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Transparency campaigner resigns following Unilever probe

One of the most outspoken campaigners for transparency in the Middle East’s marketing industry has resigned and left the region after coming under investigation from his company, writes Tim Addington.

One of the most outspoken campaigners for transparency in the Middle East’s marketing industry has resigned and left the region after coming under investigation from his company, writes Tim Addington.

Mike Gillam, head of media for FMCG giant Unilever Middle East, is being quizzed by company investigators probing claims he had made an unethical business suggestion during a phone conversation.

Gillam has previously said that his demands for greater accountability have made him several enemies who were looking for a means to bring him down.

As well as being responsible for Unilever’s multi-million dollar ad spend, Gillam helped set up the GCC Association of Advertisers, which has been fighting to start proper measurement of TV audiences in Saudi Arabia.

A team of investigators was hired by Unilever after the company was passed a tape recording of a conversation between him and a supplier.

Campaign understands that Gillam, who was last week uncontactable in the Far East, has no plans to return, although it is unclear if Unilever has accepted his resignation.
Jan Zijderveld, chairman of Unilever Middle East, said the investigation would not be finished for several more weeks.

He said: “There is an internal investigation going on and until the investigation is finished and we have done all the proper work, we have no further comment to make. Everyone is going to make rumours and speculate, but I think it is fair to the people involved and the professionalism of Unilever to do things properly. We have professional investigators and they will come back to me with conclusions and a report.”

He added: “I want to protect everyone until we know exactly what’s going on, if anything is going on. You have to be fair. You don’t know, I don’t know, until a formal investigation is finished.”

The region’s marketing industry has been awash with speculation about the reasons for Gillam’s investigation.
The 49-year-old became one of the most controversial characters in the Middle East’s media scene after severing Unilever’s relationship with media agency MindShare in 2003 and taking the company’s planning and buying in-house.

He claimed he was able to get a significantly better price by dealing with media owners directly. Eddie Moutran, part owner of MindShare in the region, last week said that discussions over the issue were still continuing with Unilever.

In an interview with Campaign in January this year Gillam said: “People hate my guts. It wasn’t a popular move. The industry closed ranks to ensure that our initiative failed and that no other client even considered going down that road.”

He also received personal threats, although there is no suggestion they came from MindShare. “People told me to be very careful,” he said.

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