Govt spent more than £184m on Covid comms in 2020

MG OMD and MullenLowe were main agencies handling work.

NHS: MullenLowe created January spot calling for personal responsibility
NHS: MullenLowe created January spot calling for personal responsibility

The government invested in excess of £184m on communications relating to Covid-19 in 2020, figures from the Cabinet Office show.

It spent £171.9m on media activity via Manning Gottlieb OMD last year, while MullenLowe UK, which handles the majority of coronavirus advertising, was paid £12.2m.

The Cabinet Office releases any payments over £25,000 each month.

Campaign reported previously that up to September 2020 the government had spent £99.5m via MG OMD, whose OmniGov arm leads media buying. For the final three months of the year, a further £72.4m was spent. The vast majority of this would have gone towards the buying of media rather than fees direct to the agency.

Payments to MullenLowe ramped up in the last two months of the year. While spend has ranged between £1.1m and £1.6m from May (the month when coronavirus payments to agencies began) to October, with a dip in July, monthly payments in November and December reached £2m and £2.2m respectively. 

MG OMD and MullenLowe were by far the biggest recipients of government spend on Covid communications, although other agencies were also involved.

One was Topham Guerin, the digital shop thought to have been responsible for the sexist ad that portrayed women doing homeschooling, childcare and cleaning, while the sole man depicted was relaxing on a sofa. The work sparked outrage on social media and was later pulled.

Cabinet Office figures show that Topham Guerin was paid £1.1m in total in 2020, with payments split into seven months beginning in June.

23red was paid £1.4m, Engine £365,000 and Wavemaker £98,000 – although all three shops also received payments for other, non-coronavirus work.

A government spokesperson told Campaign: "Our campaign activity reaches an estimated 95% of adults on average 17 times per week at their peak and utilises a wide range of channels – including TV, radio and social – to ensure the public get the information they need to stay safe."

MG OMD and MullenLowe declined to comment. 

Brexit spend continues

MG OMD and MullenLowe were also the top two agencies that worked on Brexit communications.

The government spent £32.6m via MG OMD and paid £3.7m to MullenLowe throughout 2020.

Combining the two major areas of Covid-19 and Brexit, this means the government spent £205.8m via MG OMD and spent £15.9m with MullenLowe last year.

Wavemaker, Engine and 23red also received payments for Brexit work.

January media spend down 

In January, as the UK was battling with a severe second wave of the Covid-19 outbreak, media spend was actually reduced from MG OMD’s monthly record high in December of £35.4m.

The government spent £14.1m via the agency, plus another £47,000 via Wavemaker.

On the creative side, MullenLowe was paid £2.5m – the highest monthly figure so far. 23red, M&C Saatchi and Topham Guerin also received payments for Covid work.

Government spend on Brexit also declined in the first month of 2021. It spent £7.9m via MG OMD and £42,000 via Wavemaker. 

Brexit-related payment to 23red surpassed that to MullenLowe for the first time, with the former paid £257,000 in January compared with MullenLowe’s £35,000.