Mass hiring freeze sweeps adland as holding companies tighten belts

Agencies across North America and beyond are implementing these measures as the full impact of COVID-19 still remains unseen.

Major advertising agency holding companies are locking down their hiring drives amid the coronavirus disruption, Campaign US has learned. 

Havas and MDC Partners are among the big names implementing freezes. IPG Corporate is believed to have already taken this measure, with similar steps being discussed for its agencies. 

No company mentioned above offered a statement when approached by Campaign US.

Meanwhile, Publicis Groupe is postponing recruitment as of this week. In a video memo to staff on Sunday, CEO Arthur Sadoun stressed the company will protect its business and talent during an economic turndown, including exclusively leveraging all Publicis resources and not looking outside the holding company. This is made possible, he says in the film, because of the group not having P&L silos between agencies, which allows employees to move from one agency to another depending on local needs.

Those within several WPP agencies have spoken of hiring freezes. The holding company did not confirm nor deny a group-wide freeze when asked to comment. Last week, it was reported that Wunderman Thompson suffered losses, but this is not believed to be COVID-19-related.

The economic ripples of coronavirus have already made their way to Anomaly and Giant Spoon, which have also gone through a round of lay-offs. 

While news of mass hiring freezes may appear grim on the surface, experts stress it’s the most sensible move companies can make at this time. 

"I think what agency employees want at this time is a high level of transparency and honesty: everyone can agree that a hiring freeze is a logical and strategic first step in controlling costs," said Mitchell Caplan, U.S. MD at Flock Associates. "Be clear, be consistent, and most importantly, don't cause ‘swirl’ (by being vague) and additional stress."

Claire Telling, CEO at talent acquisition company Grace Blue, added: "For all of our clients, their priority over the last two weeks has been the safety and wellbeing of their people: ensuring that no one is at risk for the virus and setting their teams up for remote working. 

"As we move past the shock of the first weeks of quarantine, some client retainers will inevitably be cut and there will be companies who will have to seriously evaluate their staff costs in addition to all other aspects of the P&L.

"This means hiring freezes and potential salary reductions, job shares, and possible redundancies. For everyone there will be difficult staff decisions ahead, and only as the next few weeks evolve will we have a better understanding of what that looks like."

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