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Impact on marketing from Covid-19 crisis

18 March 2021 by Sandra Lawler

Impact on marketing from Covid-19 crisis

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Sandra Lawler Leadership, Digital, Marketing...

Impact and Outlook for the Marketing Community

This article first featured in the March 2021 edition of 

We are one year into living with Covid and operating in truly unprecedented times, an over-used but accurate term. We’ve just completed the Alternatives & Marketing Institute of Ireland 2021 Salary, Market Insights & Sentiment Survey with 855 respondents and share, hot off the press, how the marketing community has been impacted by Covid in business, employment and personal terms and what the outlook is for the year ahead.

Impact on business

49% of respondents feel their businesses have been impacted negatively to date by Covid and 28% say the impact has been neutral. Although significant, this is a much less negative view than last year. Last May, two months into the crisis, 81% felt negatively impacted by the pandemic and six months later in September 2020, 70% did (Source: Alternatives Covid Pulse surveys May/September). 

Those who have been most hit throughout are the broad travel and tourism sector, as well as consumer goods such as motor, food, drinks, manufacturing and construction. Irish owned companies have been harder hit than multinationals. Brexit of course has also impacted on FMCG and drinks amongst others.

However, one in five say their business has been positively impacted by the pandemic, a story we don’t often hear. Those in the agri, tech, e-commerce, retail and logistics sectors have seen the most positive effect of it on their businesses.

With so many companies having been hit significantly by Covid in 2020, there is an expectation that 2021 will be better and 56% expect trading performance to improve. As we will see, this is also reflected in future hiring plans.

Personal Impact

On a personal level, when asked to rate themselves on how they were coping personally with Covid on a scale of 1 to 100, the survey average was 62 out of 100.

The survey was carried in January 2021 against a backdrop of lockdown, highest new cases and deaths in the community, which is likely to have influenced this. These scores are lower than those recorded in our surveys in May (70/100) and September 2020 (67/100).

The average however masks significant differences in coping levels. Those at more senior career stages are coping considerably better. One third of directors are coping very well at 80/100 or more and three quarters at 60/100 or more. Conversely those early in their careers rate themselves at just 55/100 on average, which is worrying low, and one in four are finding coping very challenging.

Coping personally with Covid, by career level:





Head of



Average rating/ 100







Impact on Employment

The employment market was significantly hit in March 2020 as a direct result of Covid and in particular in sectors such as tourism and leisure, some retail and FMCG and agencies.

A year in and, outside these sectors, it has stabilised somewhat. Today, 85% remain employed on permanent contracts vs 87% end 2019 and 7% are on fixed term contracts. Unemployment/furlough amongst respondents has doubled from 2% in 2019 to 4% in this survey, but this is significantly down from the first Covid lockdown period.

90% of those at practitioner level (typically 4-9 years into their career) have permanent contracts, the most of all levels, the result of the high competition for practitioner level employees in recent years. At support level however a significantly lower 77% are on permanent contracts and 13% are on fixed term arrangements. In addition, 5% of support level respondents are unemployed or on temporary layoff, the highest of all career levels. They were also those most likely to be put on temporary layoff when the crisis first hit.

Despite the current difficult context there is a sense that better times are to come. 75% of respondents now feel secure or very secure in their roles, considerably up on our Pulse surveys of last May (53%) and September (57%).

10% however remain insecure in their roles, particularly those at support level and head of function level (12-13%).  Those least secure are from the agency, FMCG, financial services, hotel/tourism and drinks sectors, those impacted by Covid and/or Brexit.

Impact on Salary

Early into Covid there were temporary changes to salary and other elements of remuneration, with certain sectors disproportionally hit. A year into the crisis, we see that 10% overall have had their salary reduced, of which 6% by 11% or more. Travel/airlines, media & publishing, agency and tourism sectors were the most impacted. 42% had no increase or decrease to their salary last year.

However, a significant 44% got a salary increase last year-amongst them pharma, healthcare, logistics and FMCG sectors- although many of these increases may have already been in place by March, before Covid hit. 65% of increases were of the 1-5% magnitude.

Latest Salaries

Salary range, average and % change by career level

Career Level

Survey Range 2021

Average 2018

Average 2019

Average Jan 2021

Support (early career)















Head of











There is a large range in each salary band, which varies from year to year, based on who responds to the survey, the size company and sector, the scope of the role. Although we are never comparing exactly like for like, we can see that support level respondents have been hit harder by this crisis than other levels in salary terms.

Latest Salaries by Top 20 Roles


Min €

Max €

Average €

Account Executive




Account Manager




Account Manager / Director




Brand Manager




CEO/MD/Country Mgr/Owner




CEO/MD/ Owner (Agency)




Commercial Director




Communications Manager




Communications Head Of




Digital/Online Executive




Digital/Online Manager




Digital / Online Head Of




Insights Manager




Marketing Assistant




Marketing Executive




Marketing Executive Senior




Marketing Manager-Practitioner level




Marketing Manager- Manager level




Marketing Head Of




Marketing Director/CMO





Impact on Benefits

Top benefits are mobile phones, contributory pensions, bonuses and healthcare.

Benefits remain much as last year and have not been impacted by the crisis. Indeed, slightly more are getting healthcare as a benefit, a result potentially of the increased focus on health and wellbeing by both employers and employees. As we saw in previous years, multinationals offer considerably more benefits across the board than Irish owned companies and smaller companies.

11% get no benefits at all and this ranges from 5% at higher career levels, to 35% of those at most junior level.

In terms of annual leave, 85% get 20-29 days and career level remains the key determinant in amount of leave given. Overall, annual leave entitlement increased in the last year, with 49% getting 25 days or more vs 44% last survey.


Future Outlook

Working from home

94% of respondents’ companies offer remote working options to them at the moment. 66% of respondents are working remotely due to Covid; 31% are working remotely, unrelated to Covid.

With regard to plans for 2021 and beyond, there has been a huge shift and 73% of respondents will now work full time from home or a blend of remote working and workplace.

Company policies for place of work in 2021 and beyond

Working from home full-time on ongoing basis


Work a mix of home and office/workplace on ongoing basis


Work back in the office/workplace full-time as soon as we can


Company hasn't decided yet


I'm not aware yet


As flexibility and remote working are key engagement factors for employees, attractive remote working policies should be considered by companies trying to compete in for best talent.

Who is hiring

The previously very buoyant market and strong demand for talent was dampened due to Covid. Following a period of lower hiring activity in 2020, a majority of companies plan to hire again in 2021, although many still have hiring plans on hold.

9% plan to hire a lot and 56% a little. Those hiring a lot include tech, pharma, healthcare, gaming, e-commerce, education.  Those not hiring include those most heavily hit by Covid and Brexit- travel, tourism/leisure, media & publishing, manufacturing, FMCG and financial services.

Outlook for 2021

Businesses have already weathered a lot but are cautiously anticipating better times ahead. Strong marketers will have a key role to play in helping companies stay connected and engaged with the needs of their customer base and to evolve their strategies. The opportunities for marketers with strong strategic planning, brand, digital and commercial skills will undoubtedly increase in the months ahead.

People however are personally at a low ebb and in particular at more junior levels. Employee wellbeing is critical in the months ahead and mentoring and support will be key.

At Alternatives we can provide flexible ways to access great marketing talent to help companies address the challenges ahead and can advise those looking to support and grow both their businesses and their careers.

This article first appeared in the March 2021 edition of

Source: Data is based on the Alternatives & Marketing Institute of Ireland Salary, Market Insights & Sentiment Survey, carried out in January 2021. It is the largest annual survey of its type, with 855 respondents from the broad marketing, digital and commercial community.

Sandra Lawler is Founder Director of Alternatives (, Ireland’s leading marketing talent house.

Full survey results will soon be made available at and