Two Loose Cannons Fire Legal Salvoes at WPP

14 February 2006

On the face of it, Marco Benatti, WPP Group's former country manager for Italy, and UK smut pedlar-cum-newspaper baron Richard Desmond have little in common.

The tie that now unites them in mutual antipathy is WPP ceo Sir Martin Sorrell, the recipient of two individual lawsuits launched by the disparate duo.

Benatti is countersuing WPP and - likely, Sorrell personally - following the former's firing from WPP Italia last month alongside a legal action seeking unspecified damages.

Benatti's countersuit alleges unfair dismissal and damage to his professional reputation resulting from media reports about the termination of his employment.

Furthermore, he retains a "reservation to extend proceedings" against Sorrell as an individual "due to the immense damage he has personally created by his repeated defamatory statements."

Benatti says his case is founded on "involving elements of civil law, labor law and company law linked with the varying duties performed by me [with the intention of] quantifying the truly conspicuous financial damage and damage to my image".

WPP's response was lofty: "The facts will speak for themselves, and louder than any rhetoric that attempts to divert attention from the real issues."

  • Meantime, Sir Martin is exchanging lawsuits on both sides of the Atlantic with Richard Desmond, the former publisher of such prestigious backroom titles as Big Ones, Readers' Wives and Asian Babes.

    Desmond, these days basking in a veneer of respectability as the publisher of national daily and Sunday newspapers and celebrity-fawning magazines such as OK!, is unhappy with the services he received from the New York office of WPP-owned media network Mediacom Worldwide.

    The spat concerns the launch of OK! in the US market last summer [WAMN: 27-Jul-06]. The Desmond camp, aka Northern & Shell North America, alleges breach of contract, and in a filing last Friday, seeks damages of at least $5.5 million (€4.61m; £3.15m).

    The move appears to be a response to two complaints filed by WPP one day prior at a New York federal court. These demand damages of $10m for "non-payment of media bills" relating to OK!'s stateside launch.

    Desmond claims that Mediacom coaxed N&S to spend more than its budgeted $3m on media buying in return for an agreement that the agency would find buyers for fifteen pages of advertising a week in OK!

    He also avers that the [unfulfilled] expectation of those ad pages led N&S to increase pagination in the first issue of OK!, costing it upward of $1.5m. WPP refutes the claim, denying that Mediacom had offered any such guarantees.

    Data sourced from AdWeek (USA) and Financial Times (UK); additional content by WARC staff