Q1 2020 Bellwether Report

UK marketing budgets decline at fastest rate since 2009 global financial crisis.

The IPA Bellwether Report is a quarterly survey outlining companies’ marketing spend intentions and financial confidence.

The Bellwether Report is researched and published by IHS Markit on behalf of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The report features original data drawn from a panel of around 300 UK marketing professionals and provides a key indicator of the health of the economy. The survey panel has been carefully selected to represent all key business sectors, drawn primarily from the nation’s top 1000 companies.

Key findings from the Q1 2020 survey:

  • Total marketing budgets decline at fastest rate since the global financial crisis
  • Coronavirus pandemic causes broad-based cuts to all forms of marketing activity, with market research and events the main casualties
  • Company-specific and industry-wide financial prospects turn strongly pessimistic
  • Budget forecasts for 2020/21 point to strong optimism as firms expect UK economy to recover during the coming financial year
  • Adspend forecast to shrink in 2020, but recovery set for 2021 onwards

Commenting on the latest survey results, Paul Bainsfair, IPA Director General says:

"The Q1 results already reveal a sobering snapshot of the initial impact of COVID-19 on UK businesses’ marketing decisions despite fieldwork for this quarter’s Bellwether Report closing just a few days after Government enacted the lockdown. These are undoubtedly the toughest overall trading times that any business and indeed any marketer will have ever experienced, but while we suspect the fuller, sharper extent of this global pandemic to be captured in Q2 data, the hope from this report is that we will see a more upbeat end to the year.

"To achieve this return to growth will require UK marketers to make bold decisions. When recession looms it is understandable if businesses try and shore up short-term profits by cutting variable expenditure, such as advertising. However, as our evidence from past downturns shows, unless companies are saving cash simply to survive, or because they can no longer supply advertised services, cutting ad budgets – relative to competitor spend – is a high risk strategy. Such a move exposes firms to losing market share, foregoing sales and delaying the recovery of profits in the long term. Those brands that hold their nerve will gain extra share of voice which will achieve competitive gains."