GOP Stops Shops: NYC Agencies Develop Contingency Plans For Convention

The last week of August ordinarily is a lax time in the advertising business, but for many shops operating in the Big Apple, next week will be more like a ghost town. Or, a virtual town might be more like it, with most media agencies adopting policies encouraging those employees who can, to work from home while the Republican National Convention is in New York.

A MediaDailyNews round-up of convention week policies at New York media agencies finds that while most will be officially open for business, actually showing up will be at the discretion for all but the most essential staffers.

"We are almost thinking of it as four extra snow days," says Dan Fanok, human resources director at WPP's Mediaedge:cia, referring to the WPP shop's contingency planning for the days between Aug. 30 and Sept. 2, when the RNC will be in town. And while the convention will actually take place much further downtown than Mediaedge:cia's offices 53rd Street and Seventh Avenue in Manhattan, Fanok says the agency is preparing for a "ripple effect" that will spread far beyond the RNC's Madison Square Garden headquarters. Mediaedge:cia, for example, is housed closed to some of New York's biggest hotels, which will house many of the delegates, as well as events associated with the convention.



Fanok says an informal poll of New York's HR directors, not just those on Madison Avenue, add up to a consensus approach and one that's been recommended by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration: "If you can, use it as a time to schedule vacation time, or figure out a way to work from home."

It's not just security issues that are on the minds of agency chiefs, though that is clearly a paramount concern given the fact that the RNC is expected to be a flash point for protesters, as well as a presumed target of terrorist activity. Extreme inconvenience for commuters, as well as a disruption of office services are part of the logic too.

"If it's going to take you eight hours to commute to and from work, that doesn't make a lot of sense," acknowledges Jill Kelly-Paget, vice president-director of marketing communications at MediaVest, who says the agency is going along with the "use your own judgment" policy vis a vis commuting vs. telecommuting next week.

The most extreme impact is expected to be felt by agencies operating in direct proximity of Madison Square Garden, including Foote Cone & Belding, which is situated at 100 West 33rd Street.

"We are encouraging people to stay home, except for those who really have to come in, like those in print production," says FCB spokesman Bill Haney. He estimates that 250 of FCB's 750 employees will come into the office next week. The rest are being given the option to take vacation days. Otherwise, FCB provided employees with software to access their hard drives and networks to work from home.

That seems to be the approach being taken by most of the big and small agencies contacted by MediaDailyNews this week. In fact, Interpublic, the parent of both Initiative Media and Universal McCann, as well as agencies as far-flung as Downtown-based Deutsch to East Side-based Lowe & Partners or McCann-Erickson, as put together a slick employee guide to the RNC, including safety tips, common sense advise and contingency planning that amounts to the type of sophisticated crisis relocation planning one might expect of the Department of Homeland Security.

The guide includes information from the Mayor's office on restricted areas and street closings, as well as a map of all Interpublic agencies in the city, there phone numbers, as well as a special RNC convention-related employee hotline number for emergencies.

"What Interpublic is doing is giving employees a list of Interpublic agencies and contact numbers so if our employees find themselves stuck in a situation they can go to the nearest Interpublic agency. Their Interpublic employee number will give them access," says Susan Irwin, a spokeswoman for McCann-Erickson. Interpublic employees who find themselves blocked from their regular offices can take refuge in a nearby Interpublic facility if they need to. Otherwise, Irwin says Interpublic is encouraging those employees who can to work from home next week.

While it was unclear at presstime how whether other agency holding companies had similar policies, or whether other media shops operating near the convention site, such as Carat, which is just a few blocks east, might be impacted. But at least one major media operation situated south of the action does not plan to alter its staffing policy one iota. "We have certainly thought a lot about this. Our clients are open for business, and we are open for business. Period," asserts Rich Hamilton, CEO of Soho-based Zenith Optimedia Group.

How worried are you that some protest marches or demonstrations will lead to violence during the convention?

Very Worried: 18%
Somewhat Worried: 30%
Not Too Worried: 29%
Not At All: 21%
Don't know: 1%

Source: The New York Times/CBS News Poll -- New York City Poll, Aug. 20-25, 2004. Base = 1,096.
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