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I’ve never been prouder to be independent, but we need the support of ‘big business’

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I’ve been running an independent agency for over twenty years, and I’ve never felt so fortunate to be in charge of my own destiny and the people that work for me. Rather than shareholders telling me what I have to do, I know in these unprecedented times, I can do what’s right. I’m attune to my social and corporate responsibilities and I’ve already seen numerous other independent agency owners across all disciplines from PR to creative doing the same.

I hope by talking about some of our initiatives we can all share ideas to protect the people of this country. But when we’re doing all we can without big behemoths behind us surely, we should command and see the same behaviour from the brands we work with?

As a sector, industry and business which is all about its people, the commercial focus for us is ’not for profit’ and any revenue we are able to generate is for the sole purpose of keeping staff employed, paid and proud to call us their employer. From large and small independent agencies across the UK I’m hearing similar and heart felt messages to employees ‘we’re in this together’.

It’s our responsibility to help our team to readjust to new working conditions and as an example, we have twice daily email communications to all 250+ staff. One formal email that gives health and safety guidelines, helps staff understanding the operational constraints of the business and details what’s available to them to personally support them including our counselling hot lines.

And then there’s an informal email communication that adopts a light hearted approach to keep morale and spirits up. This includes for example physical exercise tutorials from Pod Fitness London, which I’d highly recommend as it’s designed for all ages and can be done in any space, practical guides about what produce you can freeze and store, to virtual museum tours available on line so you can visit to help broaden your cultural outlook while sat in the same chair.

Hope for the future

We aren't giving up. As long as Gekko is here and can still support its brands, we have a moral and corporate responsibility to look after our staff financially and mentally whilst we navigate probably the hardest commercial situation I have ever encountered in my professional life.

Gekko is operating with a with a 'People First’ approach but what about the global businesses we work with? At what point do we as an industry call out brands for their behaviour? Or are they allowed to get away with it because us independent agencies are scared that we’ll never get work with them again?

Like hundreds of agencies big and small across the country we’ve seen clients pulling campaigns and budgets overnight. While I recognise that in the short term retail outlets are closed and ecommerce has slowed down surely global corporations can take a more generous approach and support their suppliers as best they can?

Primarily honouring the pay of their account teams dedicated to their brand by scaling down spend rather than switching it off, paying a proportion of the fees for their next project and banking the time or sharing agency team cost to aid cash flow. Diageo has this week announced a $1m pot to help its on-trade customers through these difficult times, so it is possible.

But I, like I’m sure many other agency owners have seen both sides of the coin, incredibly supportive clients and those that quite frankly have shirked their moral duty and are failing workers who thought they represented a decent, honest brand. Unscrupulous brands who turn their back on their responsibilities, relationships and partners are the brands that need to be called out.

When they act in this manner, they also fail the consumer as the brand values they portray in their marketing are the antithesis of the brand values they trade on. As you can probably tell I’m trying not to yell a name and shame but when your brand turned over billions last year, it's kind of incumbent of you to do your bit and support not turn your back on the agencies who work hard for you.

Daniel Todaro, MD, Gekko

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