How ad agencies are coping with office shut-downs

As working from home becomes the new normal, we talk to Laurent Simon, CCO at VMLY&R, Chaka Sobhani, CCO at Leo Burnett, and Jane Austin, founder of Persuasion Communications, about looking after creative teams and preparing for constant change

Working from home is a huge change for anyone used to being in an office. But for ad creatives, the contrast is stark. Most creatives are used to working in lively, busy places filled with big personalities – and for many people, the camaraderie between teams is what carries them through the stress of dealing with tight deadlines and tricky clients.

But what happens when creatives are no longer surrounded by colleagues to lift their spirits? Throughout this week, agencies across the UK, US and Europe have been finding creative ways to keep up team morale as offices are closed down due to coronavirus – and creatives have found themselves having to adjust to a very different way of working.

Jane Austin, founder of PR agency Persuasion Communications, says she has seen agencies organising virtual runs, online pilates and yoga classes, as well as group bedtime stories for children and online happy hours open to families and pets.

The really important thing is to ensure you don’t lose the playfulness of your culture

“BMB has split its staff into mini-working teams, [with] ‘BMB Hackney’ and ‘BMB Hampstead’ on one pitch, [and] ‘BMB Kensal Rise’ on another,” she adds. “As Jason Cobbold, the CEO says: “ The really important thing is to ensure you don’t lose the playfulness of your culture. Agencies thrive on being able to explore the weird, the wonderful and the random, and it’s easy to lose this when you are not in the same room of building.’”

Chaka Sobhani, CCO at Leo Burnett, says the agency has turned to WhatsApp and video calls to keep up communication between teams – and ensure that there are still opportunities for some much-needed moments of levity and face-to-face interaction.

“The mental health of all of us is something we’re going to have to focus on and pay a lot of attention to, because these are going to be tough times, not being able to see people. And I think it comes down to small things. The difference between a conference call and a Skype call or some kind of visual is between here and the stars frankly when you’re in the situation we’re in…. I hadn’t realised how much more personal and intimate it feels, and it sounds so obvious – we’ve had FaceTime and Skype for years – but in this situation, you start seeing these new angles and nuances.”

Sobhani admits this week has been something of an experiment, as teams get to grips with working remotely – “It’s interesting to be in a place where every day, you’re learning new things so rapidly,” she adds – but she says Leo Burnett and its parent group Publicis have worked hard to ensure that staff are kept up to date with what’s happening, and that changes are communicated clearly and calmly.

“There is no such thing as overcommunication in times like this … and from a group level, I’m not just saying this, but it’s been incredibly calm, incredibly measured and incredibly frequent, so there’s not this sense of ‘what’s going on?’… and we’ve taken that as our steer at Leo’s.”


Milton Keynes