Some variations of the latest signs, which first showed up about a month or so ago, contain phrases like “[For the] Fool,” “Chase the People” and “[For the] Money” spray-painted over Morgan & Morgan’s signature tagline “For the People.”
On one sign, a clown wig and bulbous red nose is spray-painted onto founder John Morgan, a gray-haired attorney and Kentucky native in his upper 60s.
While the (amazingly well-organized, widely traveled and consistent) vandals have yet to reveal themselves, Orlando Weekly knows the gimmick: Morgan has admitted to “defacing” his own billboards before as his own creative marketing campaign.
Morgan, himself a resident of Central Florida, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2015, for instance, that the first “vandalized” billboard he set up was in Orlando, themed around the Orlando City soccer team.
“People were backing up traffic because they were stopping to take pictures of it. TV news stations came out and did stories about it. People were posting on social media about it,” Morgan told the Times. “We thought it was great. It was the best money I've ever spent.”
Morgan referred to the massive signs, posted above I-4 and other spots throughout Central Florida and theU.S., as his own “purple cow,” explaining to the Times, “say you're driving down the road and see cows in a field. You can see thousands of cows but if you see a purple cow, that is the one you're going to remember.”
Another billboard ‘defaced’ in Jacksonville in 2015, ostensibly promoting the Jacksonville Jaguars football team, also earned a good-humored response from the multimillionaire at the time: “Well go Jacksonville Jaguars!! #ForthePeople” Morgan shared on Facebook.
Like Morgan & Morgan’s totally-not-a-dick-joke “Size Matters” billboards, which half his marketing department later got fired over, the faux-vandalized signs are memorable (and hopefully will not also lead to bizarre layoffs — or “restructuring,” as the workers fired for objecting to the dick joke were told).
As usual, the billboards appear to make fun of the insanely wealthy attorney and his legal practice, which is headquartered in Orlando. On some signs, the “For the People” tagline is vandalized to read “For the Money” or “Fool the People.”
They’re not just in the Orlando area, either. According to Reddit users, the graffiti’d signs have also been spotted in Pensacola, and outside of Florida in Pittsburgh; Boston; Louisville, Kentucky; Memphis; and Marietta, Georgia.
Similar Morgan & Morgan billboards were also spotted in Savannah, Georgia, according to WJCL 22 News, an ABC affiliate.
But, when the outlet managed to reach the firm for comment on the “vandalism,” Morgan didn’t cop to it.
A spokesperson for Morgan & Morgan reportedly told the ABC affiliate, “We take this very seriously, are investigating and exploring all of our options.”
“We take this very seriously, are investigating and exploring all of our options,” a spokesperson for Morgan & Morgan told a Georgia news outlet.
Interestingly, the Florida Bar has rules for what lawyers can and can’t say in advertisements, including a rule that bars "deceptive and inherently misleading language."
It’s unclear whether the firm submitted a new billboard design for the bar association’s review, and if so, whether they approved it. The Florida Bar did not respond to Orlando Weekly’s request for comment on this.
The Morgan & Morgan law firm, which touts itself as “America’s Largest Personal Injury Firm,” boasts 800 attorneys on staff, with 3,000 support team staffers spread across the United States.
The founder himself, a prominent personal injury lawyer, is known for more than just his legal work. The multimillionaire funded a successful ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana in Florida in 2016 (71% of voters supported the idea), and bankrolled another winning ballot initiative campaign in 2020 to increase Florida's minimum wage to $15 per hour (submitting his political committee paperwork one month before he actually moved to raise his own employees’ pay to a $15 minimum hourly rate).
Morgan, who comes from a working-class background, today is a deep-pocketed, somewhat controversial figure in Florida. He has a sense of humor — up to a point —and has donated generously to Democratic politicians running for office (as well as the Republican Party of Florida in recent years).
Back in 2019, however, Orlando Weekly reported that his firm reportedly relied on cheap labor at the same time he was pushing for the $15 minimum wage initiative. And he’s made powerful enemies. The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, a state affiliate of the National Restaurant Association industry group that opposed the $15 minimum wage push, said in 2019 the group was deeply offended by Morgan’s comparison of the state’s minimum wage of $8.46 at the time to “slave wages.”
Early in his life, when his family relocated from Kentucky to Orlando, Morgan worked at Disney World and, 20 years ago, said he “hung out in union halls, drank beer and threw darts with plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers.”
During his time as a public figure, he’s also had his strange moments. At one point in 2018, the rumored candidate for Florida Governor connected school shootings to prescription drugs and vaccines in a quickly deleted social media post that Orlando Weekly snagged a screenshot of.
Former employees in 2021 described the Morgan & Morgan Brooklyn office to Orlando Weekly using terms like “frat-like,” “dictatorship,” “hostile” and a work environment with “great pay” but high turnover and low diversity.
“All in all, Morgan & Morgan has established itself as one of the most well-known advertisers in the Central Florida area through its willingness to strategize and not take itself too seriously,” wrote Nicole Wills, content chair of the American Advertising Federation’s Orlando Communications & Creative Committee, in a 2021 blog post about Morgan’s controversial ads.
After this story went live Tuesday morning, Morgan tweeted out his own theory about the “vandalized” billboards, claiming they'd identified a new culprit: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“We now know who did it!” Morgan shared on X, formerly known as Twitter. “We have pictures of @RonDeSantis on a ladder with a paint brush. #ForThePeople”
No such photos of the presidential candidate have yet been shared publicly.
Later Tuesday afternoon, in a response to Orlando Weekly's requests for comment, Morgan further doubled down on his deflection of culpability...sort of.
“Only a true genius would deface his own billboards so that tv stations would do news stories about it and newspapers would write about it and hundreds of thousands of people would take pictures of them and post them on social media so that millions of people would see and share and ultimately end up on the front page of Reddit, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in free media,” Morgan wrote in an emailed statement to Orlando Weekly.
“I wish I was that genius so I could take full credit,” he added. “We are convinced it’s Desantis. Or Allstate insurance.”
UPDATED 9/5/23 at 3:55 p.m. (and later at 4:55 p.m.) to add Morgan's comment/post on X and formal statement to Orlando Weekly via email.
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