The uncertainty surrounding revenue and future planning caused by the coronavirus pandemic has caused most businesses to put a freeze on recruiting new hires, with many companies going so far as to furlough employees who had recently joined or who were due to take up new roles in the midst of the crisis.

The most recent phase of Econsultancy and Marketing Week’s research into the business impact of COVID-19 found that among the more than 300 respondents from large enterprises (companies pulling in more than £50 million in annual revenue), a whopping 82% have reduced spending on new hires, with just 3% increasing spend.

Marketing departments are not believed to have been disproportionately affected by furloughing or redundancies – when asked “How has marketing been affected by furloughing/staff reductions compared to other divisions?” 50% of respondents from large enterprises believed marketing has had the same rates of furlough/staff cuts as other divisions, with roughly even proportions believing that marketers had been furloughed or laid off at a higher or lower rate than other divisions.

However, a quarter of respondents (24%) do believe that marketing’s ability to accomplish current goals has been “significantly” compromised by furloughs or staff reductions, while 42% believe it has been “somewhat” compromised – in other words, while marketing is being treated on a par with other divisions when it comes to staffing levels, this doesn’t mean that marketers aren’t feeling the pinch.

And there is no doubt that the coronavirus crisis has thrown up significant new challenges that marketers are now grappling with: three quarters (74%) of large enterprises report that they have changed their marketing strategy in response to the crisis, with a further 18% currently reviewing their strategy. Many respondents report that their companies are taking measures like changing ads and content to make them relevant (61%), shifting messaging to emphasise digital products and services (54%), and focusing on brand values investments (48%), all of which requires marketing teams to pull harder and in new directions.

Not only that, but two statistics highlight just how much marketers are being called upon to utilise new skillsets: nearly half (48%) of respondents from large enterprises report that marketers are being shifted between teams to meet new demands, while a fifth (19%) are also shifting everything they can from third parties to in-house – which will require in-house teams to have the capability to take on work and tasks that were previously outsourced.

Without new talent being brought in to equip marketing teams with the skills that they need to respond to these challenges, it falls to existing employees to step up to the plate – and all of this, of course, is happening within a remote working environment.

Happily, more than two fifths of large enterprises (44%) agree that “We are retraining marketing staff to deal with new/different issues and opportunities”, while close to half (47%) say that “We are implementing new on-demand training to support remote marketers”. These are encouraging figures – though it’s difficult to overlook the fact that they still represent less than half of businesses. In the face of unprecedented challenges for marketers and with hiring budgets frozen, the vast majority of companies should ideally be taking action to reskill and train their teams.

While the coronavirus crisis has presented huge challenges for businesses, there is also the opportunity for marketers to come out of the crisis with new skills, experience and versatility – provided that they are given the chance to acquire them. And if they are, companies can ensure that their marketing response to the coronavirus crisis is as effective as can be.

Econsultancy offers a wide variety of virtual training and online courses for marketers – to find out more and browse our offering, visit EconLEARN.