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India’s Covid-19 crisis: how are ad agencies supporting staff?

Vaccination production in India has lagged, even as the country is hit with a second Covid wave / Manoej Paateel

As the coronavirus outbreak in India escalates, we explore the latest measures to protect and help staff working in the country from the industry’s biggest players.

India is a huge global advertising market set for strong growth in the digital and e-commerce sectors. Thousands of marketers and agency staff work in its marketing and advertising industry, and many are employed by the big six holding companies, which of all have a presence in the country; in 2019, WPP said it was its fastest-growing market and its fifth-largest globally.

As the country deals with a severe Covid-19 crisis – recording 350,000 infections per day, according to The New York Times – The Drum explores how advertising’s biggest players are supporting staff in a practical way.

Publicis Groupe

The French holding company told The Drum it has created a special task force to support staff.

  • Workers that fall ill have access to a 24-hour direct telephone line to a doctor.

  • Sick leave has been expanded and healthcare coverage extended to cover any Covid-19 care required.

  • The company is providing hotel rooms and other accommodation to staff requiring a safe space to quarantine.

  • Staff have access to a 24-hour mental wellbeing helpline as well as a ‘Community Channel’, a platform for mental health information and support.

  • Its task force has set out to accelerate vaccination of staff by contracting healthcare providers across India to provide access to hospitals and healthcare facilities for vaccination of staff.

  • The company is also covering the costs of vaccination for staff.

Writing in an internal memo, Publicis Groupe chief executive officer Arthur Sadoun told staffers: ”As India continues to suffer from the deadly second wave of the pandemic, I wanted to reach out to all of you there, all 17,000 members of the Publicis family. My thoughts and best wishes are with each of you, and I’d like to send my heartfelt condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

”At this critical time, we know you need action, not words. So with your global, regional and India leaders, talent teams and Re:Sources we have created a task force working around the clock to make sure that you have what you need to take care of yourselves and your families.

”Since the beginning of this latest Covid wave, we have reinforced existing sanitary protocols and acted to quickly ramp up every additional measure possible.”

He added: ”The courage and solidarity you have shown in these dark days has been truly outstanding, and will be more vital than ever in the weeks to come. But you are not alone, and you can count on the full mobilization of the Groupe as we face this battle together.”

WPP

WPP has approximately 8,000 staff in India, and is ”focused on providing as much support as we can to our people and local leadership,” a spokesperson told The Drum.

  • WPP is reimbursing the cost of Covid-19 vaccinations for all 8,000 staff: ”We are strongly encouraging our people to be vaccinated, sharing information on the government vaccination drive and from the WHO, and organizing vaccine education sessions with medical professionals for our people.”

  • The company is providing direct assistance staff personally impacted, including access to helpdesks for information about Covid-19 resources and services including local hospitals and testing locations and partnerships to provide teleconsultation with medical providers, on-call doctor services, diagnostic services, blood/plasma provision and medicine delivery.

  • WPP staff now have 24/7 access to a network of ambulances across 100 cities with professionals that provide life support and cardiac care, as well as services that help find hospital bed availability for coronavirus patients.

  • Staff are being encouraged to use WPP’s global Employee Assistance Programme, which provides counselling and wellbeing resources as well as ”direct assistance to those of our people and their families who have been personally affected”.

  • The holding company says its agencies have also been active in community responses to the crisis. Ogilvy has four volunteer task forces across India supporting those seeking oxygen availability, medicine, insurance information, hospital beds and food supplies.

”Our people have been working from home since March last year, and as the circumstances have become more serious we have been making sure they are taking time off to look after their families and their health,” the spokesperson said.

Dentsu

Dentsu International’s presence in India includes Mcgarrybowen and iProspect, and amount to a workforce of approximately 7,000 staffers.

Anand Bhadkamkar, chief executive officer of Dentsu in India, tells The Drum: “Keeping our people safe during the pandemic has been our primary concern. We have been following a globally consistent approach that empowers our markets to make the best decisions to protect their people, aligned to local government guidance.“

In response to the situation, it has provided staff with:

  • 10 days of dedicated pandemic leave, with the option to extend to a further 10 days if required.

  • Health insurance policies which include Covid-19 coverage, as of 2020.

  • An in-house doctor to provide workers with tele-consultations.

  • Partnerships with a pharmaceutical chain with 4,000 stores across India, providing discounted medicines to Dentsu staff, and with a national hotel chain to provide safe spaces for isolation.

  • Some Dentsu agencies are offering five days of leave so staff can ride out any side effects from vaccination.

  • A partnership with the Hank Nunn Institute, a mental health support service. Dentsu already worked with HNI, but Bhadkamkar explains that “they have been able to provide our teams with vital support during the crisis, for free, whenever they need someone to talk to“.

“Our local and regional leadership are in close contact and monitoring the situation as it develops, with a view to review and add services and support as our people need it,“ Bhadkamkar concludes.

Havas

Havas’ footprint in India includes experiential shop Shobiz, Think Design and Langoor. Rana Barua, chief executive officer of Havas Group India, explained the group has several programs already in place to help staff in the country. New measures it has put in place include:

  • A group-wide holiday on Monday May 3, “to give people time to breathe, recover and spend time with their family.“

  • An Employee Assistance Program (EAP), which connects employees with psychologists so they can discuss concerns and stressful issues.

  • A confidential email support service called Havas Voice, which allows employees to anonymously blow the whistle on behavior “in conflict with the philosophy in our codes“ at their agency.

Barua also pointed to the Group’s work-at-home policy, “designed keeping in mind our employees’ mental health and wellbeing at the same time as keeping them engaged.“

According to Barua, it covers health and wellness, learning and development, engagement and entertainment through virtual education, mindfulness sessions and panel discussions.

“We have been curating engaging activities and sessions for employees such as yoga sessions, Havas Talks – a knowledge-sharing platform with industry veterans – and #SilverLining, where employees give tips and recommend books, TV shows and podcasts. There are also online sessions on mental health with doctors and many more initiatives,“ says Barua.

Interpublic Group (IPG)

IPG has a staff of 2,500 across its Indian agencies, which include Lodestar UM, Intitiative and Rapport. A spokesperson told The Drum it‘s “very concerned“ about the scale of the second wave. The company says:

  • “IPG is working with our operators in the market to determine the items most needed to help our employees during this acute crisis. Based on the feedback from our management teams on the ground, there is a need for home testing kits, oxygen concentrators, manual ventilators and access to vaccines – all of which we are actively working to source through our medical advisors.

  • “In addition, employees have access to a local tele-health support network and mental health counseling.

  • “We are also working with our clients in the market to share learnings and find additional resources we may be able to leverage to support our people.”

Omnicom

Omnicom agencies in India include TBWA, PHD India and OMD. ”It’s certainly a very difficult situation and all of our agencies have been affected. Our first priority is the health and safety of our employees and their families,” an Omnicom spokesperson tells The Drum.

”We are asking our agency leaders to ensure our people are working remotely and following the guidance of local agency leadership, as well as India’s health and government authorities.”

  • The company has a Covid-19 safety microsite, returningsafely.com, and says it is actively monitoring the safety of, and offering ”any assistance we can”, to all staff and their families.

  • Omnicom agencies in India are working with third-party providers to get vaccinations to its employees, or help them to access vaccinations through their healthcare providers.

Note: this article was updated 6 May, when WPP announced further support measures for staff in India.