Agencies will take a massive hit from Covid-19 – what will the future look like?

One senior agency exec currently working from home (and doubtless finding there isn’t that much to do without meetings) says he thinks the hit to agencies from Covid-19 will be “unprecedented.”

We don’t know yet what the hit to adspend as a whole will be this year (at a guess down 20 per cent) but already’s the calendar’s clearing with Cannes Lions and the UK’s British Arrows postponed. I note that Campaign went ahead with its Agency of the Year extravaganza (winners adam&eveDDB and Manning Gottlieb OMD, as with us.) Hope all they picked up was their awards.

There’ll be a human cost, obviously, as there always seems to be in adland these days after even the mildest reverse – and this is anything but. But what sort of industry is likely to, eventually, return from the virus outbreak?

It’ll be smaller in terms of numbers and that’s a big issue for the holding companies, especially WPP which employs over 100,000. Many smaller independent agencies will just fade away as they don’t have the financial resources to handle a sudden drop in income. So there’ll be a lot more freelances around, reducing many creative agency personnel to reluctant members of the gig economy.

Part-time working may become the norm and, as many people are already working from home, this will, in effect, become lower paid (or freelance) working. As my friend said, this will be “unprecedented” and the industry that emerges will look very different.

Much talent will be lost and recruitment? Forget it.

The key question, maybe, is how clients respond. Do they value their agency people enough to support them through the downturn with longer term projects (probably not) and will they turn on the money taps when it’s over?

History isn’t too encouraging.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.