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Alternatives & MII 2021 Survey Summary Findings

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Key Survey findings

The 2021 Salary, Market Insights & Sentiment Survey, run by Alternatives in conjunction with the Marketing Institute of Ireland, is the largest annual survey of its kind, with over 850 respondents from the marketing, digital and commercial community. The survey was conducted 7th-31st January 2021 and key findings are summarised below and can be downloaded here:

The full report is being sent as a first priority to those who completed the survey and requested a copy. It will be on general release after that. 

I/ Market Outlook 

With the double blow of Covid and Brexit the market place has been badly hit, however businesses are coping better than last year and the outlook for 2021 is more positive.

Covid Impact: Impacted hugely, but overall impact easing a year in.

It was a very tough year on most businesses- 49% felt a negative impact. Sectors most impacted were the broad travel and tourism sector (90-94% negative), as well as motor, food, drinks, manufacturing and construction. But impact was felt more at earlier stages, with 70% negative impact in our pulse survey in April 2020 and 80% in September 2020.

That said the pandemic has had a positive business impact on 1 in 5 respondents’ businesses in sectors such as agri, tech, e-commerce, retail and logistics.

Expected impact of Brexit negative, but less negative than a year ago

Brexit is expected to impact negatively for 33% but this is less negative than a year ago (53%). Impact is highly sector dependent, with one third of respondents negatively impacted and those in FMCG, motor, agri, drinks, retail and manufacturing most impacted. Motor sector 64% negative impact expected vs 94% last year, Retail today 52% vs 82%, FMCG 73% vs 81%, Drinks 53% today vs 81% today.

Trading next 12 months expected to improve

With so many companies having been hit significantly by Covid in 2020, there is an expectation that 2021 will be better. 56% expect trading performance to improve, including those sectors least impacted by Covid last year. 18% expect no change.

However, 23% expect trading to further deteriorate, in particular Motor, FMCG, Construction, Financial Services, Retail.

II/ Impact on Employment, Salaries and Benefits

Employment impacted, but better now than in the 6 months post Covid

The previously very buoyant market and strong demand for talent was impacted immediately and negatively due to Covid. In April 2020 11% were on temporary layoff and 4% unemployed. In October 2020 temporary layoffs had reduced to 3% but 6% of respondents were unemployed. 

Today, 4% respondents are unemployed or on temporary layoff. There is a slight decrease noted in respondents on permanent contracts (85% now vs 87% in 2019).

Hotel and tourism, media & publishing and agencies were the sectors the hardest hit. Those at senior level were impacted the least by permanent redundancy and those at career entry level, the most.

Job Security increasing

Despite the difficult context, 75% of respondents remain secure or very secure in their roles, up on 53% in April and 57% in September 2020. Indeed, last April job security was respondents No 1 worry.

10% are insecure, with support level least secure.

Hiring outlook improving from a low in April 2020, for both permanent and contract roles

65% will hire a little or a lot this year, a big improvement on last year. In April only 19% were hiring. In September this had increased to 42%, so the outlook is considerably more positive now.

Travel/tourism/leisure, media & publishing, manufacturing, FMCG and financial services sectors are least likely to hire and tech, pharma, healthcare, gaming, e-commerce and education sectors are most likely.

Salaries have been impacted by Covid during 2020, but stabilising now

In the course of the last year, 10% have had their salary decreased, 6% by 11% or more. 42% had no change to salary. 44% got an increase in salary last year, mostly of 1-5% magnitude, but we believe that much of these increases were already in place before Covid hit in March.

However, the full year position is not as severe as that noted earlier in 2020. In April 2020, 32% had temporary salary reductions and in October 2020, 24% of respondents did. 46% of directors took temporary salary cuts, half of which of 20% or more. Many had cuts to bonuses and to working hours.

Travel/airlines, media & publishing, agency and tourism sectors had highest levels of salary decreases throughout and pharma and healthcare the highest increases.

Average salaries, which had been increasing year on year are at similar levels to the previous year, except at most junior levels which fell and at director levels which increased.

Note: Ref directors, some of this is explained by more directors on very high pay levels participating in the survey this year vs our end 2019 salary survey. In our experience last year there was little sign of salary increases at any level after Covid hit, quite the contrary. As we saw directors took the greatest temporary hits to salary at the first lockdown when 46% took reductions to salary, half of which 20% or higher.

Salary average and range, by career level:

  • Support (early career) Average €30k vs €34K vs end 2019.             Mid-range €25-40k
  • Practitioner                   Average €51k- no change.                           Mid-range €40-55k
  • Manager                       Average €69k vs 70k.                                      Mid-range €55-85k.
  • Head of                         Average €97k vs €100k.                                  Mid-range €85k-120k
  • Director                        Average €141k vs 132k.                                     Mid-range €110-170k

Benefits are similar to last year, despite Covid.

Benefits remain much as last year and increase in line with seniority. Mobile phones, contributory pensions, bonuses and healthcare are the most frequent benefits. Multinationals offer considerably more benefits across the board than Irish owned companies.

There is less of a differential in benefits this year between males and females which is a positive development.

Annual leave allowances increased, particularly at practitioner and manager level. 

III/ Personal Impact

Coping with Covid- more difficult and junior levels a worry

Early career stage coping less well personally & professionally with Covid. The ability to cope personally and professionally was rated at 63/100. 16% are not coping well personally. (Survey carried out throughout January 2021). This shows a deterioration vs the earliest stage of the pandemic. Rating was 70/100 in April, declining to a 67/100 rating in September and now to 63/100 average today.

The overall rating increases in direct line with seniority. Directors rate themselves as 70/100 overall, with earliest career level at just 55/100.

In addition, 36% of the most junior employees rate 40/100 or lower, which is very concerning.

People are really missing people interaction. Missing colleagues was the No 1 issue for 35% in April and a lack of personal interaction the no 1 concern for 53% in September. Hybrid working models and wellbeing will be critical themes for 2021.

VI/ Working Impact

Remote and hybrid working now and post Covid- Clear move towards blended working

97% of respondents are working remotely 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. In the last pre-Covid survey, 45% of respondents could work remotely from time to time. 73% of respondents will now work full time from home or a blend of remote working and workplace.

Company policy regarding your 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


65% of large companies will operate a blended policy. 17% of larger companies and multinationals will have full-time working from home policies vs 13% of Irish owned companies.

13% of Irish owned companies want their staff back fulltime in the office vs 8% of multinationals. However, 20% of small companies will work from home full-time.

Attractive blended or remote working policies should be considered by companies in the competition for talent.

V/The Outlook for the Marketing Community

From a market, marketing and a resourcing perspective, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, after a very tough year for businesses and for people personally.

Some sectors have been hugely impacted and recovery will be complex. But others have adapted, pivoted or benefited from the crisis. 

Businesses will need the skill sets that a strong, strategic marketing function can bring- customer insights to understand and guide them, clear strategic planning, brand and product optimisation, digital transformation skills. An ability to communicate, engage with customers and ultimately to provide a strong return on investment.

The focus on employees’ wellbeing is paramount in the year ahead. Not all are coping in this crisis and as the lockdown extends many are being pushed to their limits, especially those at earliest career stage. We need to find ways to support and help them navigate their companies and their careers in the months ahead.

Alternatives 2021 Salary, Market Insights & Sentiment Survey, run by Alternatives in conjunction with the Marketing Institute of Ireland. It is the largest annual survey of its kind, with over 850 respondents from the marketing, digital and commercial community. The survey was conducted between 7th-31st January 2021.

Sandra Lawler, Founder Director of Alternatives (, Ireland’s No1 Marketing & digital talent specialists said

“From a marketing and a resourcing perspective, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, after a very tough year for businesses and for people personally. Some sectors have been hugely impacted and recovery will be complex. But others such as tech and retail have adapted, pivoted or benefited from the crisis.  The picture that emerges now is one of a marketing industry that is resilient with a pragmatic but cautiously optimistic view of how 2021 and beyond will unfold.

Trading conditions are expected to pick up, a majority of respondents are secure or very secure in their positions and the hiring outlook is encouraging. The surge in popularity of remote working, with more than half of companies talking about a blended hybrid workforce, is a gamechanger.  Companies who offer flexibility will be those who attract and retain the best.”

David Field, CEO of The Marketing Institute of Ireland ( said:

“At a time when it is critical for businesses to rally their people and sustain performance, our survey clearly shows more junior employees are feeling more pressure due to the impact of Covid. It also shows Covid has had a significant impact on the marketing industry, but despite this, marketers have continued to play a key role in driving business performance and engagement with consumers.

Businesses wishing to maintain momentum, drive business performance and retain their talent would be wise to be aware of the pressures their teams are under and ensure they underpin their 2021 plans with supports and programmes to help their teams cope and get the best from their people. A critical component of this is providing people the opportunity to upskill and to grow and develop in their roles.”