IPG's Richard Morris on his new job and being transparent about tough decisions

As part of Campaign's 'Leadership in lockdown' series, IPG Mediabrands' UK and Ireland boss talks about getting to know his new team while working in quarantine.

Morris: first address to company was done via Microsoft Teams
Morris: first address to company was done via Microsoft Teams

The lockdown is a challenge for everyone. So how are some of adland's leaders coping?

Richard Morris has faced an additional test as he was promoted from UK chief executive and EMEA president of Initiative to UK and Ireland chief executive of parent company IPG Mediabrands at the end of March.

Where are you spending quarantine and how do you run your day?

I'm at home in Surrey with my two daughters Daphne and Delilah, navigating the new reality of home schooling while simultaneously navigating my new role at IPG Mediabrands. I normally start the day with some early exercise to clear my head, then get myself and the girls set up for the day ahead. I’m lucky that their school is fantastic with its online teaching, and they are mature and conscientious enough to crack on with their work with little complaint (that may change depending on how long we are in this situation…!).

Work-wise, the majority of my day is spent on video calls. I’m in regular contact with my leadership team as we work out the new challenges that come up on a daily basis and, of course, with our clients, who need our support more than ever in making sense of the new reality.

I take regular breaks to check in with the girls, give myself a break from the screen and get my thoughts straight. I’m very conscious of how easy it is to get stuck at your "desk" when working from home, without the interruption of meetings, so I’m trying really hard not to do that.

What were the biggest adjustments that you had to make in the first few weeks in terms of your work, your team and your clients/external partners?

It has been a double whammy for me. My first day as CEO of IPG Mediabrands was week two of the business working from home. So my first address to the company of a thousand people across the UK and Ireland was done via Microsoft Teams; a very unusual and slightly unnerving experience when you can’t see or hear anything except your own voice. So, personally, it’s been a very big adjustment.

But it’s strange how quickly you get used to new realities and ways of working – and it’s brilliant how technology allows us to do that so seamlessly. I’ve been so impressed by the resilience of staff across the group and how they have adapted to working from home. We’re having our usual all-agency catch-ups, regular client meetings, pitches and pub quizzes with media partners, and have launched a new series of inspirational talks with industry stars as part of our "Open" programme of events.

How has your business made savings and why have you chosen certain routes?

This has been the most difficult part. We have always been a people-focused business and looking after our employees has been our number-one priority through all of this. But, like so many companies around the world, we are having to put in place a number of cost-saving measures in response to the huge impact that Covid-19 is having on our company – all of which are designed to safeguard our business and people as much as we can in the long term. 

We’ve started by cutting as many discretionary costs as possible, but sadly that didn’t go far enough. So we’ve had to put a certain number of people on furlough leave in response to the decrease in activity from a number of our clients. We are also asking all staff to opt in to a temporary reduction in pay – which we’re doing with a tiered approach to protect those on lower salaries as much as possible.  

What has been the hardest part and what has been the most uplifting part of lockdown?

The impact that this has had on our people has been the hardest part by far. Having to ask employees to take a reduction in salary and putting people on furlough when it’s already such an unsettling time is tough on everyone. But I’ve been so amazed and proud to see how our people have responded to the work-from-home situation – not letting it impact their productivity or ambition in any way, and able to find the resilience to keep up a positive attitude and support their teammates despite all that is going on. That’s been the most uplifting part, along with the way our markets around the world have come together to help and support each other through everything. 

What are you working on?

My focus is on our people, our clients and our business – ensuring we are being as transparent as possible with our actions and providing the support that our employees need as we make the changes. We have to stay strong and together through this crisis in order to continue to be the best partner to our clients – and that is my focus.

How do you find inspiration?

One silver lining living through Covid-19 is that I’m somehow finding more time to read. Or maybe I’m forcing myself to, as a way to switch off and clear my head. As I’ve just moved into this new role, I’m reading some non-fiction around teams and leadership at the moment, and have been particularly inspired by a book called The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. And for something a bit lighter, I’ve decided to embark on War and Peace (I’m still trying to make the connection between our current crisis and 19th-century Russian society. I’ll get back to you on that). 

Has the experience taught you something that you’ll change when you get back to working from an office?

So much. We can function and bring people together so effectively through technology that we don’t have to travel so much, for starters. But this experience has confirmed that our approach to agile and flexible working at IPG Mediabrands is the right one; people don’t need to be at their desks five days a week to work effectively. People need to find a balance, so that they can appreciate and cherish things outside of work that are important to them (so many of which have been temporarily snatched away from us).

What change do you expect to see in the industry when this is over?

Covid-19 has made me reflect on a lot of things – and of what is truly important in life. From an industry perspective, as I’m sure it has so many others, it has made me focus on the social value of what our industry brings. During this crisis, we have truly seen the power of media to bring people together; whether that’s through TV, quality journalism or social media. I hope that focus is something that remains with us.

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