How the media and marketing industry is dealing with another lockdown

As Australia’s two largest cities begin another week of lockdown, all while parts of the US and UK start to feel more freedom, Mumbrella asks a variety of industry leaders just how they are approaching this version of lockdown and what the mood is like amongst their teams and clients.

Chris Howatson, founder and CEO, Howatson + White


Loooooockdoooooooown! Jimmy Rees’ expression of our new national sport has become a weekly entertainment highlight. I watched episode 25 moments before writing this to elevate the mood, as like most of Australia I ponder another week working from home with the added pressures of home schooling.

But while it’s easy to complain, we’re very lucky to work in advertising. It’s an industry where we can work from home – full-time or freelance. We’re heightened in the practices of inclusion and mental health. And thanks to the largest fiscal stimulus in our history, our industry has been running hot since Q3 2020. This lockdown does however feel different to those of recent, largely because a clear way out before full vaccination feels very uncertain. Depending on who you believe, it’ll be between the mid and end of next year until those of us over 18 have all had the jab. That could be 18 months.

But I’m optimistic we’ll spend our way out of any trouble, just like we did last year. Why? You’ll be sure to have heard an agency planner talking about commitment bias. It’s the tendency to remain committed to past behaviours, especially public ones, even if they are no longer desirable.

So far the federal government has spent $291 billion in covid related financial support. That’s a lot of billions. But I’m betting on behavioural science that we’ll spend it again if we need to, because not spending again would effectively be wasting the initial investment. And if history is anything to go by, governments are very reluctant to change spending policy, especially with elections on the horizon.

Anathea Ruys, CEO, UM Australia


Working in lockdown is not really the challenge. People are so adept at slipping back into Teams environments and are continuing to find really creative ways to work together virtually. I am focused on how people are feeling behind the computer screen. A lot of people feel they should be dealing with this easily and yet they aren’t.

There’s a tendency to spend all day on Teams calls which drain energy but don’t replenish you in the way face-to-face conversation does. And for many people their home and work lives are literally colliding as they try to manage caring for children or other family members – let alone the stress of home schooling. And when those worlds collide people often feel guilt that they aren’t able to properly focus on either.

I’m encouraging the whole UM team to acknowledge how they feel – whatever they are feeling is valid – and to accept that those feelings will probably change day-to-day, or even hour-to-hour. And to get outside at least once a day to get some air, feel some space around them and get some form of movement. I think that is one of the best ways to manage mental well being.

And I am also encouraging everyone to try and take at least a couple of long weekends just to enable them to switch off in the absence of being able to take a proper holiday break.

My conversations with clients are the same. They are empathetic to the way their agency team are feeling because it is exactly the same way their teams are feeling. I think empathy really is the theme of lockdown 2021.

Yaron Farizon, CEO, MediaCom


Our teams are pretty used to this by now, so it’s going without a glitch. We have the right platforms set up, and we’ve established flexible ways of working and our teams are all used to working effectively and collaborating remotely to get client work done in this environment. We actually used the opportunity to clean and refresh the look and feel of our Sydney office.

The latest lockdown hasn’t impacted our client relationships; however, it’s been a slight inconvenience of moving planned engagement online. There are some broader implications we’ve seen over the past year and a half, impacting client-agency relationships in general, becoming more transactional and less invested due to remote working and less face-to-face interaction.

When it comes to people, on one hand, they are much better prepared, on the other hand, there is fatigue, and juggling work and home schooling is hard for parents. This is exactly the time to support our people the best we can, and as leaders we are focused on our teams’ well-being now more than ever.

As a newbie, I get to sort out my new home, unpack and get it ready for living that bit quicker than I would have been in the office.

Kate O’Ryan-Roeder, managing director, Mindshare Sydney


Our people are the beating heart of Mindshare and when something like a lockdown happens, we have a duty to do all that we can to help support and care for one another. We know the work still has to get done, but it’s something we take very seriously and do so very willingly.

We’ve adapted and conscientiously block out time for everyone to get away from screens. We offer virtual pilates/breathing/meditation sessions, impromptu non-work chats, virtual baking and drawing lessons which are child friendly and we invite people to involve their kids. We have a very simple aim and that is to inject a little bit of joy, a little bit of respite and a little bit of Mindshare magic into everyone’s day.

It’s also informed the way we want to evolve our agency culture for the long term. We’ve put true flexibility measures in place which are now permanent and will hopefully have a long lasting impact for our teams and our clients well beyond any lockdown. Flexible working has enabled us to be more responsive and to really move at pace, which is particularly important for our tourism and retail clients and the rollercoaster ride that state lockdowns bring to their business and media activity.

For us, it’s about worker smarter not harder and while it has been tough, it’s brought us all even closer together.

Peter Butler, managing director, Spark Foundry


I feel like every lockdown we enter gets a little more difficult. We get a taste of returning to normality then a selfish act by someone in the community returns us to lock down and we are back home. I feel for the young, those living by themselves and those with young kids.

I don’t fit into either of these categories so have it easier and can only try and empathise with them. I think we all have our moments working from home and for some people these moments can be overwhelming. It’s these people that we need to look after, to listen to and to assist. We all have a collective responsibility for the office, the culture and the people working here so we are all supportive.

However not all of us are equipped to have conversations with people feeling stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Publicis has invested in the training for a mental health officer for our office and it allows any staff member to reach out to them in confidence and share their concerns. It’s a great initiative and I can see the benefits of the role. This person can listen (which is incredibly important) but is not skilled to advise. That’s when our chief talent officer Pauly Grant and the People and Culture team intervene, advise and assist with the professional help required. The People and Culture team have been absolutely invaluable over the last 18 months in helping us get through these difficult and trying times.

While things sometimes seem dire I always try and find a silver lining and while lockdown keeps us at home and separates us all I think this pandemic has actually brought the Melbourne and Sydney offices closer together.

Our Sydney colleagues had our lunch paid and delivered to us while we were in lockdown and in return we just sent them some lockdown survival tips. The camaraderie and the knowledge that we are all supportive of each other will get us through this and I truly believe as a business and a collective we may just be better for it.

Justin Graham, group CEO, M&C Saatchi


The idea of adapting to another lockdown is certainly not what we wanted to be talking about at this time of the year, but that’s our collective reality. Frustratingly, we were just starting to navigate a hybrid working world and reaping the benefits of flexibility to better deliver great work for our clients. In saying that, the focus this time around is very much about thriving as opposed to surviving.

That sense of feeling better equipped and turning our attention to tomorrow as opposed to today is also permeating the focus with clients. Many of the brands we partner with are leading as opposed to simply managing us through uncertainty. This is all pointing towards the creative renaissance coming, something we are all very focused on at M&C Saatchi. It was never going to be a linear recovery.

We find ourselves at the midpoint of the year, the start of a new financial year. It is a natural time to implement new strategies, take stock, reset and regroup for the push towards Christmas.

As I look at the next quarter there are two areas we are doubling down on, both enablers to accelerate the type of partner for our clients we want to be in the future. Firstly, Precision, our new marketing sciences offer continues to grow as we work on assignments in Australia and across our global network and secondly, we have accelerated our leadership program internally for those leading teams at M&C Saatchi to better equip our people for the inevitable disruption of a covid normal world.

And hey, the lockdown last year saw all sports cancelled around the world. This time around, between the Olympics, Euros, Lions Tour and September footy, there is plenty to get excited about…


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