He pledged to do more and do better. Days later, he struck the words Black Lives Matter from a statement drafted by Periscope for release.
We do not know why the leadership at Quad took the position that we could not post the words Black Lives Matter. We heard that it was because Black Lives Matter is too closely associated with defunding the police, and that making that statement is derogatory to law enforcement officers. We disagree. We heard that it was because Quad is a publicly traded company, and that they cannot make political statements. We disagree and so do hundreds of other publicly traded companies.
Black Lives Matter is not a political statement—it is a fact. And to deny that basic fact, for any reason, is not just wrongheaded, it is morally reprehensible.
Yesterday, 13 of our staff walked off in protest to stand for what they believe in. Today, the rest of the agency is walking off in solidarity with them, as we no longer have confidence in our interim President’s ability to lead our agency and represent our values.
As an agency, we have prided ourselves on our fierce independence. Since our acquisition, we have lost that independence. Today, we are reclaiming it.
We will never again compromise our values as an agency to make our parent company feel comfortable. Their actions and inaction have had an irreversible impact on our colleagues of color and we regret that we did not take stronger action sooner to right this wrong.
On Monday, our new President Cari Bucci Hulings will take on the unenviable position of leading an agency that is deeply wounded and mistrustful of the management decisions of our parent company. She has the full support of all Periscope employees including the 13 who walked off yesterday. We are hopeful that Monday will mark a new chapter for Periscope: one where we move past doing things people love and start doing better.
Black lives matter.