Fears rise over backlash from ‘track and trace’ fiasco

corona1Marketing businesses are growing increasingly critical of the Government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, amid heightened concerns that its botched “test, track and trace” programme will have a major long-term effect on the digital economy.

The results of the DMA’s latest survey of members, the fourth of its “Coronavirus – The Impact on Business Survey” series, reveal fresh fears that Covid-19 is harming public trust in brands and marketing – up to nearly a third (29%) from 17% in May.

Sentiment about the impact of the UK Government’s rollout of the ‘test, track and trace’ programme on the data and marketing industry also continues to worsen. Over half (57%) of industry professionals now believe this will negatively impact consumer willingness to share personal data – up from 42% in May.

This may also explain the continued decline in confidence the data and marketing industry appears to have in the Government. In March, almost two-thirds of respondents (64%) said they were confident in the nation’s leaders, this has now halved to just 32% in June.

DMA chief executive Chris Combemale said: “Data is an essential part of both controlling the virus as lockdown is eased, but also the continued smooth running of the modern digital economy and recovery for many businesses in the UK.

“Businesses rely on consumer confidence and trust; without which they are unwilling to share their data with organisations. It’s concerning to see the level of negative feeling toward the government’s handling of the ‘test, track and trace’ rollout. If not resolved, this could have a lasting impact on our industry and the long-term health of the digital economy.”

While the DMA concedes that business confidence may change as the key sectors like hospitality and travel begin to return this month, overall most firms are still concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their company, with those who say they are “very concerned” increasing from 33% in May to 41% in this latest study.

Compared to the previous phase, these most recent results show little change in many of the areas. Marketers still estimate revenues at half their normal levels (a drop of 44%), with “business as usual” capacity also remaining at around 65% – after a slight increase in the prior month.

There are some signs when it comes to the long-term prospects, with the number of firms which are confident they can last beyond the next 12 months doubling from 15% when lockdown started to 34% now. However, that a quarter are not confident they will make it to the New Year (27%) and a further one in five (21%) are not sure how long they might last in the current conditions.

Combemale added: “This latest barometer of the businesses in our industry shows many are very concerned about the future. Revenues remain dramatically reduced and staff are understandably beginning to worry about the long-term impact on their organisations.

“As restrictions continue to be lifted in the UK, businesses must ensure they continue to put people first – both their customers and employees alike.”

The irony of his advice will not be lost on some. Last week, it was revealed that OneTrust, one of the trade body’s biggest commercial partners, is facing legal action over claims that scores of UK staff have been wrongfully dismissed.

The DMA report shows that the majority (84%) of data and marketing professionals are continuing to work from home, even as restrictions on travel and workplaces are eased. Most expect to remain remote for the remainder of the summer too. There has been a steady increase in skills development and training being made available to staff continues – up to 58% of organisations from 48% back in March – a move which the DMA describes as “encouraging”.

Combemale continued: “Many in our industry will remain working remotely over the summer and potentially well into the autumn. One of the most encouraging figures amid the lockdown has been the number of organisations taking this opportunity to offer their teams the opportunity to develop and learn during this period. We continue to offer a full range of data and marketing development opportunities, available via our virtual classrooms while face-to-face sessions are still not available.”

Meanwhile, half of businesses (51%) are still using the Government’s furlough scheme, down from 56% in May and estimate that they have around seven members of staff set to return over the coming months.

The changes to the scheme in August are causing some concern that this could make redundancies more likely (48%). Although slightly more expect a phased approach using part-time return to work (56% ‘more likely’) and some staff remaining on furlough for a while longer (21% ‘more likely’).

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