A majority of agencies that Campaign US reached out to for comments on how they are navigating rising hate speech against both Muslim and Jewish communities related to the Israel-Hamas war have avoided publicly talking about the issue, part of a broader trend of companies withdrawing from addressing the conflict.
Of the 18 U.S. and global agencies Campaign US contacted to comment on how their leaders are responding to the flood of antisemitic and Islamophobic remarks that have spread online since the war began, as well as how they are protecting the safety of employees of all religions and ethnicities, 14 declined or ignored the request.
Mischief @ No Fixed Address responded with the following statement from Greg Hahn, co-founder and CCO:
“We’ve reached out to our full team as we know it may be a hard time for people mentally and emotionally. We’ve communicated to our team that if they need time or support over the coming days and weeks, their managers and leadership are here for them and that we are hopeful any affected friends or family are safe.”
Dentsu Americas issued the following statement from Toni Handler, chief people officer:
“Our priority is always first the safety and well-being of our people. Essential is ongoing communication with our teams, providing our people with the necessary information and tools, and most importantly, creating a safe space for our people who represent different backgrounds, faiths and views to feel supported and heard.
“Specifically, we are guiding our leaders to speak with their teams directly, focusing on the situation with empathy, condemning indiscriminate acts of violence and most of all ensuring they are aware of the support mechanisms we have in place. [We are] acknowledging the level of emotional and physical stress put on our people when living in times of crisis. Through our Employee Assistance Program, our teams have access to 24/7 counseling and well-being support. [We are also] providing flexibility for those who need to take full-time paid leave over this period including stress, bereavement, and military leave.”
Publicis Groupe responded by pointing to the previous statement CEO Arthur Sadoun shared with global staff.
Havas responded by sharing the internal memo sent to global teams by chairman and CEO Yannick Bolloré, in which he pointed to internal resources available for emotional support and called for unity. The full message is at the bottom of the article.
Meanwhile, Horizon Media, Fig, VML, Wieden + Kennedy and 72andSunny declined to comment.
WPP, Omnicom, IPG, McCann, VaynerMedia, Digitas, Accenture Song, FCB, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and MediaMonks did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
This is despite the fact that several corporate leaders have publicly posted their views about the war on social media.
Stagwell CEO Mark Penn has penned several op-eds expressing support for Israel and condemning those who do not unequivocally support the country’s right to defend itself. He has also dismissed any difference of opinion from younger groups — who were surveyed by Harris Poll about their thoughts on the war — as lacking intellectual legitimacy. Stagwell declined to comment.
Elsewhere, GroupM’s associate director of global communications Jared Baiman posted on LinkedIn urging business leaders to condemn Hamas, expressing disappointment at the industry’s lackluster responses to the conflict.
On the other hand, Anastasia Kārkliņa Gabriel, an executive at a social media platform, expressed sympathy for Palestine and called for a ceasefire, condemning the bombings on Gaza as genocide.
Several people responded to Kārkliņa Gabriel’s posts by accusing her of being antisemitic. In at least one instance, she has received a death threat on LinkedIn. Gabriel has also criticized poor corporate responses and said the silence of brands and agencies represented a failure to uphold DE&I commitments. Campaign US did not contact Gabriel for further comment prior to publishing this piece. She has asserted on her LinkedIn profile that her views are her own and do not reflect the views of her employer.
Still, agencies and brands have increasingly strayed from the topic of the Israel-Hamas war – both in explicit requests for comment and industry forums such as Advertising Week New York.
While initial brand, media and agency statements denounced the unprecedented attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens, subsequent statements from company leaders have been less direct, with mentions of the conflict referring mostly to feelings of despair and expressing support for “anyone affected.”
Many who have taken a position on either side or called out antisemitism and Islamophobia online have been met with backlash.
Tensions erupted on Oct. 7 after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched an attack on Israel that took hundreds of hostages into Gaza and resulted in an estimated 1,400 deaths and even more injuries, sparking a declaration of war from Israel’s government and an offensive on the Gaza Strip.
Since then, Israel has responded with intensive bombing in Gaza, seeking to pressure Hamas into returning civilian hostages — including women, children and the elderly — taken during the attack. The counteroffensive has driven Gaza’s healthcare system to the verge of collapse, as the Israeli government cut off food, water, fuel and electricity to the densely populated region.
The death toll in Gaza has now risen to over 7,000 people, including women, children and the elderly, according to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, including the disputed toll from an explosion at a hospital last week. The United Nations estimates that approximately 1.4 million people have been displaced from their homes.
As the conflict escalates, world leaders and activists are now calling for an end to the violence and for aid to be allowed to reach civilians, especially as more than half of the population in Gaza are children, according to the United Nations. On Wednesday, António Guterres, the secretary-general of the United Nations, called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, condemning the acts carried out by Hamas militants in Israel on Oct. 7 while also adding that “those appalling attacks cannot justify the collective punishment of the Palestinian people.”
More reporting to come from Campaign US on this issue.
Bolloré’s full note to Havas staff, sent on Oct. 19.:
Our hearts have been heavy with the awful events happening in the world. The loss of innocent lives is a heartbreaking tragedy that deeply affects us all. Our human nature is to want to do something, to figure out how we can help. We are actively working on identifying the ways Havas can support the humanitarian effort.
If you’re personally affected or struggling to cope with current events, please know that you’re not alone. We have resources available at Havas to support you. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to your HR team or one of our Mental Health Champions who can guide you to our professional resources.
The strength of our group comes from our people. We are a diverse group of 23,000 talents, with different origins, religions, sexual orientations and opinions. We are all united behind common values and our mission to make a meaningful difference to the world. At times like this, we need to stay strong and united, and now more than ever, care for each other. All our Havas villages around the world are places where everyone should feel safe and be able to thrive.
Operating as one Havas is also seen in our results. Today, our parent company, Vivendi, posted strong +4,5% organic growth for Havas for Q3. We are proud of our achievement given the macro-economic environment and in comparison to our peers. It demonstrates that even though some agencies around the world are facing different situations, the global dynamism of our group supports our success. Let’s continue to stand together as one Havas.
This article originally appeared on Campaign US.