Survey of media, marketing leaders shows that ‘big ideas,’ DEI are priorities for 2021

After a historically difficult year, most Canadian media industry leaders say big ideas are their top priority, while a large majority have taken some action to improve DEI in their organization, and almost half expect media budgets to rebound from a tough 2020.

Those are some of the key findings in the recently released “Pushing Forward Through Uncertainty” report from the Canadian Media Directors’ Council and Globe Media Group.

The findings are based on a survey of more than 200 C-suite marketing and media leaders, who were asked about leadership for future success; the future of work; diversity, equity and inclusion; the 2021 media outlook; and trust and partnerships. The survey was conducted by Canadian research firm RKI.

“The survey results are a fascinating window into leadership during a crisis,” said CMDC president Shannon Lewis in a release. “How they led their firms through this crisis, how workplaces adapted and will continue to shift going forward, and how media agencies will continue to thrive through immense change, are lessons any business can learn from.”

Leadership in a Pandemic

In terms of leadership during the crisis, the most common term chosen by respondents (28%) to describe their leadership approach was “The Realist”—leaders who keep spirits high and communicate positively while outlining very challenging next steps.

However, the researchers also found a pronounced difference between male and female leaders, with the former focusing on being positive and realistic with expectations, while sticking to company goals in investing in the company and the newest technology.

Female leaders, meanwhile, said that listening, empathy and a focus on staff’s mental and physical wellbeing was a priority. “Be vulnerable. Let your teams see that you’re human too, and that despite being in a senior role, you don’t have all the answers,” said one respondent.

Asked about what they think will drive future success, 81% said innovation and big ideas to build brands. “In this context, innovation means things like data collection, management and analytics that drive real consumer insight, and creating a customer experience that is seamless and consistent across all channels,” wrote the authors.

Other drivers of future success included:

  • Highly targeted, contextual media optimized through data (78% of respondents);
  • Entertainment and content development (65%); and
  • CRM and loyalty programs that help anticipate future customer needs (63%)

Flexibility of Work

Media and marketer leaders agreed that the pandemic has changed the way we work forever. For the most part, leaders see new, more flexible working arrangements as a positive. However some fear that people working from home and away from a shared office will hurt productivity and employee morale.

“Many of our employees report that the flexibility for work/life balance and the increased ability to collaborate globally has been a positive outcome,” said one respondent. “For some employees, remote work can be isolating and some of the perks of working for an organization can be diminished.”

Technology will obviously be critical to effective work-from-home arrangements, and business leader respondents expected staff to have better quality of life, spend less time commuting, and be less stressed. Remote work arrangements will also mean more access to global talent, while saving time on travel and operating space.

“I hope this leads to offices becoming centres of collaboration—collision zones for ideas and teamwork, where we can have meaningful face-to-face interaction with each other and other clients,” said one. “Offices as an idea, a purpose-driven place to be our best in, rather than simply a place we clock time.”

Diversity and Inclusion

COVID wasn’t the only transformative force of 2020, with civil unrest following the killing of George Floyd sparking a worldwide reckoning with systemic racism and discrimination. Fully 92% of respondents said they have pledged to increase diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within their organization. Agencies (94%) were more likely than marketers (75%) to have implemented at least one change.

Among the specific steps taken:

  • 56% conducted an internal DEI audit;
  • 51% conducted bias training; and
  • 21% pledged to the BlackNorth initiative. (LINK)

Asked if it was appropriate for business leaders to be vocal on DEI, 85% said yes, although 39% said yes but to proceed with caution. “Speak up and speak loudly. We have been silent too long,” said one respondent.

Commercial Outlook

The pandemic had a massive impact on consumer patterns, wrote the study authors. “Marketing and media leaders must understand which consumer behaviour changes are here to stay.”

“Our pre-pandemic customers are no longer the same,” said one CMO. “Understanding their behaviour is more important than ever, yet has never been more difficult.”

One of the shifts last year was the growth of the “buy local” movement, although that trend did not extend to media investment. “Since the beginning of the pandemic, 51 publications have closed, of which 48 are community newspapers. COVID-19 has compounded financial pressure. As a result, trusted local news, jobs, and the ability to reach Canadians are at risk.”

Despite the tough year, 46% of respondents expect their marketing budgets to increase in 2021, with 28% saying they expect a decrease. Unsurprisingly, digital and other new media will receive the bulk of new spending (see the chart below).

Trust and Partnerships

While most marketers and agency leaders that both agree trust and transparency are vital to strong working relationships, the pandemic seems to have shaken some brand leaders, with 63% saying they are “rethinking all partner preferences as a result of the pandemic.”

In terms of what marketers expect from their agencies, strategic planning, innovation, consumer research and insights, and knowledge and use of data were most important.

“The importance of trust and deep partnership are more critical today than ever before, and embracing diversity and inclusion is the foundation for growth and success,” said Andrew Saunders, chief revenue officer forThe Globe and Mail. “It’s clear from the survey that Canadian leaders are acknowledging and committing to driving sustainable change.”




David Brown