Stress and cuts: exclusive poll on the state of marketing

An industry survey commissioned by alan. examines the challenges senior marketers face in the wake of Covid-19. The results paint a telling picture, according to Managing Director Richard Hadler.

At alan. we spend our days talking to CMOs. We work face to face with elite performers from a wide cross section of industries, from banking to tech giants. The common factor?

Marketers are stressed. Worse, they feel under-resourced, unappreciated and misunderstood.

It's partly why they come to us. We help CMOs get results in the toughest of situations.

But we wanted to find out the reality. What's it really like being a CMO today? 

We commissioned an industry survey to find out. In September we polled 600 UK and Ireland based marketing leaders in tech, finance and professional services. This included 175 CMOs.

Our findings illustrate the true nature of the job: massive pressure, but some incredible opportunities too.

First up, the survey reveals the impact of COVID-19. We already knew from industry data that in the three months to July UK ad spend hit the lowest levels since record began, and boy did this show in our findings. 

More than half of senior marketers (53%) have suffered budget cuts. Two in five say they feel less secure in their roles compared to six months ago, while 71% are being asked to achieve more with less. Headcount in particular has taken a battering, with 43% experiencing staffing cuts.

These may be the toughest figures since the 2008 financial crisis.

We also asked about how the marketing department is perceived within the company. This question really got to the heart of why marketers feel stressed. For more than one in five companies, marketing is neither understood nor appreciated as either “a necessary business function” or a “cost centre that doesn't add value”. Something is clearly going wrong.

To compound the problem, marketers have developed a worrying view of their agency partners. 31% said they’re not currently getting good value for money, and one in four think agencies don't understand their objectives. 

We asked marketers why they think agencies are failing to deliver. Overall, 42% said agencies don't act in the best interest of their clients. An incredible admission. Complaints included lack of responsiveness (39%), lack of honesty about timeframes (37%), and a lack of understanding of the sector (35%). Pretty brutal.

The research opened our eyes. We knew marketers were stressed, but these numbers told us why. Their agencies are failing them. We now understand the mechanics: agencies are self-absorbed, slow to react and lack deep sector knowledge. 

It also explains why we’re thriving at alan. Our model builds close relationships with CMOs, so we solve problems no matter what the challenge. Clearly, it’s more sought after than we first believed. 

A final thought. 

We split the survey data by the reputation of the marketing department, comparing departments that are “revered” to ones seen as a “cost centre” within a company. 

What we found was astonishing: the marketing department’s relationship with their agency has a direct correlation with their reputation internally. 

The best marketing departments have strong relationships with their agencies (78% believe they get good value from their agency) and the worst do not (only 38% of low performing marketing departments can say the same). 

In other words, agencies are critical. If marketers work with the right one, the reputation of their entire marketing operation can be transformed.

Richard Hadler

Managing Director, alan.

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