Agency brief: Vice, Virtue APAC bosses share experiences of leading regional offices through the pandemic
It's been a rough week with a rising number of layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts and other cost-saving measures being implemented by the holding companies, their agencies and various other shops.
Ad Age will do its best to keep up with these developments as they occur. In fact, we just launched a new blog to track the latest staff reductions at agencies in response to the pandemic, which will be continually updated with the latest news at the top.
If there’s some semblance of a bright spot in all this, it’s that things will get better. I recently caught up with Genie Gurnani, head of creative for APAC at Virtue and Vice, and Aaron Pearce, managing director of APAC for Virtue, to discuss their experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic, and what North America should expect as it continues to confront the crisis. Gurnani and Pearce oversee Vice and Virtue in China, Singapore, Australia, India, Japan and Korea—regions that experienced the effects of the coronavirus at different times; some of which have since started to come back. The duo are still working remotely, as they typically travel across APAC offices.
What stage do you think North America is in right now?
Gurnani: North America is in the ‘oh my god is this going to be a “Lord of the Flies” situation’ stage. On the verge of the ‘maybe I should have joined that underground bunker cult’ stage. But things are going to get better. It’ll just take some time for society as a whole to get on the same page, accept where we are and settle in until things settle down. The level of uncertainty isn’t changing for any of us across the world, but the level of acceptance does change.
How was it leading different regions all experiencing the effects of the pandemic at different times?
Pearce: It was frightening and fascinating at the same time. We were working in China in December so started hearing about it from January, all the way up to now where a number of markets we operate in are within lockdowns. Communication was key, both with team members and client partners.
Gurnani: You start to see the patterns, and you start to see where people will go, what people will feel next. Leading creative work for these different markets reminds us that there is a tomorrow.
What is a learning you’ve taken away from this?
Pearce: This situation for many people and businesses is pushing them to a place they should have been going to anyway, just much faster than they may have chosen themselves. It has and will force businesses and marketers to stand up and be brave, both through the COVID period and into the new normal. Be more like Ryan Reynolds: bold, quick, calculated and always entertaining.
Gurnani: If there was ever a time to be escapist, silly, hopeful, joyful or purely entertaining, now is it.
What long-term impacts could this all have on the way agencies work?
Pearce: Full-time doesn’t have to be five days a week. You don’t have to sit in a major city to be good at your job. Digital make-up and virtual fashion make getting ready to work-from-home much quicker, and better for the environment. Borderless working encourages and creates true diversity of thinking. Creatives are going to want to move west to east, rather than historically east to west.
Gurnani: I believe many more creative leaders will learn to have greater trust in the creatives who work for them. At the end of this, more of us executive creative directors and chief creative officers will be in control of our need for control. It’s harder now for us to give clear feedback. It’s harder now to help our teams concept. It’s harder now for us to jump in and fill the gaps. We’re all going to come out of this with a little more ‘let it go’ in our step.
That’s kind of a nice thing, yeah?
Cannes Lions going virtual?
Sir Martin Sorrell joined Ad Age Senior editor Jeanine Poggi on an episode of Virtual Pages to discuss how S4 Capital is weathering the global crisis. During the conversation, the media mogul tells Poggi that he recently discussed with Cannes Lions organizers the possibility of the event going virtual. Parent company Ascential made the recent decision to cancel outright the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity after holding companies and agencies cut award show costs and began pulling attendance and submissions for the Lions as financial pressures mounted during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sorrell, who built and formerly led conglomerate WPP, also offered his opinion of how holding companies are handling the pandemic, namely on their decisions to reduce staff. Sorrell says, "to fire 10 percent of your workforce, or whatever it is, is not the answer." He says holding companies that are cutting staff are "taking out the people on the front line, who interface with clients, are good with clients," and that's only going to cause more problems going forward.
ANDYs kickstarts virtual awards
The ANDY Awards, hosted by the AD Club, has decided to keep chugging along, virtually. The Ad Club says it will still be judging standout work from the past year, with jurors doing so remotely. It also introduced a new category, the "Pop Choice" award, which will be decided by the general public via Instagram. Beginning April 24, anyone can vote for their favorite work through Instagram Stories. That voting period will remain open for 24 hours. All ANDYs winners will be announced during a live virtual event on April 27.
Havas Media and Arnold merge offerings in Boston
Creative agency Arnold and Havas Media announced a new integrated leadership team in Boston. Comprised of talent across both creative and media, the Havas-owned agencies say they will create a unified strategic offering and share resources for clients going forward. As part of this, Scott Stedman, former MDC Media Partners chief marketing officer, will join Arnold + Havas Media Boston as chief growth and product officer. The following executives were promoted under the new agency: Gabrielle Rossetti, executive VP of strategy at Havas Media has become chief strategy officer; Vallerie Bettini, executive VP and marketing director, is now chief client officer; Julianna Akuamoah, senior VP of human resources, was named chief talent officer; and Cass Taylor, executive VP and client lead, has become chief operating officer. Rounding out the leadership team for Arnold + Havas Media Boston (pictured below) are CEO George Sargent, Chief Creative Officer Sean McBride, and Chief Financial Officer Lucia Ferrante.
“The core of this Arnold + Havas Media Boston leadership team has been winning with our clients for years. We already know each other well, and our shorthand allows us to be tightly focused on executing on our shared vision of integrated thinking for all clients,” Sargent says.
Home quarantines becoming factories for protective gear?
BBDO Guerrero, the Omnicom Group-owned agency in the Philippines, is encouraging the public to make personal protective equipment for community frontline workers like delivery people, market vendors, garbage collectors, neighborhood bakers and others, as The World Health Organization has declared a global shortage of this type of equipment. The agency created a series of instructional posters (see below), detailing how to make face shields using materials commonly found at home, with the aim of turning "individual home quarantines into a network of home factories for face shields," it says. The project was done in partnership with the Philippine Chamber of Business and Professionals; its Shanghai division founder and chairperson, Carol Ong; and director/actor Marlon Rivera. The initiative is being shared across social media, too, via the hashtag #CommunityShields.
"Community frontliners can protect, or can infect entire neighborhoods," says Ong. "But how many are protected by face shields? We want to enable communities to shield their own frontliners; and be part of the solution."
Riot Games takes on TBWA\China as creative partner
TBWA\China picked up a win this week. Riot Games awarded the Omnicom network agency as its creative partner for its 2020 League of Legends World Championship following a pitch. The esport tournament will take place in Shanghai in the fall of this year. TBWA\China will handle strategy, offline and online creative services and content support for the tournament. Last year, the League of Legends World Championship brought in 100 million viewers including a peak of 44 million concurrent viewers in the final competition.
A sweet partnership
Trust Relations and Cover3 Creative, a communications agency and advertising and marketing shop, respectively, formed a strategic partnership and will initially team up to service Casper's Ice Cream. For the family-owned ice cream company based in Richmond, Utah, the agencies will provide branding, advertising, copywriting, video production, influencer, social media, strategic communications, paid search, content and design services across all its FatBoy, Jolly Llama and ChurnBaby brands.
Combining forces during COVID-19
As agencies figure out how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, two shops seemingly found some things are best tackled together. The Stable—a Minneapolis consumer brand agency that has launched brands like quip, Ring and Califia Farms on Target and Amazon—announced it has merged with Arkansas-based retail shop Kreative Sales & Marketing. The shops say the combination will allow them to form "a leading commerce agency built for consumer brands seeking to leverage brick and mortar, e-commerce and direct-to-consumer channels." The agencies' services will include retail strategy, representation, channel management, social and digital marketing, creative and product development. The Stable was founded in 2015 and Kreative in 2008. The deal was completed with financial support from GCP, a middle-market growth equity firm. Combined, the agencies house a staff of more than 100 people
VMLY&R creates virtual masterclass for ad students
As the pandemic disrupts the entire advertising ecosystem, many ad students are also missing opportunities to move their careers forward, as classes—and likely most internships—are canceled. To help, VMLY&R (which canceled its summer internships this year) will be offering a virtual masterclass, called Nexus, starting in June. VMLY&R Nexus is a remote 10-week series for college students that will focus teachings on brand marketing, strategic planning, customer experience, social media strategy and other topics. The masterclass program will also include personalized mentor matches, resume and portfolio reviews, access to an alumni network and other wellness- and cultural-focused virtual programming. Participants will be eligible for VMLY&R's in-office summer 2021 internship program.