Adweek | How the Coronavirus Is Disrupting the Global Advertising Industry

As the outbreak upends timelines and traditions, could this also prove to be a turning point?
Press March 9, 2020

The global advertising industry is no stranger to disruption and turmoil. Agencies and media companies have endured everything from natural disasters to overthrown governments, but these scenarios rarely spill beyond national borders.

The current outbreak of COVID-19, however, is different. Between widespread travel restrictions and a dense cloud of uncertainty, the global advertising machine is slowing to a crawl in some ways and rapidly pivoting in others.

Some corners of the industry already have been hammered by the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Several events have been canceled (Editor’s note: Since this story published, South by Southwest was canceled after all). Next to suffer will be the advertising production industry—a world ruled by tight deadlines, inflexible budgets and seamless travel—as its schedules are thrown into disarray. And most holding companies are mum, not wanting to spook investors.

On the other hand, TV executives and media agencies are barreling ahead as the TV ad market remains strong, speculating that audiences could grow as consumers stay home.

Safety is a big issue among production companies, especially as teams travel from shoot to shoot and project to project. The Mill, for example, is continuing to build out what Josh Mandel, managing director of the firm’s L.A. office, calls “scenario planning” for its clients and staff based on the spread of the virus in California.

“A lot of it feels speculative at the moment because we don’t know what the actual impact will be,” Mandel said. “But we’re making sure we’re set up to help protect our employees and keep the lights on as a business.”

From a practical perspective, the agency, which is split between full-service production, CG and VFX work, and experiential, can accomplish a good number of tasks remotely, even with the high-touch nature of production.

“With the modern state of technology, we made everybody completely movable—within the office, within the studio—to be able to take the work to any workstation where we can easily replicate that at home,” Mandel said.