Latest Market update from The Works Search

Market Update blog
Posted: Nov 2020

Our last market update was six months ago, so we thought it was time to share our thoughts on what has been happening since May. Our comments are formed from speaking with a variety of senior comms professionals and CEOs in companies across industry sectors, as well as London agency owners and candidates who are actively looking for a role (ranging from Comms Directors, MDs to agency Account Directors).

Firstly, we have noted that corporate comms professionals working in-house and in London agencies who were interested in moving prior to the pandemic are still open to doing so. However, as we all know, more people have entered the job market due to redundancies, contracts ending and some freelance work drying up.

It does feel that people are generally holding off making hiring decisions and it’s taking longer for roles to get sign off. Overall, there are not as many roles on the market compared to last year.

Who is hiring?

We have filled senior in-house comms roles in London and in the Midlands most recently in construction, property development, fintech, investment management and manufacturing. Interestingly, when taking these briefs, Covid-19 wasn’t having a negative impact on their business, demonstrating that they were mainly newly formed roles rather than replacements.

We did have several conversations in the summer where in-house teams planned to make senior appointments (replacement hires), although, due to budget constraints, most were substituted by junior level hires.

Covid handling is key

How companies handle Covid internally is impacting comms professionals’ decisions to move. We have heard a few times that professionals are unhappy with the way that Covid is being handled internally by their companies (e.g. lack of measures to keep employees safe, insisting on large meetings, and a culture of coming into the office regardless of Government restrictions). Comms professionals, particularly those with internal comms responsibilities, are working hard to influence their employers’ decisions. However, for those whose employers not taking guidance, they are left disgruntled by having to defend their employers’ decisions to colleagues. This can leave them feeling there is no option but to actively seek their next move.

Many comms professionals have understandably found their jobs becoming very Covid dominant and reactionary. While some enjoy utilising their strength in crisis and issues communications, others would like to resume broader comms activities and move forward projects on hold.

Agencies hiring

A few corporate agencies have been hiring with gusto since May, although we saw the most activity generally in September when a fair few agencies got in touch to brief us on investment and growth hires at Director and Associate Director level.

The ones who are faring well in 2020 are mainly mid-size agencies with a strong integrated offering in corporate comms, financial comms, digital, and public affairs. Some of them mentioned winning accounts otherwise handled but their larger competitors. An explanation could be that they are more agile in navigating through the crisis and clients like to have all their comms sorted under one-roof while having ongoing costs concerns.

Freelancers are floundering

Comms professionals who operate as freelancers taking on multiple clients or founded two-to-three people agencies are hardest-hit. They often operate as an extension to in-house teams of clients, handling part of their communications programmes. A few professionals we talked to have had lots of their contracts terminated or clients parking their retainers. Some of them are planning to close their agencies and look for permanent work, others are planning to take on full-time contracts with one company to help them brace through the period, before resuming having multiple clients at a time.

Millennials hardest hit

The millennials seem to be the hardest hit when speaking with agency bosses and millennials themselves. It’s a familiar story that this generation is finding it the hardest to stay on track and keep motivated. Many are not set up for homeworking, unlike like their bosses who may have a home office, and can often be found working from the busy kitchen table. Not going to the office impacts their social life, mental health and also their career progression.

We frequently hear them saying that don’t know if they will get a pay rise or a bonus this year or even if it is appropriate to have this conversation. These personal career conversations are needed more than ever as the no. 1 reason comms professionals move jobs is for lack of career progression (see our blog on why comms professionals really leave their jobs). Bosses may not have had the chance, but it would be wise to find it as this is the year it really counts.

Money money money

We have met with some brilliant candidates with classic backgrounds who are getting increasingly disgruntled with their employers. Those who were asked to take a pay cut in March - eight months ago - to help with cashflow and are still taking a cut are now exasperated, and we are getting calls saying this is their main motivator to move. Interestingly, corporate comms professionals sitting in consumer agencies seem to be suffering the most.

As mentioned above, it does look like there will be limited pay rises and bonuses this year as companies hold on to cash. Our salary guide results are going to be interesting when we gather them in January!

Back to the office and home again

We have noted, however, that many agencies have been brilliant at putting their employees’ welfare front and centre which will certainly help with retention moving forward.

We also started to enjoy the variety of being able to go into the town, meet with people face to face once again and work from the office. It’s funny how everyday can feel the same when you work from home and this provided a welcome change of scene.

Now we are being encouraged by the Government to work at home again, we are back to our Zoom calls. I fear, however, there is some Zoom fatigue setting in as some people have commented on how time consuming it can be, and efficiencies can be lost.

If you feel your career has stagnated recently, have a look at our recent blog on how to ensure career progression whilst working from home, which provides some tips on ensuring we still continue to learn and forward our careers at this time.

Now that Autumn is definitely upon us, we wish everyone the very best with living and working in a Covid world during the colder months, and fingers crossed for a brighter 2021.

The Works Search a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email

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