State of the Industry Roundtables – The View from Communications Leaders

Posted by Prospect‘s Asia Pacific Team

In February 2020, having completed in-depth interviews with 100 in-house and agency communications professionals throughout Asia Pacific we realized the global pandemic was throwing expectations for 2020 into disarray! We deftly pivoted to the circumstances and undertook a supplementary survey on the impact of Covid-19. A very different picture emerged … and it wasn’t all sunshine and roses! According to the research #SOI2020 the most likely impact was expected to be salary freezes (ranked 8.7 out of 10 in terms of likelihood), reduced budgets (8.3 out of 10) and scaling back of agency spend (8.1 out of 10).

Download the full report of The 2020 State of the Industry Report HERE.

Three months later, we virtually checked-in with communications leaders. We all know, a lot can change in just a few months and the conversations lived up to expectations. On May 14th we hosted a Zoom roundtable for 10 in-house communications leaders and, one week later 10 agency heads to discuss the state of their business. This is what we learned…

Both in-house and agency leaders emphasized their commitment to protecting jobs and keeping staff in their roles. In-house representatives spoke about cuts to bonuses, pay cuts for senior leaders, and hiring freezes while agencies expected to receive pushback on new hires in Asia, particularly for those firms with headquarters in the US or UK. Most were comfortable with the productivity of their teams while working from home and saw this flexibility continuing at least until the end of 2020. However, agencies noted that many of their staff were keen to return to the office environment, in part due to the culture in Asia of people living with their parents for longer.

While in-house professionals spoke about reducing agency budgets to cover only essential services, the agencies themselves noted that although pure-play PR activities had been cut, they had seen a shift towards digital offerings. Additionally, agencies are quickly adapting their services by providing virtual training, strategic counsel and support around transformational change communications. Agency leaders identified the opportunity for new roles to be created for data scientists and people with technical skills in the future.

This challenging period has led to a greater appreciation within corporations of the value and importance of the communications function. Whereas previously the in-house communications role was tilted towards external comms, Covid-19 has shifted priorities with internal comms making up around 80 – 90% of activities. Agency leaders observed a resurgence of activity coming from China and in-house leaders commented that as Hong Kong is opening up faster than other places it is being viewed as a test market for how long it take to get back to ‘business as usual’.

While some leaders were more optimistic than others, the consensus was that these challenging times will continue for at least the next six months. Our advice is to stay nimble, stay positive and make every interaction count.