Covid has taken its toll on marketing, everyone has a responsibility to help in the recovery

With data from Marketing Week’s 2021 Career and Salary Survey unveiling the scale of career disruption and restructuring caused by Covid, the time has come for all to play a part in helping the sector recover from a bruising 12 months.

If I was to create a word cloud of the most used adjectives offered in response to the question ‘How are you doing?’ this year, “busy”, “exhausted” and “stretched” would dominate. Answers are always delivered with a resigned sigh.

The reasons given for the malaise are universal – a combination of childcare, winter blues and disappointment the new year hasn’t offered a fresh start.

I have no doubt all of this is true. I am suffering for the same reasons. I also suspect the responses of the marketers I speak with mask a deeper, unspoken disquiet – the burden of 12 months of being asked to do way more with fewer people, less money and in ways never imagined a year ago.

Any invigoration that came from do or die innovation early in lockdown has now been replaced for many with the heavy load of the previous 12 months. The toll is being taken by yourself, your team and your business.

Marketing Week’s latest Career and Salary Survey bares some of this out. About 10% of respondents reported suffering redundancy in the past 12 months, 12% were put on furlough, 11% had planned promotions blocked and a fifth had hours cut.

It’s a brutal story of thwarted ambition, reduced earnings and exposure to an ever decreasing jobs market. For many of you, your mood is the product of losing colleagues to furlough and or redundancy. It’s no wonder sighs are so pronounced.


Salary Survey 2021: Addressing the career consequences of Covid

It’s also as a result of enforced restructure and retraining. Many of you report changes to the structure of your team. This isn’t entirely pejorative – lots report necessary changes in pursuit of long- and short-term agility – but with change often comes unease.

And for those out of work, looking to re-enter a shrunken jobs market, you might well find the skills required of you are different. As we revealed recently, hard digital skills are increasingly being sought as an essential requirement.

Altruism won’t pay the mortgage or give an aspiring marketer a start but nor is it nothing. Support those who are looking to make a difference.

UK plc is bruised from the experience of the past 12 months, its workforce in a state of uncertainty. But for a few in areas that have flourished, marketers have been exposed to the vagaries of reduced output, consumer trends and the shuttering of entire sectors.

Despite the optimism that has sprung from the successful rollout of the vaccine and the timetable to normality unveiled by the Prime Minister last week, there is cost and consequence of the past 12 months.

Pent-up demand will likely give the economy a shot in the arm and brands a boost but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a job to be done. And employers, the industry and recruiters all have a role to play.

Look after your people

Companies need to be mindful of the impact disruption to categories has had, the exhaustion of pivoting and the overhaul of departments that has seen many of you having to say goodbye to colleagues.

More than 40% of respondents to our survey reported enforced changes to working practices had had a somewhat or very negative impact of their mental health.

Meanwhile NABS, the advertising and media support organisation, has seen a 35% increase in demand for its services with more than half of the “emotional health” calls it receives are about mental health problems stemming from work pressures.

Marketers are not alone in feeling the strain. But they are more exposed than some to cuts to budgets and staff, while also being on the frontline as companies turn their attention to recovery and growth. Exhilarating for some, tiring for others.

There have been great strides in companies recognising the need to look after the greatest brand advocates they have – their staff. As we put the worst of the pandemic behind us and look beyond, efforts need to be redoubled to ensure brands have support mechanisms in place.

 A helping hand

As stark as the figures on redundancy are, they only tell part of the story on lost talent. Yes, there are, sadly, a big and growing group of marketers out of work through no fault of their own, a victim of plummeting profit from loss of revenue.

The drawbridge has also been pulled up for those looking to get into the industry. More than two-fifths report hiring freezes. Our survey does not show, but the biggest losers are young people.

Earlier this year, the Resolution Foundation estimated 19% of 18- to 24-year-olds across the UK lost their jobs after being out on furlough last year. It predicts unemployment among 18- to 29-year-olds will hit 17% by late 2020.

The reality for companies reeling from the past year and staring at a severe recession means they can’t fund hiring sprees. And, sadly, investment in marketing and marketers is seen by some companies as discretionary.

Marketing requires all sorts. No one individual can be all things to achieve all business objectives.

I would argue investment in present and future talent is key to the growth of brand and the profession but that won’t play when demand is compromised.

In lieu of this, I would love to see more of the benevolence already shown. It’s been fantastic to see the industry opening up their networks to those out of work, offering contacts and context to help people back into work.

There are also mentoring initiatives such as the School of Marketing’s ‘Mentoring Gen Z’,  supported by Marketing Week and The Marketing Society. It has been set up to help 18- to 24-year-olds find a route in or back into the industry.

Elsewhere, The Marketing Academy’s Virtual Campus Program, an amalgam of interactive sessions featuring inspirational figures and clinics on leadership, skills and wellness, offered free places to marketers out of work or on furlough.

Altruism won’t pay the mortgage or give an aspiring marketer a start but nor is it nothing. Support those who are looking to make a difference.

Don’t forget what’s important

Our recent investigation of the jobs market found marketers need to be tech-driven, data-led and wizards at ecommerce if they’re going to get a first interview.

I have seen job descriptions for senior roles where required competencies and experiences run over pages. Brands hiring senior marketers seem to want digital natives with the experience of veterans.

On one hand, it’s an inevitable consequence of the shift to digital platforms accelerated by the pandemic. What employers now see as the perfect marketers has changed with it.

On the other, there’s a danger of prioritising hard, digital, often tactical skills over strategic basics. A reaction to the disruption of the past 12 months that could leave experienced marketers steeped in fundamentals out in the cold.

Marketing requires all sorts. No one individual can be all things to achieve all business objectives. Brand is more important in a crowded, transient-by-nature digital environment. Don’t forget that when looking over candidates.

Brands have recovered from economic shocks before. There will be plenty in the industry that experienced the disruption of the 2008/09 and earlier recessions.

The speed and depth of the disorder caused by Covid does require greater effort though. I have seen enough of people’s willingness to help peers, enough initiatives from employers in service of their employees’ mental health to feel confident the industry is up to the task.