Duncan Milner, the TBWA creative executive who was handpicked by Lee Clow to lead some of Apple’s most iconic ad campaigns, has been terminated from the agency after more than 30 years. And Milner has responded by filing a wrongful-termination suit against his longtime agency.
When TBWAMedia Arts Lab was founded as a bespoke agency for the Apple account in 2000, Milner was the creative lead, rising to CCO in 2009. But in 2016, Milner was replaced by current CCO Brent Anderson and moved into a vaguely defined position as global chief creative president focused on MALFor Good, the purpose-driven arm of the agency.
This year, after Clow announced his retirement in February, Milner was informed the agency “couldn’t carry his salary anymore,” according to his lawsuit, and in June he was terminated.
“I felt I was let go an unfairly, and we couldn’t come to an agreement over what I felt was fair compensation, so I have filed a suit,” Milner told Adweek, saying he was told the agency “didn’t have a job for me” and “couldn’t cover my salary.”
TBWA Worldwide is aware of Milner’s lawsuit but declined to comment to Adweek, citing a policy against discussing pending litigation. However, the agency did acknowledge in a statement to Adweek that Milner’s position was cut when MALFor Good was folded into another arm of the agency network.
MALFor Good “struggled to be profitable as a stand-alone business entity,” TBWA Worldwide said in a statement. “Earlier this year, the decision was made to evolve MFG into a strategic, consultative offer within TBWAChiatDay L.A. As a result, Duncan Milner’s position as the creative leader of MALFor Good was eliminated.”
According to Milner’s complaint (which you can read in its entirety below), filed with the California Superior Court in Los Angeles, he is suing TBWA for alleged age discrimination and breach of oral and implied contracts. The suit also points to the alleged erosion of Milner’s compensation and influence in recent years, culminating in his replacement by Anderson as CCO of TBWAMedia Arts Lab, which the lawsuit describes as a “demotion” and an “unceremonious shift.”
Milner’s lawsuit says he was presented with two options: take a 50% pay cut and take on three additional accounts or accept a severance package and leave the company. In June this year, the suit alleges that Milner was called into a meeting with chief talent officer Kristen Clark and TBWAChiat Day L.A. managing director Michael Claypool and informed that “they had looked around” and “didn’t have anything for him, even at a reduced salary.”
At one point, according to the suit, Milner told Clark that “It’s starting to look and smell like age discrimination.”
In addition to Clark and Claypool, TBWAWorldwide CEO Troy Ruhanen, TBWAWorldwide CCO Chris Garbutt, TBWAWorldwide general counsel Elaine Stein, and TBWAChiatDay L.A. president Erin Riley, and executive human resources director Sheri Thorburn are named in the suit.
Milner’s time atop Apple’s advertising
In his 31 years at TBWA, Milner was part of building Apple’s prodigious and wildly successful marketing campaigns, including the lauded “Mac vs. PC,” the iconic “Silhouette” work that made the iPod one of the most popular electronic devices of its day, and the ongoing “Shot on iPhone” campaign.
The lawsuit describes Milner as working closely with Apple founder Steve Jobs and often being praised for his work.
“Following the launch of the iPod in 2001, Jobs commended Milner and his team, exclaiming, ‘You guys gave me a billion-dollar idea!’” the lawsuit states. “For years thereafter, Milner received high praise from Jobs for his iconic ‘Mac vs. PC’ campaign, which was named ‘Campaign of the Decade’ by Adweek. Jobs would say to Milner, ‘You guys are the best in the business, and that’s why you’re here.’”