"A Cancer in Adland": Agency Hounds Former Staffer With "Do Not Hire" Dossier

Last Updated Nov 23, 2010 4:39 PM EST

Ad agency StrawberryFrog has taken a huge risk by publishing a 17-page dossier on one of its former employees in a blog post titled "Sam Ismail will never work in advertising again if I have anything to say about it." If the agency does not get sued by Ismail -- whom it accuses of being an international con man and thief -- it will prove that companies who discover bad apples in their barrels ought to do more to warn others of their presence. Usually, companies quietly dismiss such workers, unleashing them on the next company that unwittingly hires them.

Ismail (pictured) denies in part and admits in general to some of the allegations against him.

StrawberryFrog planning head Heather LeFevre (pictured) put together the dossier after Ismail failed to show up for a job at the agency in Amsterdam:
The day he was meant to start, he texted saying his sister had been in a bad car accident. He then avoided contact for 10 days while tweeting in the meantime. He came back to say he'd been busy giving the sister blood transfusions and would be giving his sister part of his liver. He then promised to be in touch a few times but never followed through while still tweeting casual, flippant tweets.
She heard from colleagues that this had happened before. After much research, Lefevre found:
With the help of some incredible planner friends, we've uncovered FIVE instances of claimed accidents, one claimed bone marrow donation, one claimed kidney donation, one claimed liver donation and one claimed personal blood disease. We have also uncovered theft, lies, loads of international travel, and multiple passports with at least two different names.
She also accuses Ismail of emptying the life savings account of an Australian girlfriend after installing a keylogger on her computer.

Ismail, on his own blog, said:
I can categorically and completely say with many supporters and witnesses that there are some things that have been said that aren't true. I won't get into a mud-slinging match because I have done more wrong than not.
... Anyway, as for me, I will be disappearing to sort some things out. To those who have reached out, thank you. To those who haven't thank you.
In an eerie coincidence, Ismail once prepared a slideshow about some work he did at Saatchi & Saatchi titled: "How a Fool Fooled You."

Sympathy for Ismail
The dossier paints a picture of a dangerous man who cannot be trusted. However, Lefevre's blog has filled up with many comments supporting Ismail or criticizing her move. Says one:
Trying to create an online lynch mob feels very awkward and I won't take part of it.
And on another blog:
I've just been left wondering if it really is our responsibility to decide if Sam should work in advertising again. If crimes have been committed and there's documented proof of these crimes, surely that's a matter for the police?
Many of the commenters feel that Lefevre was wrong to sound the alarm publicly because the matter should have been dealt with "quietly" by the appropriate authorities.

Sound the alarm
Being quiet is absolutely the wrong way of dealing with rogue employees who may be defrauding their employers. It is already difficult enough to prevent bad actors moving from job to job in the advertising world, which has a dazzling history of corruption.

For instance, Arnold Worldwide recently discovered that it had been targeted by a kickback crook who jumped to a job at Dunkin Donuts. Before Arnold, she'd been a convicted credit card thief.

And Grey Group hired Mitch Mosallem in the 1990s, arguably the greatest crook advertising ever saw, to run its $25 million print ad operation in New York despite the fact that he'd previously been convicted in federal court of putting his mother on the payroll at AC&R.

Agencies need become bolder about weeding out wrongdoers in their midst. Lefevre has taken a stand that may encourage others to do likewise in the future. (Let's just hope she's got her facts straight and this isn't all some kind of horrible misunderstanding.)

StrawberryFrog's New York and Amsterdam offices did not immediately return calls for comment. Ismail did not immediately return two messages requesting comment.

Related: Hat tip to Adfreak.