WARC, the global marketing intelligence service, released its latest report that focuses on the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on strategy, across headcounts, budgets, and the role of strategy during the crisis. The report is based on a global survey of strategists that was fielded during the months of May and June 2020. It also addresses what long-term changes might result in a year that has caused significant disruption to the industry.
The respondents of the report fall into one of two groups. The first group consists of optimists who believe that the impact of Covid-19 was a positive event for the industry while the other group sees the impact as negative. The key reasons for these feelings are highlighted below –
THE OPTIMISTS TABLE
Strategists have been crucial to the pandemic response and have had the chance to shine
- Brands have had to lean on their strategists more than ever before as the pandemic has forced them to rapidly pivot away from planned marketing strategies.
- This enforced agility has resulted in a renewed appreciation of the role strategy plays for some brands, as they have looked to their agencies and consultants for the reassurance and sound advice they have needed to navigate their way through the crisis. Many strategists see now as the time to build on this momentum, capturing the opportunity to lead their clients in different directions while they are open to new ideas.
- 54% of strategists were very involved in their clients’ Covid-19 plans and only 1% had no involvement.
COVID -19 is disrupting the industry and creating new opportunities
- 69% of respondents agreed that Covid-19 would fundamentally change the way that agencies work.
- The optimists among these view the pandemic as a necessary disruption that will drive agency leadership to transform staffing and services to meet the needs of brands in the ‘new normal’.
The crisis has shown the value of a strong, credible brand vision
- The pandemic has driven brands to focus on what the brand itself really means, and the importance of building that platform so that brand health can be maintained, during times when the climate is not right for pushing products.
THE PESSIMISTS TABLE
Staff cuts highlight the paradox of strategy in 2020
- There has been a significant impact of COVID-19 on headcounts in strategy teams, despite strategists responding that they are in more demand and feel more valued than ever.
- There are fears of a growing disconnect between the jobs strategists do in agencies, and the brand strategy clients are looking for. This is accelerating the feeling that strategists are undervalued and mis-sold in agency structures.
Cutbacks threaten the next generation of talent – including the push for greater diversity
- 41% of respondents stated that junior strategists were being made redundant or furloughed. This could result in a lack of new and diverse talent entering the industry.
The crisis has accelerated the shift to short-termism
- There has been a huge shift to short-termism as a result of budget cuts, the need to react rapidly to the coronavirus pandemic, and the need to stimulate quick sales at a time of economic stress.
- Covid-19 is exacerbating the trend towards short-termism. 72% of respondents stated their clients are focusing more on short-term strategies as a result of the crisis.
- At the same time, both at a business level and at a brand level, clients have needed advice on what their brand can and cannot credibly say and do – particularly regarding their ‘purpose’ – at times of crisis. Many strategists feel now is an opportunity to change purposeful marketing for the better.
The role of strategy is experiencing a paradox this year. The pandemic has presented strategists the opportunity to showcase their skills and talents, as clients are in need of sound advice to help change their direction. But the cuts to strategy teams have been in common and furthermore are anticipated.
This is the paradox. At a time when strategists are reporting high levels of influence, their numbers are being reduced.
Strategists are busier than ever
- For those that have not been victim to furlough or redundancy, the pace of decision making and delivery has increased as strategists have tried to keep their clients up to speed with the latest developments in consumer attitudes.
- 68% of respondents agree to the fact that they are having to work harder to prove their value, especially during a period of uncertainty.
The Influence of planning increases
- 59% of strategists believe that their influence has partially increased this year, both within their agency and with clients. This increase is possibly due to the emphasis that the pandemic has placed on internal collaboration.
Covid-19 has demanded new strategic thinking
- 81% said at least some of their clients commissioned new creative work.
- Only 6% of responding strategists said ‘few or none’ of their clients required new strategic thinking.