Independent agency Wieden+Kennedy, which had been on a new business tear before the pandemic, is laying off 11 percent of worldwide staff due to client cutbacks, Ad Age has learned.
Within the past few months, staff reductions have swept the industry, but the move at standout W+K, which topped Ad Age's 2020 Agency A-List, shows the extent of the damage COVID has wrought on the industry at large.
"We negotiated this as long as we could, but W+K and COVID-19 have reached an impasse," the agency said in a statement. "How long this will last seems to be anybody’s guess, so we have had to make some hard choices. We are saying goodbye to people that we love; 11 percent of our network. Some raised their hands to leave, helping to save the jobs of others. Some received bad news graciously. Voluntary or not, everyone was given the softest landing possible. All of them are a loss to us. Any agency that gets them is lucky."
The Portland, Oregon-based agency operates offices in Amsterdam; Delhi, India; London; New York; Sao Paulo; Shanghai; and Tokyo. The agency reported 1,522 worldwide employees at year-end 2019, according to Ad Age Datacenter. Signature clients include Nike, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Ford, McDonald's and KFC.
W+K is far from alone. Most recently, Havas Group laid off between 150 and 200 employees across mainly its U.S. offices in Chicago, Boston and New York, blaming client spending cuts due to the pandemic. Other agencies that have undertaken layoffs due to the pandemic include Edelman, Saatchi & Saatchi, VaynerMedia, Weber Shandwick, Golin, GroupM, BBH, Johannes Leonardo, R/GA, Wasserman, CPB, McCann, Grey, MullenLowe, Giant Spoon and Anomaly. WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group of Cos. and Dentsu Inc.'s Dentsu Aegis Network have also implemented holding company-wide layoffs and furloughs.
W+K's New York office, which once operated in the shadow of the independent agency’s Portland office, has recently come into its own, reeling in several key wins of blue-chip clients In 2019. W+K New York won lead U.S. creative duties for McDonald's, taking that business from Omnicom's DDB, and picked up the accounts of Bud Light and Ford before that.