How agency leaders are keeping team members motivated amid COVID-19 crisis

"The truth is that it's not about motivation. It's about support, empowerment, and empathy."

As the coronavirus outbreak forges on, businesses around the globe are closing their doors, almost everyone is working remotely and the fear of a recession is increasingly becoming a reality. 

The onslaught of COVID-19 news can be quite disheartening and stressful - both from a personal and professional standpoint.

Campaign US asked a number of agency CEOs and presidents to share how they're trying to keep their employees inspired right now. See their answers below.

How are agency leaders keeping their teams motivated during this uncertain time?

Devika Bulchandani, McCann North America, President

The last few days have been a wake-up call for the importance of a strong culture. It would have been very hard to keep our people motivated had they not felt a vested interest in the work we do before all this started.  The McCann people have surprised me yet again with their drive to outthink outwork and out care for each other and for our clients and the world. Humanity shines in the toughest moments and McCanners sure are shining bright as evidenced with the #Istayhomefor idea borne from the conviction of an Account person Veronica Bertran and brought to life almost miraculously in 48 hours by an incredible group of people.

Having said that, we are using tools like Microsoft teams to do group happy hours and even an all agency meeting coming up. The ability to see each other on Teams and try and mimic the real-life interaction is essential for an industry where the magic is often found in the real-life back and forth.

Beth Ann Kaminkow, Global CEO, Geometry

It is still early days, but the tone and model that you set at the start will dictate a lot. As a runner, I also liken this to preparing for a marathon (maybe even an ultra) versus a sprint. Which means we need to set a sustainable pace and plan. One that conserves precious energy and capacity of the team collectively and individually.

Geometry is a global company with offices in 56 countries across every region of the world. Never before have I felt the global responsibility as I do today. But also, the power and collective intelligence that can be unleashed for the greater good of clients and WPP. 

My early insight is that leadership at a time of COVID-19 requires a balancing of efforts designed for enabling productivity while also giving employees a chance to bond and connect in new ways. I’ve never been a leader that speaks in terms of building a family. My reference has also been a high functioning sports team. But now it is clear, we are a family and a critical ‘home’ of stability that needs to be inclusive of our ‘first families.’ That has included being a resource and support system for employees directly impacted by the virus. It’s embracing children and pets on our video calls. Our zoom St. Paddy’s happy hour (clients included!) was truly a heart-warming hour that will fuel our vision for how to get through this stronger.

We have also created a technology enabled platform for all things COVID-19 internal, client-facing, and thought leadership. As an end-to-end creative commerce agency, innovation in retail strategies have never been more critical.

Adam Gerhart, U.S. CEO, Mindshare

The truth is that it’s not about motivation. It’s about support, empowerment, and empathy. People want to know that we’re in their corner, and that we’re in it together. Everything else—motivation, smart ideas for clients, provocative thinking—it all comes out of that.

The biggest component of that is having a steady stream of communication, both from myself and our other leaders, to not only keep people updated on what’s going on, but to drive more virtual connectivity and culture. We launched an internal platform for exactly that – sharing photos and videos of us working remotely with our kids and our pets, recipe ideas, music playlists, nonprofits that people are supporting, and more.

And while we need to over-index a bit more on those things to support the human side of the situation, it’s also about inspiring and enabling great work – we’re coming together in new ways to solve emerging client challenges through hackathon-style events and more global scrum sessions, and in particular, we’re learning from our teams in Asia on a daily basis.   

As a leader, teams want to hear from you but, more importantly, they want to feel heard. So that’s what we’re working to do; making sure that people feel heard, that they feel trusted and supported to do their job (especially as we have many with loved ones at home, which sometimes means accepting different hours to accommodate their situation), and that they can still have fun and do great work - despite the uncertainty.

Krystle Loyland, CEO, Preacher

We're trying to motivate our team with optimism, transparency and plenty of soul, and a reminder of how they can still make an impact for each other, for their communities, and for our client partners during this trying time. We're going to see a lot of beautiful examples in the world in the coming weeks of people using creativity to solve problems, and that's motivating to keep our heads up and keep us motivated to do the same. But to be honest, it's our teams that are in turn keeping us motivated. We do a daily Preacher video conference that involves a peek into people's workspace, pet life, and routines, and an update on current Preacher projects. Then we open it up for discussion for anyone to talk about things they've discovered and want to tell the family about that help add a bit more humanity and hope to our shared experience, and the ways in which our Congregation is and can continue doing what we do best--Spreading the Good Word--during a time when we all need some good word most. Today I went from consuming a firehose of alarming morning news, to witnessing a rotating brady-bunch frame of over 60 amazing people on screen reminding me about the relentless power of our spirit and beliefs. I'll continue to look forward to these dailies to help give me and my team conviction in a deeply uncertain time. 

Greg March, CEO, Noble People

Motivating my employees isn’t my highest priority right now. I’ve got a great team. I tell them the truth about where things stand, what we’re doing in the best interest of this business I believe in, and why. My hope is that they believe in the values and ambition of this business because of how my partners and I have behaved the whole time they’ve known us.  Frankly, right now I’m more concerned about their health and burnout from over-work and stress than I am about them being motivated. I encourage breaks, and taking the time off they are entitled to. I talk about that. As a result, I think they believe in our mission and know exactly what’s at stake. And since they are awesome and our mission is good, I genuinely believe we’re going to come out stronger. 

Andy Pray, Founder, Praytell 

Agencies don't need half-time speeches right now, they don't need (too-much) rah-rah. Instead, they deserve and demand transparency. It's messy and isn't easy and clumsy but transparency is the motivation. And so that's what I'm personally focused on, striving to embrace transparency like never before. To ensure our teams know what we're facing, how we'll get through it and what an absolute privilege it is to work with them in unison towards a common goal.  

Sandy Greenberg,  Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Terri & Sandy

When we closed our office last Friday to embark on a remote workforce, our Office Manager, Clea Braendel, realized there wouldn’t be an "office" to manage. She also realized that our normally very close team would need a little help holding on to our community spirit. And so began, "Morning and Evening briefings by Clea."

Each day, we wake up, or sign off, to tech tips, team updates, and of course, Memes of the Day. Clea sources her material from the whole agency, which gives us a glimpse into everyone’s remote life.  Here are a few jewels:

Entertainment suggestions:

Team updates:

  • Rebecca has decamped to her parents while we are all apart. She thinks that she is losing upper body strength from not having to lift the water jug every day. If you need toilet paper, she knows a guy. 

  • Dayo writes that he had "a very long phone goodbye" with his favorite Thai place, which is closing indefinitely today.

  • Jasmine says, "Everything is chaos. I am stress eating popcorn and mountain dew."

  • MVP of the day: Quinn’s dog, Jent, who is color coordinating with his living room. So stylish.

  • A great resource sheet that shows how New Yorkers are coming together in these trying times.

  • Meme of the Day: (attached)

  • Today’s MVP goes to Clea, for helping everyone at Terri & Sandy keep their sanity during these terrifying times. 

Sending my best to everyone in the industry. Wide open to a Quarantini over Zoom. Just email me:  


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