A Snapshot Of The PR Market Since Lockdown

Posted by Prospect‘s UK Team

Since the 23rd March, the last few months now seem to be commonly referred to as ‘strange times’ and while this can be an accurate description for many, for others that adjective doesn’t come close to explaining their experience.

As recruiters, we have an insight into the industry some don’t have. Hearing the challenges that both our clients and candidates face, the trends they are seeing and their predictions for the future of the industry. At the beginning of the year which appeared to start well for most, no-one had anticipated the current situation we all find ourselves in.

In an attempt to paint a more accurate picture of what’s happening out there in the market rather than just piecing together what we hear, we decided to survey both our freelance and permanent candidate database. That meant people who we have helped over the past few years and are happy in their current role as well as those who were perhaps looking for new opportunities at the start of the pandemic.

We asked some very general questions around their experience since the country locked down and how this has impacted on their careers. Has it been pretty much business as usual? how it is working from home? and in terms of the job market, whether they have seen any new opportunities coming through despite everything.

Below is a summary of what we found.

The respondents were almost 60% to 40% permanent to contract candidates and 53% of those worked in an agency setting while the remaining 47% are in-house. This has given us a nice broad sample to consider. Equally the sectors that those respondents worked in were across the board; everything from Consumer PR to Corporate; Tech to Financial Comms.

As per the initial Government guidelines, 100% of the respondents are currently working from home and most have found this effective, while having to make adjustments such as pitching from their kitchen table without being with colleagues or clients or getting to grips with the various video-conferencing suites on offer. Anecdotally, we have all heard the stories of people working sitting on beds and off ironing boards and there is no question it is those in shared accommodation, with little space, who have found working from home most challenging.

We asked our sample if they had any indication as to when they may return to the office and 54% responded that it would be at some point in Q4, around 15% said not until next year but more interestingly, 23% said they would never be returning to the office because their employer had changed the way they work. We don’t have detail on this but make assumptions that the costs that come with leasing premises are being re-evaluated.

The impressions that we have been left with from conversations with candidates have unfortunately been borne out in the survey results. 46% stated that their working situation hadn’t altered at all during the past few months. Aside from working from home, they continue to be employed on the same salary and benefits but just no longer in the office. Of the remaining 54%, 27% said their employment conditions had changed. 6% of that number had a reduction in salary and the remainder have been taking advantage of Government help, so either furloughed or receiving payments through the Self-Employed Income Support scheme.

The other 27% said that they had lost their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic. Many of these people have been in consumer, lifestyle, travel and the hospitality sectors while corporate comms, some B2B and financial sectors appear to have fared better.

Of those respondents that had been furloughed, 100% of them said that they were unsure when they would be returning to work, if at all and so there is a definite unease that we may see waves of redundancies as the Government begins to withdraw its support from August onwards. In addition, of all the people surveyed, 30% said that they had not seen or been approached about any new job opportunities since lockdown, while 70% said they had seen between 1-4 roles that could be relevant.

The freelance market has taken a big hit with many freelancers being asked to leave their contract with immediate effect. Those that are still in work and have been asked to stay for the duration of their contract are concerned about the lack of opportunities awaiting them once they have finished in their current assignment. Again, the sectors that appear to have been impacted the most are consumer, food and drink and travel.

In conclusion, around half of the people we surveyed said that they had been directly affected by the Covid pandemic, either by a change in hours & salary right through to losing their jobs with very few new opportunities available to them. The freelance market has been impacted heavily although we hope that it will be one of the first areas to return as agencies in particular, plug short term gaps with freelance support. Corporate Comms, reputation and financial PR have weathered the storm most effectively; not to say that they also haven’t seen the impact but arguably less so.

Many firms are clearly reconsidering how they work and where they work as teams have worked productively from home.

What is clear is that the job market has gone in 6 months from being talent short to now, having a swell of highly qualified and capable candidates looking for work. These undoubtedly are ‘strange times’.