Work & Wellbeing Marketing & the Marginalized B2B Marketing

New York drops Covid mandates: Adland celebrates, but cautions against resuming bad habits


By Kenneth Hein | US Editor

June 16, 2021 | 10 min read

In a historic announcement yesterday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo dropped all Covid restrictions. This was in response to the state hitting a 70% vaccination benchmark. There were 10 statewide fireworks displays and lots of people glowing about the news in adland. Here are some of the initial reactions — and what it could mean in terms of returning to Madison Avenue and agency offices throughout the boroughs.

by bye masks

Goodbye masks, hello office banter.

Nancy Reyes, chief executive, TBWA\Chiat\Day NY

“My initial reaction is one of great excitement, relief, hope and the desire that we slow down a little to make sure we take in the learnings from the past year as an industry. One positive outcome of the pandemic was the complete eradication of the work from home stigma that had plagued our industry for so long. Truthfully, we have never been more prolific than we were in the past 18 months. We have to take that into account when we think about the future.

While we were prolific, we also missed personal connections. That’s a relatively broad statement, of course, but our business is built on connection — the building of ideas together, the inspiration we draw from one another, from being in the same space, from finishing each other’s sentences. That was interrupted, no matter how hard we tried, in the way that we work now. Perfectly scheduled meetings don’t allow for the beauty of chaos that lies in creativity. We need that to succeed.

Trust must be the operative principle. We trusted each other over the past 18 months. We were there for each other like never before. We believed we would get the work done even if the how we got the work done looked different. Trust must be something we bring with us into the future. Also, as much as I applaud the industry’s ability to adapt and successfully work from home, I want to plead with the industry to allow itself to learn and iterate over time as we return. We do not have to declare that it’s one way or the other. Let’s shoot for a goal and then learn and iterate our way through it. Trusting that we will come to the right outcome together.”

Marc Yudkin, chief operating officer, VaynerX

“The announcement by the Governor to ‘reopen’ New York does not represent a return to ‘normal’ but may be the spark of a new era in how we view the workplace culture in the advertising industry. We have had to remain flexible to combat all hurdles that the pandemic threw at us. The advertising industry will need to remain flexible in the back half of 2021, 2022 and beyond to meet the challenges that the new workplace poses. Whether it's 100% back in the office, 100% remote or a hybrid or mixed model, no model is going to appease every employee and no model is going to be right for every company.

Currently, VaynerMedia has extended its work from home policy through the beginning October. We did not feel it was imperative to be first movers when it came to mandating that its employees return to the office. We wanted to be conscious and observe how the country ‘reopens’ during the summer and once school commences again after Labor Day. However, even though the work from home policy is currently in effect, all of the offices are actually open and all of the proper measures have been taken to allow employees to work from the office, should they choose to.

We are taking this mixed/hybrid approach in October as well, meaning that some employees may remain remote, and some will work from the physical office. Not one plan will appease everyone, and no-one knows for sure how a 1,000-person company located across five continents will return to the office as this is new for everyone. However, I know that we will need to be nimble and adapt our policies to our learnings over the next 12 to 24 months.”

Donnalyn Smith, president North America, Momentum Worldwide

“The long-awaited news that Covid restrictions are being lifted signals a huge milestone that we’ve all been waiting for. We know from speaking with people across America that they are eager to get back to life as they know it, and that certainly includes the return to in-person social experiences. The lifting of these restrictions allows people to reconnect with those that matter and restores a bit of hope, which is an incredibly powerful emotion.

The marketing community in general will be more flexible in terms of how we all see the role of the office. We’ve all learned so much about our teams and the importance of collaboration, community and culture. Those insights are powering smart return-to-office plans that provide flexibility and the ability to ensure a thriving culture of inclusion for all employees regardless of where they set up their computer.

We have been open on a voluntary basis and with reduced capacity since September 2020. This September, we look forward to welcoming all employees back to join us in all our US offices. People will be spending between two to four days a week in the office, depending on their circumstances and work requirements, to allow for teams to connect in-person. All of our offices have been organized to accommodate this setup.

While it is certainly great news, the lifting of restrictions will not change our return-to-office plan because we want to give our teams the necessary time and space to ease into this new hybrid working model. We are creating special experiences over the course of the summer to allow people to come back together in social settings to enjoy the company of their co-workers. The lifting of restrictions certainly makes these moments easier to facilitate."

Darla Price, president, DDB NYC

“As the new head of the NYC office, I am looking forward to meeting more and more of our teams in real life. Some of our most ‘unexpected works’ at our agency are our talent, and I’m excited to see the magic of our collaborative energy as we come back together in person. We’ll head back to the office in phases and will offer a flex model as everyone plans their return heading into the fall. We are more charged up than ever to celebrate and continue the amazing momentum DDB is having as a team.”

Justin Thomas Copeland, chief executive, DDB North America

“We are happy to hear that Governor Cuomo lifted COVID restrictions. Our number one goal as part of our people-first strategy is to ensure our staff feels comfortable, and, importantly, safe, as they return to the office. We are incredibly energized and looking forward to having our teams return to our DDB NYC headquarters in a phased approach, in line with guidance from Omnicom and public guidelines.”

Nikki Lamba, global head of diversity, equity & inclusion, DDB

“It has been great to see NYC opening back up and now, even more fully given Governor Cuomo’s recent lift on Covid restrictions. We are staying close to the pulse of our employees, listening to their needs and ensuring that our return to office plans are equitable and inclusive for all. We are mindful that the pandemic has disproportionately affected specific employee groups and communities and will be paying close attention to their comfort levels as we reunite in the office.”

Mona Gonzalez, president, East, Pereira O’Dell

“I have many conflicting feelings: questions, caution, excitement. But more than ever before, relief that New Yorkers (unsurprisingly) pulled it together when it counted. It feels like a new chapter in the city and the industry. Both have gone through a lot of good growing pains these past few years. This is a real reset moment to prioritize what's most valuable and what we should leave behind in the past. Especially as we feel the energy and chemistry of a creative room again and remember why we loved doing this to begin with.

The agency rolled out our plans back in April that focuses on empowering people to decide for themselves when they'd like to be in the office. Others will be fully remote. With that, we're reimagining the offices to be experience spaces that people want to spend time in. As an independent shop, we wanted to use that freedom to rethink the whole work experience - if we were to open our doors today, what would be on the other side? We just keep moving with our plans that are already in motion. The New York office has folks in it every day, operating safely. And it feels really good to be moving forward in this new way.”

Barry Lowenthal, chief executive, Media Kitchen

“We are very excited about the success New York has had in getting through this pandemic. People gathering is very good for brands. Product sampling, experiential marketing and events are all things that suffered when people couldn't mingle, and now we'll be able to do that again in full force! Our office is currently open for those that feel it's appropriate to return and in September we are moving to a hybrid schedule with three days in the office and two days remote. The governor's announcements provide encouragement that we are well on our way!”

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