There could be light at the end of the COVID tunnel for marketing and PR agencies

The human cost of COVID-19 has been truly devastating. It has brought heartbreak and misery on so many – not only through the loss of loved ones but also through the loss of jobs, as every business looks to navigate uncharted waters, desperate for survival.

Our hearts and minds go out to everyone affected by the pandemic – and we applaud all those fighting to overcome it, along with those working to ensure we can enjoy at least some sense of normality.

We’re fortunate to work in marketing services. We can work from home and support our clients virtually. Naturally, we really miss seeing our colleagues everyday (Zoom, Teams, Skype etc. is all great, but just not the same), but we have managed to sustain productivity and been able to service our clients effectively. For every positive, there are also negatives. The UK economy, like so many others, has shrunk hugely over the past couple of months. This is affecting market confidence, which in turn is delaying or re-thinking decisions to engage PR companies. Or is it?

Well, rather than be swept up by the uninformed and endless speculation currently doing the rounds on social media, we thought we’d work with our friends at SAPIO Research to ask 500 business decision makers in the UK how COVID-19 was impacting their marketing plans. These decision makers are from businesses that span a variety of sectors including finance, IT and technology, and manufacturing.

The results do bring cause for at least some optimism – which for most PR and marketing services people will mean some relief.

We asked two questions in a survey in early May 2020.

Impact of COVID on communications

Overall, this presents a more heartening picture than you might have expected. 44% of UK decision makers plan to spend the same, or more, on marketing as a result of the pandemic. An additional 24% will continue to honour the contracts they have in place with partners and maintain ‘business as usual’ as best they can. This is good news for agencies that enjoy an ongoing monthly fee-based arrangement with their clients, less so for project-focused companies.

Just under a third of companies (32%) are really struggling and are looking to save as much cash as they can. This is totally understandable, and I’m surprised (but also relieved) the number isn’t higher.

Communication channels of importance

This question was intended to learn which marketing activities would take precedent during the pandemic. The lack of physical events, both industry trade shows and networking events means most companies need to change their angle of attack in engaging new prospects and winning new business.

Unsurprisingly, email marketing is listed as the most popular activity, followed closely by social media. Lockdown has presented a more captive audience for email and social traffic – though there is still a strong reliance on high quality content to guarantee engagement. The same can be said when it comes to generating traction from other popular communications channels like content marketing, webinars and media relations – content is king.

As always, real engagement from customers and prospects comes from the ability to share new insight and teach companies and individuals things they don’t already know. Whether you are engaging direct (email, content marketing, webinars) or indirect (media/analyst relations), the ability to serve fresh insight and perspective on how they might solve their problems will always differentiate your business.

There’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has created many more obstacles for businesses to overcome in their pursuit of growth, but the majority still believe they can prosper. It’s down to us as agencies to help these companies create the content that’s going to resonate and to use the channels that are best served to deliver it.

There is still a strong desire to proceed and prevail, and we can’t ask for much more than that right now.


Written by Paul Nolan


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