How Italian agencies are coping with the coronavirus lockdown

Italy: under quarantine since Monday (Getty Images)
Italy: under quarantine since Monday (Getty Images)

As of Monday (9 March), Italy has been in lockdown as the coronavirus continues to spread. It means that the government has restricted all but essential travel such as for work or health reasons.

For agencies, there are many changes they are having to make to keep business moving, such as implementing health and safety measures. Many have requested staff work from home and dial down on face-to-face meetings.

After closing two of its London offices for about three days in February, Omnicom Media Group chief executive for Asia-Pacific and EMEA, Mike Cooper, says that the business learned how quickly staff adjusted to working from home.

"People [in London] really didn't drop the ball on anything and I was really, really impressed," he says. "People worked so well together when they weren't in the office together; everyone was so committed. And yet they were also so keen to get back to work."

In Italy, the group has closed its Milan office – its biggest in the country with 500 people – but the Rome and Verona ones remain open while OMG monitors the situation.

"Our team [in Italy] had already created a management team task force to work full time on the issue," Cooper adds. "They increased the number of VPN licences we had there, so we now have over 250 licences locally. They made sure everyone had laptops and smartphones, and were ready to work from home."

At BBDO Europe, chairman Jim Moser says that the Milan office, which has 80 staff, has been closed this week but the Rome one, with 20 employees, remains open – although he thinks it may close soon too.

"We've told people they can go into the offices to pick up files and laptops so that they can continue working from home, so the offices are technically open if people need to go in to collect something," he tells Campaign.

BBDO has been making use of conference calls and video conferencing to communicate with each other and Moser expects this to be the case until at least April.

At Grey Italy, which has 55 staff, it is a similar situation. The agency has been closed this week and chief executive Marta di Girolamo will only allow people to go into the agency if there is a special case. "We are very strict in making sure we are all safe," she says.

For new-business pitches, there is a very apparent slowdown as agencies feel the impact of clients closing their offices. "We are in the middle of three to four new-business pitches in Italy, but they have almost all been put on hold," Moser explains.

Some of Grey’s clients have also postponed their investments for March. Di Girolamo adds: "We are here to be a real partner for our clients, but for the time being it’s very hard to make any predictions. When it comes to pitches, everything has been quiet for the last three weeks, when we had before a couple of demands monthly, and all other ongoing pitches have been postponed."

However, Nick Emery, global chief executive of Mindshare – which has 220 staff across Milan and Rome – says he has not felt the same impact: "In Italy, employees are working from home, but pitches are continuing as usual, although March is generally a quiet time of year for pitching in Italy anyway."

When it comes to brands pulling or postponing campaigns, Di Girolamo says it’s more about "rephasing", although she adds that it is too early to know what is going to happen in the coming weeks.

The change in working patterns also means that consumer habits will be changing. Cooper thinks that there is likely to be more "brand-building advertising and less tactical and promotional activity".

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