Govt media spend on Covid-19 messaging hits £100m via MG OMD

Latest figures show government spent £26.8m in September.

Government: Test and Trace ad by MullenLowe was released in September
Government: Test and Trace ad by MullenLowe was released in September

The government has spent almost £100m so far this year on Covid-19-related messaging via its media buying agency, Manning Gottlieb OMD, according to latest figures. 

The Cabinet Office releases government expenditure exceeding £25,000 on a monthly basis.

The most recent figures show that MG OMD, which works on the account via a dedicated arm called OmniGov, received £26.8m to spend on Covid-19 work in September.

Campaign previously revealed that the government spent £72.7m for coronavirus communications via MG OMD from May (the first month payments to agencies relating to Covid-19 began) to August.

This means that so far this year the government has spent £99.5m via MG OMD.

The Omnicom agency’s September payment is a marked increase on August’s £8.3m. However, it is on a rough par with payments in June and July at £26.8m and £31.5m respectively, making September the government's third-highest monthly media spend on Covid-19 since the crisis took hold in the UK. 

In September, aside from Covid-19, the government also spent £6.1m on Brexit messaging via MG OMD.

This is almost double the previous two months, when both stood at just over £3m each, and marks the highest amount the government has spent on media relating to Brexit so far in 2020, as the UK prepares to exit at the end of the year. 

Taken together, MG OMD was paid £32.9m in September for work on Covid-19 and Brexit, representing the second-highest monthly payment to the agency so far this year, after July’s £34.8m.

The vast majority of this spend would have gone towards the buying of media as opposed to fees to the agency, although the exact proportion is unknown. MG OMD declined to comment.

Ian Graham, partner at Moore Kingston Smith, said: “While £100m still represents a drop in the £10bn-plus ocean of total annual billings reported by the UK’s top 30 agencies in previous years, this figure is nonetheless almost 15% of MG OMD’s total for the year [MG OMD’s 2019 billings were £700m, according to its Campaign Global Agency of the Year submission] – so this is likely to be one of the agency’s largest clients.

"MG OMD’s fee for an account of that size is likely to make it significantly easier for them to weather the storm caused by the pandemic, so it will be providing some much-needed security for the agency. 

“As welcome as this work will be for MG OMD, sadly this government spend does nothing to help other media or creative agencies. The belated extension of the government’s job retention scheme will provide some support.

"However, with that set to close in early 2021, much of the sector will be pinning its hopes on the recent progress with a vaccination to provide the stimulus required for a rapid economic recovery in the first half of next year.” 

A government spokesperson told Campaign: "Covid-19 and the UK's preparations for the end of the transition period are two of the biggest issues currently facing the country. 

"It's vital people receive the information they need on these important areas and we're using a range of channels including TV, radio, print and social media to reach as many people as we can." 

Meanwhile, MullenLowe UK, which works on coronavirus advertising for the government, was paid £1.4m in September. This is a similar level to previous months. The figures show that the ad agency was paid for only Covid-19 work that month, whereas in July and August it was also paid for its role in Brexit advertising.