A tale of two agencies: benevolence and backstabbing in the time of coronavirus

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Agency land is full of stories about colleagues pulling together and bravely supporting each other through the shock of home working and a lack of access to the stationery cupboard.

The tales of virtual office life include happy hours, pilates sessions and general “corona kindness”’ as it’s become known, with everyone going out of their way to be nice — from a safe distance.

On the other hand, an anonymous US source at Digiday paints a very different “dog eat dog” picture, which may not be unfamiliar to UK agencies if we care to look beneath the surface.

A chief creative officer at a holding company agency tells of the dilemma between keeping shareholders happy and letting staff get sick, and the lack of trust around allowing people to work from home as well as the lack of technology to facilitate it.

Most shockingly, nerves around job losses are poisoning relationships. The CCO says: “Working at an agency is like Lord of the Flies right now. Everyone is so worried about their job they’re not doing the work.”

Many are “willing to throw [colleagues] under the bus to make sure they have a paycheck coming in. It’s becoming a very caustic environment… they are not performing at their best… People want to defend themselves, their paycheck and their family.”

Coronavirus seems to be an immediate bonanza for PR agencies advising clients on how to make sure they are putting out the right messages, but advertising agencies are getting by on a prayer that things will pick up in Q4.

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