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News Analysis

COVID-19: who's doing what as industry prepares to tough it out

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

16 March 2020 3min read

Changes necessary: Marketers, agencies and owners brace for the first wave of COVID-19 changes. However this industry say it will hold tough.

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

16 March 2020 3min read

Marketers, agencies and publishers rush to deploy home working strategies as the industry prepares to enter unknown territory. Here's what happens next, as of today.

What you need to know:

  • All of Australia's major holding groups have enforced a working from home policy
  • TV and radio broadcasters are currently working through their plans, with some staff already at home
  • Industry observers have stated clients are also moving to new strategies, with many expected to be out of offices by next week
  • Auto, gaming and wagering and travel are already shifting ad spend - bracing for declines 


Behind closed doors

WPP, Omnicom, IPG and Dentsu are all implementing work from home policies. 

IPG Mediabrands has implemented a WFH policy until Friday, 27th March. The company stated it will continue to assess the situation and decide if further action is required. 

Omnicom Media Group has enacted a similar policy with a note from Global CEO John Wren emphasising that anyone who feels sick or is showing symptoms must not come into work.

However, he noted "marked improvements in China and Singapore" offices, with teams "starting to get back to business as usual". 

WPP AUNZ is implementing a 'managed remote working' and restricted travel policy

 "The next few months will be tough, but I have every confidence in our ability to come through this situation together," WPP global boss Mark Read stated in an all-staff email.

Dentsu has also informed staff not to come in, with the holding group developing a home working policy.

“Our primary focus is, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our people and clients. As a business, we have decided to take proactive steps by recommending that our people work from home until the end of March. This is purely a precautionary measure and we will continue to monitor the situation daily," a Dentsu spokesperson said.

"Following the increased measures announced by the Australian government over the weekend, since yesterday (March 17) Publicis Groupe Australia’s creative and media agencies have been transitioning to work from home, returning to the office on Monday, March 30th, pending further developments arising. Our digital business transformation arm Publicis Sapient has also encouraged all staff to work from home and is establishing protocols for staff supporting clients," A Publicis spokesperson said.


Reality bites

Spend has also started to shift in-line with the virus, as some clients have pushed their campaigns back, while others have pulled spend all together. These have primarily been in the travel and tourism sectors.

While some agencies claim they remain confident, others said they are bracing for a 30-45% decline in ad spend for April on a year-on-year basis.

Others are preparing for a sustained decline as advertisers batten down the hatches.

Members of the recently formed Independent Media Agency Association's (IMAA) had this to say:

  • Sandbox: The agency is allowing people to work from home and also take annual leave
  • Frontier: "Not working from home just yet – but it won't be long and we are set up in the cloud so no issues if we need to.   We have cancelled all face-to-face meetings and unnecessary internal meetings.  Everything happening over Zoom or Teams."
  • Pearman Media: "We are ensuring everyone is capable of working from home for the expectation that this may occur very soon and ensuring we have enough laptops if the need arises.  We are also looking at our fixed costs to see where we can save money as we believe the next 6 months is going to be very tough." 
  • Kaimera: Will have a rotation of staff so less people in the office on each day.
  • McKenzie Partners: All non-essential meetings cancelled. Systems and process testing this week in preparation for 100% of staff to work from home.


Watching TV

Ten, Nine, Seven and Foxtel Media all have plans in place for staff to work from home. Ten has been the most vocal on the situation, with international owner ViacomCBS requesting staff work from home for an indefinite period of time. 

Nine has already begun sending people home following several presenters coming into contact with individuals carrying the virus. At this stage it is understood those who can work from home will, while sales and radio have implemented alternating and separate working arrangements. TV is being assessed but people are working from home where possible.

Commenting on advertiser impact, a Seven Spokesperson said as things continue to evolve, advertisers are looking to communicate their messages "now more than ever".

"We are working closely with them and responding however we can.  That involves different types of support whether moving them around [in terms of schedules] to getting them on air at short notice, which is also happening at the moment," they said. "We are very conscious of our critical role in that as people look to stay in the home - and will continue to be as adaptable as possible.”

Radio transmission

Like TV, radio networks are reducing the number of people coming into work, but challenges remain in broadcast and production areas.

"Southern Cross Austereo is prepared for any event in the wake of the rapidly changing circumstances of COVID-19. We have the technical ability and a high level of awareness and training among all our people to either operate in our offices or remotely," said a spokesperson. "Some offices are in densely populated areas, others are remote, so we will not necessarily adopt one policy for all our operations."

ARN has limited non-essential events and meetings and reduced the number of staff coming into work, asking staff to stay home if they feel unwell.

"ARN has procedures in place to ensure we can quickly put into action our plans should any of our staff members contract COVID-19," a spokesperson said. “ARN has enhanced business continuity plans in place that prepare the network for any eventuality – such as one of our offices or multiple sites that need to close."

Nova is mirroring the other network's but has decided to have the majority of its Sydney office work from home following hosts Fitzy & Wippa coming into contact with fellow presenter Richard Wilkins, who was diagnosed with the virus last week.


Outdoor: Mixed picture

JCDecaux has taken the precaution of closing all its Australian and New Zealand offices other than those attached to field or print operations, until Monday 30 March.

"This measure is not due to a confirmed case of COVID-19 within our business. This unprecedented situation requires decisive action, and it’s important we are flexible and ready to adapt to this evolving situation. Getting ahead of things now will mean we are prepared should the issue escalate quickly," a spokesperson says.

oOh!Media will continue to keep its offices open but said it is monitoring developments closely and will adjust its response as conditions evolve.

"Our offices remain operational and we have not instructed teams to work at home yet, but we have introduced restrictions on international and domestic travel, as well as on meetings, events and other business activities," a spokesperson said.


Economic malaise

As Australia braces for the effects of self-isolation, industry observers have weighed in on the sectors most likely to feel the brunt of a slowed economy.

Aside from the obvious decline in travel and tourism, the auto industry will be one of the first to bear the brunt, as supply chains are disrupted, customer test drives drop off and fleet users reflect the national situation.

Hotels, pubs, casinos, restaurants and leisure more broadly, including cinemas, theatres and museums, are likely to feel ongoing effects. Sports and events companies could be in for a very tough ride. 

Retail is also likely to suffer, though online merchants may find business relatively brisk. Supermarkets, FMCG and toilet roll makers may be set for a sustained boom.

Streaming, online gaming and other digital entertainment services are also likely to record strong sales as people stay home due to social distancing, home working arrangements or quarantine procedures.

However, those invested in major sporting codes and events may need to rethink their strategies - at least in the short to medium term.

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By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

16 March 2020 3min read

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