Canary Down The Ad Mine: Covid-19 Recovery Survey, May 2020

Marketing hit hard during pandemic, but showing signs of recovery

Campaign budgets during the coronavirus pandemic have been slashed by up to 75%, it has been revealed by a new global study into the early impact of COVID-19 on the marketing industry.

The Canary Report, published by market research platform Glow and strategy specialists Planning Dirty, breaks down how budgets, campaign activity and new business pitches have been affected across over 35 categories to give agencies and marketers a real-time view of how the pandemic is impacting their industry.

Glow CEO, Tim Clover, said, “The study gives a unique snapshot of how different categories have responded to the crisis in terms of campaign budgets and activity, but also crucially reveals which areas new business is coming from and, therefore, where some optimistic green shoots are starting to emerge.”

According to the study, which represents 110,000 employees in planning and strategy roles across the world, budgets have fallen 25% on average, with campaign activity contracting by 11% and pitch activity down 15%. 

Sectors facing the harshest cuts are those relating to human movement, socialising and entertainment, with significant reductions in Tourism (-75%) and Hospitality (-42%), while campaign budgets in Auto have been slashed by half.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. According to the research, conducted last month, many agencies are actually pitching more.

Clover said, “While the focus of activity appears to be more tactical than strategic, those working in Food and Drink, Government, Finance and Retail are starting to see more new business opportunities, which is great news.”

The study also shows that those sectors put into deep freeze during the lockdown are now starting to pick up again as restrictions are cautiously being lifted worldwide.

Planning Dirty’s Julian Cole said: “This report is the canary down the mine for the marketing and advertising industry. Its primary aim is to provide a useful benchmark for brands and agencies as the world comes out of lockdown and back to work.

“Marketers large and small now have a reliable barometer to help them forecast within the categories they operate, and to better understand how their business is performing compared with industry ‘norms’ in these abnormal times.”

The Canary Report, along with more immersive, fully interactive analysis for those who want to explore the data in more detail is available, free, on the Glow platform. Visit for full access.

For more information about The Canary Report, contact Paul Wells at [email protected] or call +61 423 667 610.


“Feeling the squeeze”: COVID-19 Impact on Budgets (-25%)

  • Campaign budgets have reduced by around 25% across all industries and countries on average.
  • Hardest hit are those relating to human movement, socialising and entertainment.
  • Least hardest hit pertain to the individual and broad societal campaigns:
    • Personal care, Computers / software, Telco
    • Government orgs, Medicine, Pharma 
  • Smaller agencies are impacted more:
    • under 20 people ~30% down
    • 20-250 people ~25% down
    • 250+ people ~20% down

“More work… less money”: COVID-19 Impact on Campaign Activity (-11%)

  • Campaign activity has reduced by about 11% on average, but not everywhere
  • Those pitching more are sustaining pre-COVID levels of campaign activity
  • Respondents state a move towards:
    • more digital activity
    • tactics over strategy
    • less up-front media buying and more flexible options

“Still pedalling hard”: COVID-19 Impact on Pitches (-15%)

  • Pitch activity has only reduced by around 15% on average, but not across the board
  • Several agencies are actually pitching more (in Food, Beverages, Government, Finance and Retail)
  • Activity in several categories that was placed on hold is now starting to re-emerge as restrictions begin to be relaxed (potential green shoots)

If you want to slice, dice and explore this data in more detail, get the full interactive report for free at


Research Notes

  • Anonymous survey was conducted in May 2020 over 5 days
  • Conducted by Glow using the Planning Dirty subscriber list
  • Allowed a single response per participant
  • Assumes every response has equal weighting in the results

Audience Notes

  • 435 planners and strategists representing 110,000 employees in planning and strategy roles (based on the stated size of business they work for)
  • Mostly senior managers and directors with decision-making authority
  • Agency focus with some client-side responses
  • Includes 90+ media agencies
  • Average business size was around 250
  • 35+ categories represented
  • Global study, 50+ countries covered
  • USA, UK and Australia constitute 52% of respondents


Glow is the world’s most powerful market research tool built for marketers.

Blending disruptive technologies, a user-friendly interface and a partnership with Dynata (the world’s leading consumer panel), Glow arms its users with rapid, robust and cost-effective insights.

Visit for more information.


Planning Dirty is an online academy that helps strategists improve their skills with practical lessons, tools and resources.

The Academy is run by Julian Cole who is a strategy consultant to leading brands including Disney, Apple, Facebook, and Uber. Previously he was Head of Comms Planning at BBDO NY.

Visit for more information.