Crisis at Ogilvy PR as high handedness forces out two account directors

Joel Chacha joined Ogilvy PR as an Account Director from Tell-Em exactly one year ago. Chacha’s move followed the departure of Cosmas Butunyi, the Lenana Road-based PR firm’s former Account Director who had left in March and moved to MediaEdge, part of the Redhouse Group. Chacha was then teamed up with other colleagues who were handling the Safaricom account. In fact, he was soon made the Account Director in charge of Safaricom’s Enterprise Business Unit (EBU) and Technology.

Later on, Chacha would be told to also help colleagues working on the Kenya Airways (KQ) account which was by then not receiving very positive press locally, getting almost weekly beatings from a daily business newspaper. From sources within the PR firm, the team went all out and eventually managed to turn the situation around on behalf of the client but seems that their efforts were not sufficient in the eyes of the top management at Ogilvy PR, that is Catherine Karanja. Catherine Karanja is the Managing Partner at Ogilvy PR.

About a month ago, Chacha had no option but to tender in his resignation letter, which according to those in the know, was mainly due to the pressure from his boss – Ms Karanja – than the client – KQ. The KQ account is now left in the hands of Francis Ochieng, a long-serving member of the Ogilvy PR team who currently holds the position of Senior Account Manager.

However, Ochieng’s tenure at Ogilvy PR is shaky with rumours doing the rounds that he’s also likely to be pushed out by the bosses at the firm.

Then there’s the story of Alex Owiti who has been an Account Director at the PR agency from late 2015.

On Monday June 25, 2018 at 12.11pm, Alex Owiti sent out a press release announcing the launch of a credit payment plan for a new range of a mobile phone brand handled by the agency to bloggers and journalists. Slightly over 40 minutes later at 12.53pm, Owiti followed up with a captioned photo about the new payment plan, presumably taken during the launch of the partnership.

Then at 1.49pm on the same day, Naomi Mutua, a colleague who had been working on the same account with Owiti,   also sent out the same release to bloggers and journalists, together with the photo. But Ms Mutua resent the release without telling Owiti.

Although not appreciated by many bloggers and journalists, as it shows lack of coordination (and even communication within the agency), the practice of receiving the same communication or document(s) from different people, from the same PR agency is not unusual.

The bloggers and journalists then proceeded to cover the new payment deal for the mobile brand on their various platforms and outlets normally with no inkling of why the release had come from two people, from the same agency. This was however not the case at Ogilvy PR where the communication had come from as things were coming to a head, and about to boil over.

Here’s some bit of background. Owiti was part of the team that negotiated and brought the mobile device account to Ogilvy PR as a retainer client and was until Friday June 29, 2018 directly in charge of the account at the agency.

Naomi Mutua, on the other hand, currently holds the rank of Deputy Managing Partner at Ogilvy, and works on various accounts apart from the mobile phone brand including Safaricom, Kenya Airways, KCB, CBA and IBM among others. Still, it’s very curious when she decided to send out a release which had already been circulated an hour earlier, and to the same people.

Now, apparently, Ms Mutua didn’t just resend the release to the same bloggers and journalists that Owiti had already circulated it to then leave it at that. She went further and wrote an email to Owiti asking him why the release had not received coverage on mainstream media and copied Owiti’s supervisor and overall boss, Catherine Karanja.

Feeling that this was a case of sabotage – as Mutua had not come to him and asked the status of the coverage – Owiti then went to Mutua’s office to ask her why she’d done that and whether if it was fair for her to copy Ms Karanja, his supervisor and immediate boss.

After the confrontation, the two workmates – Owiti and Mutua – were summoned to their overall boss’ office. Once there, Ms Karanja apparently claimed that Owiti had “yelled at Naomi”, according to Ogilvy PR insiders who witnessed the incident.

An already bad situation was getting worse right in front of Owiti. He had previously been warned over “bad performance” and put on a performance improvement plan (PIP), which he declined to sign as he felt that it was maliciously designed to kick him out of the agency. Ms Karanja right there and then decided that Owiti be issued with a summary dismissal letter, which had already been printed.

Owiti tried to give his side of the story but the Ms Karanja could not relent, insisting that he should sign the dismissal letter. He refused to sign, reasons being that he’s not accorded a fair hearing or notice before issuance of the letter terminating his services.

Following the standoff, with Owiti declining to sign the dismissal letter and stating that he’d engage a lawyer to look into the issue, the letter was retained by Ms Karanja. She reportedly also blocked Owiti from getting a copy of the termination letter from Ogilvy PR’s head of HR.

From here, Owiti was then led to his workstation in the company of Ms Karanja, the head of HR and the IT officer and ordered to pack his personal items. He was however barred from accessing the company laptop he’d been using which, apart from work-related documents, also had his personal documents.

The Ogilvy PR boss then ordered Owiti to hand over his office access card as well the medical card. The head of HR however advised that the company should not force him to hand over the medical card.

And there’s no turning back as Owiti was then ordered to leave the office premises at The Atrium along Lenana Road and “never come back.”

Still holding on to the slim possibility (and hope) that the situation could be salvaged and the decision rescinded, Owiti reached out to the Ogilvy Africa Group head of HR via email. He was then invited for a meeting at Scangroup offices at the Chancery Building on Monday July 2, 2018. But here again, the HR director and legal team said that the dismissal letter had been withheld.

Owiti has since decided to take the issue through the legal process.

Earlier on before the incident with Ms Mutua which led to him being issued with the termination letter, Owiti had been summoned to the Ogilvy PR boardroom by Ms Karanja and head of HR.

The meeting – called on the afternoon of Friday June 29, 2018 – was related to media coverage for an event held by one of the agency’s clients – Total Kenya – in Western Kenya. Interestingly, Owiti was not part of the team working on Total Kenya account though he’d now been called in to help remedy a situation, which they did as requested by the bosses and report shared with the client. But the reason for him being summoned was because he’d apparently not sent (or shared) the same report with Grace Waweru, the Managing Partner at Ogilvy Africa as instructed by Ms Karanja.

Apart from the perceived high handedness of the bosses at Ogilvy PR, there are also murmurs regarding the criteria used to elevate people to higher roles, mainly to Account Director positions.

For instance, sources said that insiders have (quietly) questioned how their colleagues handling the Safaricom account were promoted to Account Directors.  The Account Directors in charge of the telco are Susan Wanjiku (for the Consumer Business Unit – CBU), Catherine Karongo (for Foundation and CSR), and Wangechi Wahome (for Brands).

In the coming days, it will be interesting to see how Ogilvy PR wades through this crisis and whether the internal squabbles will spill over and affect the agency’s relationships (and service quality) to its clients.


1 Comment

  1. No surprise here. Some animals are more equal than others. Fake people get promotions then they bully juniors (who by the way, are more knowledgeable than them i.e. bosses) to do all the work while they, the bosses just survive by pulling the hood over everyone around mainly by name dropping. The bosses will stop at nothing just so that they can be in control (control here being extreme and inhumane).

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