Covid Business Impacts revealed; Salaries affected but steadying;

Positive hiring outlook; surge in preference for long term remote working

Marketing role more strategic; Diversity, room to improve

“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.”

That’s according to Sandra Lawler, Founder Director of Alternatives (, Ireland’s No1 Marketing & digital talent specialists.

She was commenting on the launch of the 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.

Employee engagement / happiness, coping and working with Covid, gender profile and diversity, salary and market outlook predictions, hiring prospects and Brexit impact are some of the key areas where respondents made their opinions known.

Key Findings:

  • People rated their level of coping personally with Covid at 63 out of 100.
  • 97% are working remotely currently – 15% will work full time from home on on-going basis while 58% of companies will operate a blended remote / office policy in 2021 and beyond.
  • Employment has been heavily impacted, but it is better now than in the 6 months post March 2020. 75% of respondents remain secure or very secure in their current roles.
  • Salaries have been impacted somewhat but benefits remain similar to last year, despite the pandemic.
  • The hiring outlook is more positive and 65% will hire a little or a lot this year
  • Covid impacted hugely on business. 70-80% negative impact at earlier stages in 2020. Now 49% of respondents reporting a negative impact. Sectors most impacted were the broad travel and tourism sector as well as motor, food, drinks, manufacturing and construction.
  • By contrast, Covid had a positive business impact on 1 in 5 of those in sectors such as Agri, Tech, eCommerce, Retail and Logistics.
  • 56% expect improved trading conditions in 2021.
  • The role of marketing is evolving to become more strategic and marketers are working increasingly with other functions to optimise areas such as lead generation, customer experience, business strategy and data analytics.
  • For many businesses, marketing resources are tight. 45% have marketing teams of 5 people or less and 46% work with budgets of €500k or less. 43% however will have budgets of €1m plus and 39% have teams of 10 or more.
  • 20% plan to increase spend, while 28% plan to decrease budgets this year. Key areas of spend include digital content, PPC/SEO and above the line communications.

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, with both budgets and salaries being cut, 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 your talent time and opportunity to upskill and continue to grow and develop in their roles.”



For further information:

David O’Brien, Relevant PR – Telephone 01 6499025, Mobile 087 2208636



1. Market Sentiment & Outlook

The marketplace was badly hit and Covid impacted hugely. It was a very tough year on most businesses- 49% negative impact. But impact was felt more at earlier stages (70-80% negative impact in 2020), as companies and people adapted.

That said, it has had a positive business impact on 1 in 5 respondents’ businesses in sectors such as Agri, Tech, e-Commerce, Retail and Logistics.                                

Brexit is expected to impact negatively for 33% but less negative than a year ago (45%) while 56% expect better trading in the 12 months ahead, particularly tech, drinks, e-commerce, agri, travel and professional/business services sectors. 23% expect conditions to deteriorate.

The Hiring outlook is also more positive and 65% will hire a little or a lot this year, a big improvement on last year. Travel, media & publishing, manufacturing, FMCG and financial services sectors are least likely to hire and tech, pharma, healthcare and gaming, gaming, are most likely.


2. Employment, salaries and benefits

Employment has been impacted, but it is better now than in the 6 months post first Covid lockdown.

Following a number of months last year with high temporary layoffs in several sectors, there are 4% of respondents unemployed or on temporary layoff now. Tourism, media & publishing and agencies were the hardest hit last year. Those at senior level were impacted the least and those at career entry level, the most.

Salaries have also been impacted by Covid. Many were impacted temporarily throughout the year, but by January 10% of respondents had a salary decrease.

However, 44% did get an increase in salary, although much of this might have been in place by the time COVID-19 hit in mid-March.   Benefits are similar to last year, despite Covid, with more getting healthcare now. there is also less disparity in benefits between males and females, which had previously been the case


3. Employee Engagement + Happiness Coping with and working during Covid

Early career stage coping less well personally with Covid

When asked about personal engagement / happiness, the average rating was a score of 63 out of 100. However, 16% are not coping well personally.

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

One third of directors are coping very well at 80/100+ and three quarters at 60/100 or more.

Key factors in driving engagement are working in a meaningful role and to work alongside great colleagues, and with a great boss. Earlier career stage respondents, who particularly value this people interaction, are much less engaged and coping less well overall. 

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

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. 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 15%
Work a mix of home and office/workplace on ongoing basis 58%
Work back in the office/workplace full-time as soon as we can 10%
Company hasn’t decided yet 10%
I’m not aware yet 4%


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.


4. Salaries have been impacted by Covid

Salaries have been impacted by Covid. 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%, but in some cases these may already have been in place before Covid hit.

However, the full year position is not as severe as that noted earlier in 2020. In the Alternatives Pulse survey in May 2020, 32% had temporary salary reductions and in October 2020, 24% of respondents did. 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 are at similar levels to the previous year, except at most junior levels which fell and at director levels which increased. That said, directors had taken 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. Mobile phones, contributory pensions, bonuses and healthcare are the most frequent benefits. 11% get no benefits at all and this ranges from 5-8% at higher career levels, to 35% of those at support level. Multinationals offer considerably more benefits across the board than Irish owned companies.


5. The evolving marketing role and focus

Marketing role is considered somewhat more strategic than in the last annual survey. 63% felt that marketing played a strategic, revenue generating role in their organisation, in particular those sectors that are very brand and consumer focused.

We see an increase in shared responsibilities with other functions, in areas such as business strategy and customer experience, and a resultant need for broad business, ROI and customer focused skillsets as well and strong stakeholder skills.

As a result of Covid and Brexit for certain sectors, marketers are now operating with tighter resources. Teams and budgets are small and smaller than in our last survey. 45% teams are of 5 people or less, compared to 42% end 2019.

Budget sizes remain small and 46% plan to spend €500k or less. 28% plan to decrease budgets further this year. Key areas of spend will be digital content, PPC/SEO and above the line communications.


6. Gender dimension

There are 1.8 females for every male, unchanged from last year, with less of a differential at director level.

Male respondents continue to be paid more on average than their female counterparts, except for the first stage of their career. The differential then increases the more senior the career level, up to director level when the differential reaches 9%, or an average of €12k. However, the differential between male and female respondents has decreased vs the last annual survey.

 7. Diversity

Just one in five respondents consider their companies or functions to be very diverse, with most (63%) considering it somewhat diverse.

Although most feel that they are quite diverse in gender and age, diversity in ethnicity and physical ability score very low. Larger, multinationals are better. Smaller Irish owned companies have a longer way to go.


8. Place of Work Polices for 2021

97% are still working remotely now. 58% of companies will operate a blended policy going forward. 15% will work full-time from home on an ongoing basis. Flexible, blended working policies will be key in motivating and managing expectations of staff in the months ahead.


Full survey findings to follow once all respondents have received their copy.