Omnicom closes third office over coronavirus concerns

Agency group share prices have fallen this week as fears around coronavirus grow.

Wren: updating guidance for employees
Wren: updating guidance for employees

OMD Australia has become the third Omnicom media agency to temporarily close its office after a London employee who visited Sydney was tested for coronavirus.

The Sydney office of OMD closed today after the OMD UK employee, who visited Sydney on business and travelled back to London via Singapore, became ill with flu-like symptoms. 

OMD UK sent staff home on Wednesday as a precautionary measure, while sister shop PHD (whose office is next door to OMD in London’s Fitzrovia) followed suit hours later and advised employees to work from home. Both agencies expect to reopen on Monday, pending the employee’s test results. 

Omnicom Media Group Australia and New Zealand chief executive Peter Horgan said: "OMD Australia has advised all Sydney employees to work from home today [28 February], following reports that one of our OMD London colleagues has come down with flu-like symptoms after visiting Sydney for business (via Singapore).

"While this is not a confirmed case of coronavirus, we have taken this precautionary measure as the health and safety of our employees is our top priority. OMD Australia has also notified all visitors to its Sydney office in the past week."

Omnicom has postponed global travel to or from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, northern Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Taiwan.

John Wren, Omnicom’s chief executive, said: "Our first priority – now and always – is the health and safety of our people. As the number of reported coronavirus cases continues to grow, especially outside of China, we are updating our guidance.

"Omnicom and our agencies will continue to follow the advice of the appropriate national regulatory authorities, as well as the World Health Organization."

Dentsu in Japan also shut its office this week after an employee tested positive for coronavirus.

Coronavirus (officially called Covid-19) has now affected approximately 83,000 people, nearly 3,000 of whom have died. The vast majority of deaths have occurred in China after the virus was discovered in Wuhan at the end of December. 

Health officials are now warning that the world is on the brink of Covid-19 going from an epidemic to a pandemic, with significant outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea of particular concern.

Holding company shares fall

Agency group share prices have fallen by more than 10% this week as fears around coronavirus grow. The London Stock Exchange has dropped to its lowest level in more than a year, down 2.6% since Monday.

Interpublic’s share price decreased by 12% from 24.79 US cents when the New York Stock Exchange opened on 21 February to 21.80 cents when it closed last night (Thursday).

Omnicom has had 11% wiped off its shares, which began the week at 78.38 US cents and closed at 69.52 cents. For Publicis Groupe, shares fell 12% from 40.51 euro cents to 35.55 cents.

WPP’s share price crashed 19% this week, but this is mainly a result of the company reporting net sales declining 1.9% in the last three months of 2019 – its worst quarterly performance since the first quarter of the year.

In a report about WPP, city analyst Numis Securities added: "Covid-19 escalation fears are an incremental negative for a group traditionally seen as a barometer for global growth/activity."