Coronavirus Marketing

Furloughs, cuts, layoffs: how marketing’s biggest companies are bracing for downturn


By Katie Deighton, Senior Reporter

May 1, 2020 | 8 min read

After a week of public and not-so-public announcements, The Drum has compared the different cost-cutting tactics of advertising’s biggest groups – right before the industry feels the full impact of the coronavirus downturn.


Chief executive Mark Read has done a good job of appearing honest and transparent in the face of a recession, offering up comprehensive interviews and drafting extended messages to staff. Implementing executive pay cuts, suspended share buybacks and suspended dividend payments in lieu of immediate layoffs conveys a certain sense of care for staff; as one Fishbowl commenter noted: “I am experiencing a feeling I never thought I feel: respect for WPP.”

  • Company confirms closure of retail media agency Triad; cites "dramatic changes in the retail industry, coupled with the economic conditions triggered by the global pandemic"
  • Redundancy and furlough decisions being made at the agency level, not the holding company level
  • Leadership team taken 20% pay cut in Q2 – salary will be reviewed at the end of the quarter. Around 3,000 senior leaders have already accepted this cut
  • According to Business Insider: "employees making more than $300,000 will have their pay cut by 20%, those making $200,000-$300,000 will take a 15% cut and those making $100,000-200,000 will take a 10% cut.
  • Understood that furloughs and pay cuts have been implemented at Grey and certain employees have been let go at GroupM
  • New hires frozen
  • Award show entries banned
  • 2020 salary increases postponed
  • Board suspended £950m share buyback funded by last year’s Kantar sale
  • Hoping to generate in-year savings of £700m-800m


Despite the strength of its agencies, Omnicom appears to have brought the hammer down the hardest on job security thus far. The extent of its layoffs hit home yesterday (16 April) when it was revealed Greg Hahn – one of the most-awarded creatives in the world – had lost his job as chief creative officer at BBDO New York. Chief executive John Wren appears to be the first holding co leader to give up the entirety of his salary; however, Business Insider’s Patrick Coffee noted the majority of his remuneration comes from bonuses.

  • Furloughs and layoffs confirmed across “many” agencies; DDB and BBDO among largest networks to be hit
  • BBDO New York laid off “somewhere near the high double digits, but no more than 100”, according to Campaign
  • Agency leadership encouraged to resort to furloughs rather than permanent reductions
  • Holding company “actively” looking to move employees into areas of business that are growing, such as Omnicom Health
  • Freezing new hires and salaries
  • Reducing the number of freelancers hired
  • Forgoing awards shows and industry events across the company
  • John Wren forgoing salary through to September; executive leadership team, including network and practice area chief executives taking a 33% pay cut


Havas chief Yannick Bolloré has been one of the quietest holding company leaders so far. But as of now it really appears to be business as usual with the Vivendi-owned network. In a memo to staff, he made no hint of dark days to come and instead reassured them that “Havas is a solid group with a strong financial position, and I am confident we have everything we need to get through this”.

  • No announcements regarding layoffs or furloughs made so far
  • Understood the company is actively “avoiding” layoffs during lockdown
  • Havas Health & You announced two top hires this week: Denise Henry as president and Suketu Patel as global chief medical officer


IPG has chosen to forgo a sweeping top-down plan and is instead handling cost-cutting at the agency level. “Looking across the IPG portfolio, our companies have differing business models, client mixes and geographies, and as such, the impact of the crisis varies, which means the actions taken at each company will vary, too,” chief executive Michael Roth told staff in a memo. This approach does, however, have the ability to breed uncertainty as agency staffers wait to hear their fate.

  • Top-level execs taking voluntary salary reductions
  • Steps taken among agencies so far include redundancies (or “reductions in staffing levels”), salary cuts, furloughs, deferred payrises, freezes in hiring permanent and freelance staff and “major cuts in nonessential spending”
  • MullenLowe among the first redundancy casualties in the US, with Adweek reporting a third of employees in the Boston office impacted
  • Adweek also reported 10% of staff at Deutsch Los Angeles have been either laid off or furloughed and 10% of staff at R/GA in the US have been made redundant
  • It's understood redundancies are also hitting employees at MRM and Hill Holliday
  • McCann New York employees earning more than $60,000 taking a 10% paycut to protect jobs
  • However, other parts of the McCann business will not be immune to salary cuts, furloughs and redundancies

Dentsu Aegis Network

With its new global chief Wendy Clark not due to arrive until September, Dentsu Aegis boss Tim Andree has yet to comment publicly on the effect the coronavirus will have on the business. Confirmed rumors have painted the picture instead, while the universal salary slash is the first to be reported among the holding companies.

  • Cutting salaries by 10% across the board; AdExchanger reported senior execs are taking a bigger cut
  • Layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours and a hiring freeze have also been implemented
  • Understood 360i and Mcgarrybowen are two of the first agencies to be hit by furloughs, paycuts and reduced hours


There were two sides to the Publicis story this month. It began with an emphatic denial that job cuts were around the corner in the US, continued by an upbeat Arthur Sadoun announcing a “good start to the year” alongside top level salary cuts and delayed dividend payments. The chief has also been keeping staff updated on the situation regularly through his favorite medium: YouTube. But by Wednesday (14 April) the bad news had arrived: the UK side of the business was bracing for redundancies.

  • Implementing a €500m cost-reduction plan
  • Redundancies to hit “most of” the group’s UK agencies and consultation on job losses to take place next week, Campaign reports
  • Employees unable to work from home have been furloughed, The Drum understands
  • Upper management salaries reduced by 20%; chief executive Arthur Sadoun and chairman Maurice Levy taking 30% paycuts
  • Freelance costs cut entirely
  • Freezing all hires across the network
  • Cutting shareholders’ dividends by 50% and delaying payment until the end of September
  • Brought forward launch of Marcel outside of the UK; platform feature ‘Gigs’ section offers staff work on short term projects outside of their agencies

Smaller groups

MDC Partners

  • "Some" furloughs and headcount reductions – including at CPB
  • Cutback of discretionary spending across agencies
  • Reducing freelance spend
  • Salary and hiring freezes, as well as temporary compensation reductions of agents and leadership
  • Real estate consolidation in New York – slated to save at least $10 million a year – remains on schedule for later in 2020

You & Mr Jones also declined to comment, although it’s understood jobs are safe for the foreseeable future.

Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4C will only implement business-wide paycuts as a very last resort. He noted: “We have no debt at S4 – we are cash positive and over the coming quarters we are going to be very careful with our balance sheet.”

He and seven other leaders within S4 have taken a 50% salary cut from 1 April.

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