“We’re not going away when the media goes away,” Omnicom’s chief executive John Wren promised his Ukrainian employees.
Speaking to Adweek as the war being waged by Russia rages on, Wren was adamant in the agency network’s commitment to Omnicom staff and their families—not only now, but after the fighting ends.
Omnicom announced on March 17, almost a month after the invasion began, that the business would cease operations in Russia. It, and a few of its network rivals, had faced criticism from their own staff around the lack of speed to act. But Wren wants to set the record straight on what the company was doing rather than saying, during those weeks following the start of the war.
Omnicom’s Ukrainian set-up
Wren says that the company has a “very deep” relationship with the businesses it was operating in Ukraine, which include agency brands such as OMD, TBWA and DDB, working with its partners in the country for around 20 years. Over that period, the agencies have moved from being affiliates to majority-owned businesses, with 49% locally owned. It was a similar set up in Russia, until Omnicom discontinued operations and handed the reins to its minority owners.
That decision has meant a pre-tax hit of $113.4 million during the first quarter of 2022. Wren explains that it took time for the business to decide how and to whom to hand over the Russian operations. He said he didn’t want to speak to the press before having a valid plan.
Between 450 and 500 people, both full time and contractors in Ukraine, have been affected across the media group, creative agencies and data operations.
Despite previous battles in the Donbas region of Ukraine in 2014—and the more recent military build-up on the country’s borders—Wren was still “shocked” by the invasion.
The early days of the invasion
Wren praised the reaction of the company’s team in Poland, which opened up their own homes to colleagues and families seeking refuge. The team also found four vacant homes and a small apartment block offering 120 beds for refugees.
“I was amazed that over 200 employees in Poland renovated this house, working weekends and a couple of days to make it livable and they were handling the process as good colleagues and neighbors,” said Wren. “They initially paid for it out of their own pockets and they were going to finance whatever had to be done to take care of these folks.”
Due to the ruling that men aged 18-60 must remain in Ukraine, only a “handful” of women employees were relocated with family members. In addition to the 120 beds in Warsaw, several smaller markets have accommodation for other employees. In total, around 160 are being supported through these locations.
Omnicom has also committed to paying the salaries of their employees caught in the situation, through the end of 2023.
“When things normalize there are operations that, if employment was needed, we can restore what we had, or something similar to it,” said Wren. “There’s going to be a lot of people who have a lot of skills where we could nearshore some of the requirements that we have in other countries, as part of an effort to support the rebuilding of that economy.”
Even if this war does take years, Omnicom is determined to step up and be part of the solution.