HaveYouHeard logoby MarkLives & HaveYouHeard. A week ago we invited readers to participate in the first South African advertising communications services industry survey to track the impact of covid-19 upon you, your agency/company and the brands you manage. The #adlandcovid19 survey results are now in and help build a national view of the evolving environment.

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Sample size

All 110 survey participants work in advertising, marketing, production or a brand-related role at a company. Thirty-four percent of respondents works in organisations employing more than 76 or more people. Thirty-eight percent has 11–20 years’ experience in the industry, while 22% has 21+ years’ experience. Fifty percent of respondents resides in Jozi and 40% in Cape Town.

Eighty-four percent of respondents believes that covid-19 presents an incredibly serious pandemic, while the remaining 15% believes it is a problem but not as bad as it’s being made out to be.

#covid19ZAsurveyadland: opinion on pandemic

Industry view

Fifty-two percent of respondents believes their companies has responded early to the pandemic, 37% says they responded on time and 10% felt they had responded too late. Sixty-two percent rates their organisations’ responses as very good, 30% as adequate and 6% as lacking.

Respondents have offered several insights into the state of the industry:

The positive

“They had equipped the teams that did not have the right facilities to work from home. They created a priority list of those that need to be WFH [working from home] sooner I.e [sic] parents, those with compromised health, those that take public transport. By the time the lockdown announcement was made 85% of our workforce was successfully working from home.”

“Dongles were provided to everyone who needed. Salaries were paid early to help us prepare for the lockdown and they’ve offered to cover the costs of testing if we’re unable to afford it.”

The negative

“They gave us the option to stay at home when things got serious in SA (when most other companies were ensuring employees work at home). However, there was non-spoken pressure to still come to work, with it being backed-up by the fact that we’re a small team and thus don’t need to place the same social distancing measures as bigger companies. However, overall they’ve reacted on time and have been understanding of the psychological effects that this can have on their employees.”

“Now our response is currently more reactive, and we are operating in crisis mode as cashflow dwindles. However, we are choosing to use the downtime to strategise our business and hone our marketing plan for the post lockdown recovery.”

“We were allowed to work from home about a week before lockdown. But our boss adds to my anxiety by continuously reminding us that our salaries are ‘up in the air’ with clients cancelling projects. As [it] stands I cannot say with certainty that I have a salary coming in at the end of April.”

“However, what was not necessarily taken into consideration is some staff do not have connectivity at home and this needs to be supplied and maintained so some of us are using our own resources to stay connected.”

“We were initially told to keep coming to the office. After employees protested, they allowed us to work from home but consistently threatened that we’d have to go back to working in the office whenever management got annoyed with the expected hiccups associated with everyone switching to WFH. They only stopped threatening after Cyril’s address. All comms from management has been centered around meeting deadlines, very little about employee safety or support.”

The downright scary

“We have not been provided with adequate tools to work from home. I’ve opted to use my personal resources (data) so that I can still continue working. We also received an email this morning stating our April 2020 salaries would be paid with a 50% cut due to the effects covid-19 has had on the company’s ROI. It’s already a small company so they [cut off].”

“They have put profit over people and have had extremely disappointing leadership considering it’s one of the top companies in South Africa within the liquor industry.”

“I don’t know if anyone or any business could have prepared for [covid-19]. Our big clients response to it has been the most disappointing. From canceling orders on projects to asking for extended trading terms will affect us dramatically.”

Asked how the coronavirus pandemic impacted on negatively on their organisation, 61% has noted declines in billings, 34% a decrease in work commissioned or briefed, 29% a decline in staff morale, 18% reports retrenchments or salary cuts, and 10% reports decreased internal communication.

When asked how long they thought the pandemic would impact on their business, 30% suggests for 4–6 months and 23% predicts a year or more; 19% feels would impact for 2–3 months and 18% suggests 7—12 months. In short, 48% of respondents believes the impact will be felt for a period longer than six months.

Thirty-seven percent of respondent agrees that their companies’ projected income will decrease substantially over the next 3–6 months; another 30% predicts it will decreased slightly; 20% is unsure; and only 3% predicts an increase.

#covid19ZAsurveyadland: company's projected income

Sixty-four percent predicts increases in digital spend, 43% predicts increases on concept or strategy spend, 29% on streaming video, 25% on PR and 23% on mobile marketing.

Sixty-eight percent predicts a decrease in spend on events, promotions or activations, while 46% predicts decreased spend on OOH; 36% predicts declines in print spend, 25% on sponsorships and 16% on influencer marketing.

#covid19ZAsurveyadland: decreased spend

National view

Seventy percent of respondents feels that government has responded on time, 15% believe it has responded early and 14% too late. Sixty-seven percent rates government response as very good, 27% as adequate and 5% as lacking. Thirty-four percent feels that the long-term outcome is that South Africa will experience some negative change, while 30% believe SA will experience enormous negative change; 27% believe the country could experience some positive change.

Personal impact

Asked what impact has the coronavirus pandemic has had on them professionally, 41% notes it as fairly negative and 8% as extremely negative; 24% reports no impact professionally; and 22% suggests a generally positive impact.

Respondents have offers a number of insights into the state of their careers and professional outlook:

The positive

“Opportunity to be involved in different projects — the move offsite has literally broken down silos.”

“I find it easier to state my point of view more directly now that we’re talking mostly online, which I think is good for growth. I also enjoy the thought of all of us going through this unified struggle (sounds sadistic) — because it’s only really struggle and hardship that makes you grow and learn.”

“Through studying, working experience and general proactivity — I can adjust my goals and ensure I achieve them according to the direction the world is shifting towards, instead of against. I have children to look after as I am a single mother.”

“I offered my clients covid-19 advice without waiting for a brief and demonstrated my value to them”

“Has ignited my hunger for reinvention, reinvigoration and reorientation.”

“While this is a tragedy on so many levels, being forced to work in a new way has led to innovative thinking and approach to both process and the work itself. More time to work quietly and concentrate. More impetus to work hard and get things done as not to hold others up. Less unnecessary meetings and more productive ones when they do happen. Proving to myself that [I] am able to operate as efficiently if not more so working remotely while still collaborating with my team and the agency at large.”

“Finding silver linings in new, modern ways of working. The ability to recognise which team members thrive on remote working and seeing who rises to support our clients during these tough times.”

The negative

“I don’t feel encouraged about the future, and question how essential ad/marketing related skills are in the greater scheme of things.”

“Immediate loss of income so I have had to look for new ways to bring in revenue.”

“[It’s] having am impact on my company’s income which my professional role is tied to. Currently [I] do not feel the negative impact as we adjust, but as the [covid-19] effects increase in its severity on business, so too may it negatively affect my company and potentially my position within it.”

“[T]he brand that I work on has frozen all jobs for the next 6-months which means my job with the agency is not secure.”

“60% of my job has to do with events. Most events are either cancelled or postponed. This affects me directly”

The heartbreaking


“[W]orking from home and parenting with no help is hard.”

Talking about a possible change in productivity while working remotely during lockdown, 28% of respondents believes their productivity will increase substantially, 26% a slight increase in productivity, and 25% believes it will decrease. Fifty-seven percent says their companies are trying to address their concerns, but 42% says they aren’t.

Decreased revenue, unpaid salaries and job security are major concerns for respondents when asked about their primary professional concern going forward.

“Retrenchments feel almost inevitable.”

“That there’ll be less work to do as more brands put their marketing on hold.”

“Long-term sustainability and impact on business model.”

“People will probably start struggling with the isolation that can lead to increased levels of depression and decreased productivity.”

How confident do you feel about your company’s future, post the coronavirus pandemic? Forty-seven percent of respondents says they are fairly confident, with 29% unsure and 18% extremely confident.


“There is consensus within the industry regarding both the severity of the pandemic and the likely economic impact,” comments Claudia Schonitz, HaveYouHeard head of research and insights, on the survey results. “The majority of agencies anticipate a negative impact on billings, particularly in events/activations and outdoor activity. Demand could rebound after the crisis but when and how this will evolve is uncertain, making it more difficult to prepare and future-proof agencies. In the short term, there is respite for digital and concept/strategy activity.

“Government and most companies have responded with resourcefulness, adaptability and transparent communication. This brings renewed confidence in our leaders and, despite our isolation, a renewed sense of community.”

Follow-up survey

Want to participate in the follow-up survey? Submit your email address here.

See also


MarkLives logoThis MarkLives #CoronavirusSA special section contains coverage of how the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, and its resultant disease, covid-19, is affecting the advertising, marketing and related industries in South Africa and other parts of Africa, and how we are responding. Updates may be sent to us via our contact form or the email address published on our Contact Us page. Opinion pieces/guest columns must be exclusive.

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Published by Herman Manson is edited by Herman Manson. Follow us on Twitter -

One reply on “EXCLUSIVE: #covid19’s impact on SA adland — survey results”

  1. More than the figures, the comments made an interesting – and often, disturbing – narrative. But, I have faith …

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