Survey provides a snapshot of how Canada’s ad world reacted to COVID

While stories of layoffs and pay cuts were common throughout the first weeks and months of the COVID crisis, a recent survey of marketing and advertising employers provides some understanding of the magnitude of the impact on the industry—and how it is starting to bounce back.

Nearly 60% of the advertising and marketing firms that responded to the survey said they’ve been hurt by the crisis (and 8% are worried about their company surviving), though a little more than 30% said they are better off now.

Roughly 40% of employers cut staff, and about 55% cut either staff or pay. Of that 55%, 28% said they feel their company is performing better now than before the pandemic.

Conducted by Fuse Insights for the marketing, advertising and production recruitment firm Junction Collective, the survey of 65 employers around the GTA is not large enough be considered scientifically accurate, but does provide a good “snapshot” of COVID’s impact, said Fuse Insights CEO Nick Drew.

That snapshot reveals that many firms cut quickly in response to the crisis, but are now starting to look toward rebuilding and growing again. While most of the industry has been working from home for four months—and much of the business world is talking about the practice becoming standard in the long-term—a significant number of survey respondents say they want people back in the office.

“We were surprised by how quickly the market reacted,” said Jennifer Morozowich, a partner at Junction Collective. “They didn’t really waste any time furloughing or releasing staff.” Of the responding firms that had layoffs, the average cut was about 12.5% of staff, said Drew.

However, about 75% of respondents said they plan to hire after COVID, and more than half said their company plans to hire full-time staff once business returns to normal. There are already some signs of that happening, said Morozowich.

The shock of the first weeks and months has worn off, and more companies feel like they’re back on an “upward trajectory,” she said. “They’re starting to work on their hiring plans, and we’re noticing that the market is opening up quite significantly. It’s pretty optimistic.”

The survey also looked at how the industry has responded to the work-from-home reality. Before the pandemic, just 17% of responding organizations said working from home was an option for “most staff at least some of the time.” Conversely, 80% said WFH either wasn’t a policy or was an option for some staff only.

While many businesses have talked proudly of how effective they’ve been with the office closed, only a third of respondents expect to retain WFH as an option for all staff, and 29% said it won’t be an option or will be an option limited to some staff.

The survey asked respondents about specific challenges resulting from WFH:

  • 23% said isolation, loss of human connection and interaction;
  • 20% said juggling family needs;
  • 18% said lack of collaboration; and
  • 14% said output, focus, speed, agility, productivity.

Many individuals and employers have significant concerns about the remote work routine, said Drew. For example only four of 10 agreed that staff are more productive working from home than working in their offices, he said.

But now that so many people have had the chance to work from home and are able to be productive, the conversation about working from home has changed, said Morozowich.

Already more job candidates—including creatives—are looking for employers that are more flexible about working from home at least part of the week.

There may be challenges about working from home, but working in an office comes with its own interruptions and challenges to productivity.

“They want a little bit of balance,” she said. “Before their boss might say ‘Oh you’re not being productive,’ but now they have proof and they can say ‘Yeah we actually can be productive,'” she said.

“[Creatives] understand the importance of being face-to-face with others and growing ideas and collaborating and brainstorming and all that fun stuff. But they want the ability to put their head down for a day and get shit done.”

“It’s tough to imagine any company after this being able to justify no one can work from home at all,” added Drew.


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David Brown