As returning to the office ostensibly draws near, agency leaders say they are experiencing little, if any, discord around the vaccinate mandates most of them have in place.

“In our business we have had zero pushback,” said Bully Pulpit Interactive president Andrew Bleeker, who recently added Covid boosters to BPI’s requirements.

“Agency leaders have a responsibility to protect their staff and the best way to protect their staff is really to get them vaccinated,” he said.

Leaders across the industry are having similar experiences. After months of wrangling over how to get people safely and legally back into the office, agency heads report being largely spared from the opposition to vaccinate requirements that has hit institutions from Google to the US government, leading in some cases to firings for lack of compliance.

And with the Omicron variant threatening back-to-work plans, it’s unlikely we’ll see any such rebellion anytime soon.

"A number of our agencies have been targeting January 3 for a mandatory return two to three days a week. I suspect that date will slip, and vaccines will remain a non-issue,” said PR Council president Kim Sample.

Whether that tranquility stems from widespread support of the mandates, or the fact that they have yet to be put to the test, remains to be seen.

Anecdotally, it appears the industry’s vaccination rate is well above the US national average of 60%. Five to eight of Imre’s 240 or so employees, for example, are unvaccinated, said COO Mike O’Mara. And given today’s loose rules about being in the office, agencies have found it easy until now to accommodate employees who have yet to be inoculated against Covid.

In addition, even agency leaders who have unvaccinated employees aren't tremendously worried about an issue they expect to be resolved organically.

While Imre “would never fire someone” over being unvaccinated, O'Mara said, the reality is that at some point, at least for client-facing employees, Covid inoculations will be necessary to comply with company requirements other than vaccines.

The firm, for instance, requires all employees regardless of where or how they work to attend two agency events and four in-office meetings each year, all of which will require attendees to show vaccination cards under the new rules. The same goes for company travel.

And regardless of what agencies require, it's unrealistic to assume clients will accept agency support from people who aren't vaccinated.

“You’re not going to be able to work,” Bleeker said. “This is going to be a short-term problem.”

Attrition is also expected to be a mitigating factor with vaccination becoming a common condition of employment. As agencies lose their non-inoculated employees to churn, vaccinated individuals will be taking their places.

All of which are conclusions that come on the heels of months-long efforts by agency, legal and HR leaders to get a grasp on what working post-Covid will look like, particularly around reconciling employees' safety and personal preferences.

In that time, Edelman, for instance, has determined that by the end of 2021, Covid vaccinations be a condition of employment for staff, other than those granted accommodations “based on disability, sincerely held religious belief or exemptions required under applicable law,” a spokesperson said.

In the US, only vaccinated employees are allowed in Omnicom offices. The same rules apply for WPP.

Zeno, which is a DJE Holdings company, has the same vaccination rules in place as Edelman. “We have long encouraged our employees to use their sick time or other applicable allotted time off to care for themselves and their loved ones, and that includes taking time to be vaccinated."

Only vaccinated individuals are allowed in Ruder Finn’s office. “We’ve heard from staff that they feel a sense of relief that we’re requiring employees to be vaccinated to enter the office,” CEO Kathy Bloomgarden said.

A mid-December PR Council poll of 27 HR leaders found that 74% (20) of their agencies will require employees to be vaccinated to be in the office. 15% (4) won’t be implementing mandates and 11% (3) are undecided.

48% (13) won’t require employees to wear masks in the office. 26% (7) will require all employees to be masked, whether they’re vaccinated or not; another 26% will require only unvaccinated staff to do so.

41% (11) of PRC poll respondents are not requiring employees to return to the office. 22% (six) plan to bring people back on January 3, while 19% (5) are looking at later January. 15% (4) are undecided.

Respondents included 10 agencies with up to $9m in revenue; 10 with $9.1m-$20m in revenue; three with $20.1m-60m in revenue; and four bringing in $60.1m and above.

Sample said getting to this point was rough going for a number of agencies, which realized that putting vaccine mandates in place could lead to firings — a tough enough situation but even more so during the current talent crunch.

Richard Hatzfeld, a senior partner in Finn Partners' health practice, however, said it is the duty of the PR industry, like others, to implement the public health safeguards needed now and prepare for the future.

"This is a bit of a dress rehearsal for bigger issues. We are always going to have another pandemic threat,” he said. “If we aren’t able to figure out an effective way of communicating and resolving a pandemic right now, how are we going to be able to tackle the next?”

Bleeker agrees. "We ask a lot of people in this business. The very least we can do is (make sure) they are as protected as they can be,” he said.