How Holding Companies Are Addressing Coronavirus

Most have suspended travel to high-risk areas

A circle featuring logos from Publicis Groupe, WPP, Interpublic Group and Havas
Advertising's global holding companies are taking steps to address the coronavirus outbreak. Sources: Getty Images, Publicis, WPP, IPG, Havas
Headshot of Minda Smiley

Key insights:

Advertising’s major holding companies are beginning to implement travel guidelines, policies and restrictions related to the coronavirus as the pandemic continues to spread globally.

Roughly 170,000 people have contracted COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, while more than 6,000 have died, according to The New York Times. The vast majority of cases are in China, but the illness has spread to every continent except Antarctica.

Many of the holding companies have enacted travel restrictions to impacted countries for the time being and are allowing employees to work from home.

Dentsu Aegis Network

Dentsu Aegis Network said in a statement that it has “put in place ongoing health and safety measures,” including travel restrictions and remote working where appropriate based on local government guidance.

“We have a robust business continuity team who are working at global, regional and local level to safeguard our people and react in an expedited way, where required,” the statement said. “We are continuously monitoring the situation, particularly regarding high risk markets and are adopting all local government recommendations. We hope all our people, clients and the local communities which we are a part of stay well during this difficult time.”

Last month, Dentsu Inc. closed its headquarters in Tokyo after an employee contracted COVID-19. At this time, employees are still required to work from home.

Havas Group

Havas has suspended business travel to and from “high-risk exposure areas” until further notice. To date, these areas include Greater China, Singapore, South Korea and regions of Italy, including Lombardy and Veneto.

Additionally, anyone returning from a business trip, personal trip or stop-over in these areas must adhere to a “14-day confinement period” upon their return. These employees can either work from home or take time off, according to Havas.

Update as of March 13

According to a Havas spokesperson, the holding company has “instituted an optional work from home policy as well as several new protocols” but did not expand further.

Update as of March 16

A Havas spokesperson said the company is “fully operational at this time and are deferring to regional protocols for certain specifics.” According to Havas, most of its staff globally is working remotely. It has also adjusted travel policies and implemented new visitation protocol across its offices.

“We have incident response and health and safety teams in all of our offices that are working around the clock to be sure that our people and our businesses are safe,” the spokesperson said.

Interpublic Group

Interpublic Group has restricted all business travel to and from China and South Korea until further notice. According to a memo that was sent to employees last month, “business-critical exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case basis” by IPG’s chief risk officer as long as there is business justification and network CEO approval.

Any employees with recent travel to mainland China, South Korea or Italy are required to work from home for 14 days. Employees who have had recent close contact with someone who recently traveled from the aforementioned locations are also required to work from home for 14 days.

Employees who recently traveled to a country with community (person-to-person) transmission are being asked to self-monitor for signs of illness for 14 days.

“We currently do not have any offices that are closed, although some are operating under flexible working arrangements,” the memo said. “We continue to closely monitor developments and will update you accordingly. If you believe you or someone you’ve been in close contact with has the coronavirus, please seek medical treatment immediately and the local public health authorities will notify local Human Resources should the coronavirus be confirmed.”

The holding company is working closely with medical advisors to monitor market conditions and adjust working arrangements to assure the safety of its employees, according to an Interpublic Group spokesperson. The spokesperson said the company is banning travel to impacted countries based on when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines a location to be a level three risk and the U.S. Department of State determines a level four risk.

Interpublic Group is also working alongside its IT and risk management groups on “added measures for the near future” regarding its technology in case an extended work from home period is enacted in the near future.

Update as of March 13

IPG has installed a COVID-19 steering committee at the holding company level that includes its senior-most corporate team, as well as leaders from finance, HR, legal, communications, IT and risk management. According to IPG, this committee meets daily, and is regularly briefed by Vigilint, its medical advisement firm. The corporate group is meeting with the top operations, HR and communications leaders at agency units on a weekly basis (or more, if needed) to ensure the company is aligned on processes and communication.

Currently, IPG and its operating units are working “as close to business-as-usual as possible” and keeping offices open, while encouraging employees in markets where the COVID-19 virus is spreading to work from home if they can. IPG has also planned “staggered work schedules” to reduce the amount of people working in-office.

IPG and its operating units have tested IT systems to ensure that its technology infrastructure can still operate when large segments of employees are working remotely. The holding company has also limited travel and in-person meetings that involve more than 10 people if the meeting can instead be conducted via video conference or other means.

MDC Partners

MDC Partners said it has put certain controls in place, including travel restrictions and work-from-home programs, that in line with the latest local government recommendations.

Employees located in regions identified as level two or level three by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have been working from home, and business travel to those areas has been prohibited until further notice.

The holding company said it will continue to update its measures and policies as appropriate.

“Together with our employees, we are exercising appropriate caution regarding international and domestic travel to other locations, and are staying abreast of all scheduled employee travel, business or personal, to ensure that we can properly support our people at home and abroad in the event of further spread into new regions,” the company said in a statement.

Omnicom Group

On Feb. 26, Omnicom Group implemented travel guidelines for employees including postponing until further notice all business travel to and from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Northern Italy. Employees returning from personal or business trips from those countries are asked not to return to the office of any Omnicom agency for 14 calendar days even if they don’t show signs of illness, to contact HR and work from home during that period and to seek medical attention if necessary.

These guidelines apply to any employee who has had a member of their household return from a trip to any of the aforementioned countries.

Omnicom Group CEO John Wren also sent out a memo to staffers on Feb. 26, stating that the company’s “first priority—now and always—is the health and safety of our people.” In the email, Wren said that Omnicom plans to follow the advice of the “appropriate national regulatory authorities,” as well as the World Health Organization.

“We will monitor the situation as it evolves and continue to update our guidance accordingly,” he said.

Last month, Omnicom Media Group closed two of its offices in London due to concerns related to an OMD U.K. employee with flu-like symptoms who’d recently traveled to Australia via Singapore. Shortly after, OMD Australia closed its Sydney office. All offices have since reopened.

Update as of March 13

Omnicom has established a taskforce that is “monitoring the COVID-19 situation daily” and connecting regularly with the leadership of its network and practice areas to keep everyone as informed as possible. According to Omnicom, its guidance is based on input from leadership and the advice of national, local and city regulatory authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and National Health Service.

Its current policy includes no international travel to, from or through “key affected areas” and no domestic travel unless for business-critical needs. It is also currently restricting attendance at large-scale meetings, events and conferences.

To enable social distancing in offices, Omnicom is requiring its agencies to stagger their employees’ schedules to keep the headcount in an office to approximately 50% on any given day.  For the next two weeks, its agencies are implementing a schedule alternating the time employees work in the office/work from home.

For employees who are at higher risk of getting very sick if they contract COVID-19, Omnicom is suggesting they telecommute after consulting with their manager or HR. For those who use public transportation, it is advising staggering the start and end time of their workday to avoid rush hour.

Update as of March 15

In a memo sent to all employees, Omnicom CEO John Wren said a “work from home policy is the right approach for our people.”

Beginning March 16, Omnicom is asking agency leaders to “to make certain our people work remotely and only essential staff go into the office.”

For those that do go into an office, the company is recommending social distancing. It is also working with facilities management to add enhanced cleaning in its offices.

“We want to reiterate—please do not come into the office if you are sick or have flu-like symptoms or if a family member you live with or roommate is sick or has symptoms,” the memo said. “Also, please do not come into the office if you or someone you live with has a higher risk of becoming very sick from COVID-19. Lastly, if you are an essential employee and don’t feel comfortable coming into the office, please speak with your supervisor. We have instructed them to accommodate your needs. And we will continue to keep all travel restrictions in place.”

Publicis Groupe

Publicis Groupe has restricted travel to China, South Korea and Italy. According to a company statement, the holding company is also providing guidance more broadly to prioritize video conferencing and Skype meetings rather than traveling whenever possible.

“We continue to closely monitor the situation and follow the recommendations we are receiving from our security providers and the authorities,” a company spokesperson said.

Update as of March 13

Publicis has put into place a “24/7 COVID-19 support team” across global time zones that is managing individual employee requests. Additionally, the company said employees are able to “work remotely in compliance with local regulations, our IT Security & Privacy policies and specific client needs per regulatory requirements.”

The company also remains “in alignment with the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as advice from local authorities in our respective markets.”


At WPP, precautionary measures have been put in place on a global scale in line with official recommendations. The holding company began restricting travel at the end of January. As of now, international travel for internal meetings is not permitted without the approval of the operating company’s CEO.

Additionally, travel restrictions have been put in place for specific countries, regions and locations, but the holding company did not share which ones. WPP is also restricting large-scale meetings, events and conferences. Remote working arrangements are being advised in certain countries and circumstances.

Update as of March 13

Its offices remain open, but people who have concerns about coming to the office may work remotely. The company began restricting travel at the end of January and requires that any person who has travelled to, from or through a restricted country work remotely for 14 days. The company did not share which countries these are.

We will continue to update this article with additional information as it becomes available. 

@Minda_Smiley Minda Smiley is an agencies reporter at Adweek.