It’s been two months since we last checked in with a select group of PR and communications specialists from agency and in-house corporations. When we spoke to them during our 2020 State of the Industry #SOI2020 virtual roundtables in May we discussed the results of the Covid-19 survey conducted in February and their current perception of the impact of the pandemic on their businesses. True to form, the events of 2020 continue to show that a lot can happen in just two months! So, we asked our industry experts to give us an update.
Overall, we saw that the industry was more optimistic about the impact of Covid-19 on their businesses. In four categories – freeze on salary increases, scaling back agency and consultancy spend, small agencies closing due to financial difficulties, and large agencies closing due to financial difficulties – the likelihood was deemed to be lower than was estimated in February of this year. However, three scenarios were perceived to be more likely now than earlier in the year: reduced budgets, job losses/reduced headcount, and less investment in training and development.
In May, both in-house and agency leaders emphasized their commitment to protecting jobs and keeping staff in their roles. Two months later, this goal seems to be holding fast with an overwhelming 85% of respondents stating that their companies had not cut jobs in Asia-Pacific as a result of Covid-19. While the vast majority of teams seem to be stable for the moment, there is limited growth as 62% of respondents currently have a freeze on new hires.
Working from Home
With an average of 91% of respondents’ team members currently working from home and estimates of when teams would return to the office ranging from as soon as the end of July 2020 to Q1 2021, the question of productivity remains. In May, industry leaders were comfortable with the level of productivity and this continues to be the case with respondents scoring the productivity of their teams an average of 8 out of 10.
Almost two-thirds of respondents from both agencies and in-house have noted an overall reduction in agency budgets. The expectation in May was that budgets would be reserved for ‘essential services’ only. Now in July, around one-third of respondents noted that budgets have increased for internal communications and crisis/issues management, while a reduction of budget for events and training has been observed by 85% and 46% of respondents, respectively. Budgets for other services including digital/social, public affairs/government relations, media monitoring, strategic training and reputation management remain largely unchanged.
Value of Communications
Earlier this year, it was anticipated that one of the potential up-sides for the industry of this challenging period was that there would be a greater appreciation within corporations of communications. In July, this expectation seems to be coming into fruition. A massive 92% of respondents have noticed a greater appreciation within corporations of the value and importance of the communications function. This is being demonstrated by “more access to C-suite”, “more strategic discussions and request for advice”, “greater appreciation of the work that we do”, and “more work”!
There are signs within the industry in Asia that some markets such as Mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore are on their way to resuming a level of normality. While no-one has a crystal ball, we can only do our best to stay safe and in good health as we navigate this turbulent year together.