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Coronavirus Report – How long can the creative industry survive in lockdown?

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Being one of the world's largest creative communities, Creativepool is in a unique position to understand how the creative industry is struggling in self-isolation for the Coronavirus lockdown.

We had the power to make a difference by asking about the impact of the lockdown on businesses, employees and freelancers across our community. We created two surveys and launched them last month – one for full-time employees and freelancers, one for agencies, marketers and business leaders. Both included a section for unemployed creatives.

This is the last of a series of articles which was aimed at measuring the impact of COVID-19 on the creative industries. This article will gather all the key data we have analysed thus far, in a final attempt to understand the consequences of the lockdown on creatives all around the world.

Struggling

It is not hard to imagine how much the creative industry is struggling right now. The previous pieces of our report have unveiled shortage of clients, projects, severe difficulties for freelancers and more, painting a grim picture of the creative sector as the lockdown continues across the world. Our survey was only conducted last month, and though more and more business have adapted to the lockdown, it is likely that some are still left to struggle.

It seems to be the case of small agency leaders, owners of limited companies who have reached out to let us know they have been completely overlooked by their government – especially in the UK. But the rest of the industry isn’t in a much better shape.

Nearly three-quarters of the surveyed creatives have stated they will not be able to survive more than 3 months without work, even considering all their emergency savings. Of those, a staggering 27.4% has said they will likely survive less than 1 month [Graph 1].

Even agency leaders haven’t painted much of a reassuring picture. Whether they belonged to small or larger organisations, 61.9% said their business is likely to cease operations within 6 months [Graph 2]. Which means a majority of businesses is likely to shut down as early as in September.

73.7% of creatives won’t survive more than 3 months with less work

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Graph 1

6 in 10 organisations may shut down as early as in September

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Graph 2

It doesn’t help that most businesses have been forced to reduce their productivity because of the lockdown. Production houses have certainly been hit the hardest, with projects put on hold and/or cancelled, but the overall creative industry is experiencing a shortage of clients and projects [Graph 3], meaning that the extent of the issue may be more widespread than anticipated.

Nearly half of respondent organisations is experiencing ‘considerably’ less clients due to the lockdown

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Graph 3

Governments around the world have responded quickly to such urgent needs, offering help and funds to those struggling financially during the lockdown. However, as stated above, some realities have been overlooked, and perhaps in an attempt to reach a broader of a solution as possible, some governments have failed to consider some more specific realities that are now struggling, such as limited company owners and freelancers with an unstable source of income.

As a result, most creatives are sceptical that financial help from the government will be enough to keep the economy afloat. And while 52% are uncertain, only 1 in 4 believes government measures will actually help. Whether said measures are appreciated or not, however, they are certainly useful to help companies hang in there while they wait out the pandemic, and over 50% will resort to government help to support its employees and retain its staff [Graph 4].

Half of the respondent agencies will have taken advantage of government help during the lockdown

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Graph 4

Here are some comments from our respondents:

“I was made redundant late 2019. There was nothing going on regarding suitable roles for me in December and then again during January/February. I found a freelance role early in March. I was able to work in their studio (which was great) until mid March and then I transferred and worked from home for them for two weeks.”

“Then on 27th March at 5.30pm I was told they couldn't afford to keep me any longer due to the current Covid-19 situation. They were struggling with clients deciding not to pay, and they needed to look after the permanent staff, pay the bills etc. All understandable but upsetting for myself and my situation. They said they would be in touch as they still need to cover the role which is being vacated for maternity leave, when (or if) they are back up and running again.

I don't know how I'll pay the bills in the next few months.

Unemployed Creative, United Kingdom

We are a small agency. At least 2 big clients have asked us to pause all their communications in order to not pay their fees but we decided to keep on supporting them. We have decided not to leave anyone unemployed. But we don't know how much time we will resist…

Owner, Advertising Agency, Uruguay
 

Adapting

While the industry waits out the pandemic, businesses have been obviously adapting in different ways to avoid losing all their staff or sources of income. At the time when we carried out the survey in mid-April, only 12.9% of organisations had furloughed some or most of their staff, and the vast majority was working from home [Graph 5].

In such fast-paced times it is likely that those numbers have changed drastically and more businesses have chosen to furlough their employees in the past few weeks. We hope to have more information on that in the near future.

Sadly, 1 in 10 organisations had already ceased operations last month. We expect these to be mostly production companies, now stuck at home with little to no chances of seeing their projects to completion.

Last month, the vast majority of the industry was already working from home

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Graph 5

This also means that some organisations have been forced to take drastic measures to keep their ship afloat. Some creatives have been made redundant, and nearly 50% of the unemployed respondents believe they have lost their job due to the outbreak[Graph 6].

Job offers have been withdrawn in some cases, while other creatives have been laid off with no pay until further notice. Regardless of the adopted solutions, the lockdown has had a devastating impact on the job market in the creative industries, with consequences on the mental health of creatives as well [Graph 7].

Almost half of unemployed creatives believe they lost their job because of coronavirus

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Graph 6

7 in 10 respondents are at least moderately worried about losing their current job

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Graph 7

But perhaps the most worrying finding is that most creative organisations are not hiring at the moment. This is true across all levels and sectors of the industry, all over the world. Exactly 80% of both small and larger organisations are not currently looking for new talent, which is undoubtedly putting some further strain on job seekers throughout the industry [Graph 8].

4 out of 5 organisations are not hiring at the moment

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Graph 8

In this climate of uncertainty and delicate business dynamics, it might be tempting to give up to our darkest thoughts and stop trying. No matter your background, career or interest, these are hard times for everyone, and the lockdown is affecting both our personal and professional lives in ways that will stick for years – if not decades – to come.

Here are some more comments from our respondents:

One thing that seems to be ignored and unreported is the amount of pressure working parents are now under, trying to fulfil everything that is still required by your employer, remotely, while keeping your kids going without plonking them in front of the TV is nearly impossible. The impact this is having on family mental health is absolutely horrendous. We've been left to just get on with it. A lot of us are already struggling to cope.

Head of Graphic Design, Design Agency, United Kingdom

Sri Lanka has been under curfew for the last 3 weeks. As an employer, my responsibility towards my team is immense. It's stressful to keep them motivated, inspired and ensure they get paid without business coming in. However, we are adapting to work from home and fingers crossed that we will pull through!

Managing Director, Advertising Agency, Sri Lanka
 

Reinventing

And yet, now more than ever, it is fundamental to remain hopeful and keep pushing. With a resilience proper of creative spirits, most of our respondent creatives are doing just that.

Over 60% of the surveyed creatives are finding new ways to reinvent their craft[Graph 9]. Whether it is by upping their skills, following online courses or finding opportunities where they’ve never looked before, most are stepping out of their comfort zone, picking up their creative strength and forging ahead.

This is especially true of freelancers, who, as we mentioned above, have been possibly hit the hardest by the lockdown measures and the subsequent lack of clients. But this trend in the freelance scene may be a strong indicator of the common sentiment right now: though things are hard, creatives are hard-wired to constantly face struggle, adaptation and reinvention.

60.1% of creatives are using this time to reinvent themselves

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Graph 9

And despite the hardship of these times, now as last month, creatives are keeping hopeful. 71.6% of our respondents believe the creative industry will either go back to normal or will evolve into something new, in an almost even split between the most assertive ‘Yes’ and the strongest hopes for a new normal [Graph 10].

Creatives are keeping hopeful: 7 in 10 believe the creative industry will be able to bounce back

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Graph 10

All of this brings us to a simple conclusion. It would be foolish to not consider the stark amount of negative data that we collected in our survey. The creative industry is struggling and anyone can imagine that by just looking at all the data we gathered. At the same time, however, we would be just as foolish to overlook the human element in all of this data.

The creative industry is, quite obviously, made of creatives. Professionals overflowing with creative spirit and energy, the same energy that makes us face every challenge with creative motivation.

If we were only looking at the rough data, the creative industry would be on a spiralling downward trajectory with no chance of return. But even through these hard times, creatives from our community (and presumably beyond) are still finding the strength to react, adapt, grow and become better versions of themselves.

And it is enough to look at the comments below to grasp the real extent of the creative industry’s resilience.

I am working as a fixer but all shoots are cancelled - that’s why I try to see it positive. I have worked out a new web page for me that has been on my schedule for two years but I never started, as I was tied to my business. As well I went back to my roots as a journalist. So I am starting to promote myself as PR copywriter for companies that I think will have much to tell when this crisis is over. I will withstand the virus with a combination of staying calm, making the best of it, enhancing my marketing for the moment the tv business is restarting, as well as defining myself anew.

Freelance Fixer (and soon Copywriter), Germany

Freelance Designer with more than 15 years experience, Now working for some clients who don’t know how the future will look and how they will survive this crisis. This will surely affects me but I am positive and think this is a chance to reinvent ourselves, explore new horizons and recycle our skills and be able to offer new services to our clients.

Freelance Designer, Alemania

I am working for a small advertising agency consisting of 9 creatives and entrepreneurs, in a small town in South Africa. Our company is driven by an amazing team who are all extremely creative and ethically driven. We are an agency that is mindful of the role we play in society. Which is why we partner with clients that add meaning to the world, through charity, education or sustainability.

“With the pandemic of Covid-19, we have chosen to drive our forces with the idea that creation derives from destruction. This negative pandemic can only create a positive outcome in some way - we are choosing to thrive in this. We are attempting to help other struggling companies, mostly in the education sphere, to evolve into a working online structure that can only grow in the future of uncertainty.

“Our team has also kept a strong bond through this time by considering and understanding the adaption to working from home versus office-life. Because we all have a passion in running or helping various human or animal charities, we all have an exceptionally good take on human responsibility. Im so proud of my team and how adaptive we've grown to be in any scenario. It only fills me with hope which is vitally important in the world we live in and on the planet we call Earth.

Designer & Illustrator, Advertising Agency, South Africa

Creativepool's Coronavirus Survey Report

Here are some useful links to the rest of the report:


Header image: Mark Paul-Sobral.
 

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