LONDON — Mental health and staff motivation pose bigger threats to the health of PR consultancies and in-house teams than Covid-19 itself, according to a survey of UK industry leaders.

In the PR and Communications Tracker, a new quarterly tracker of 700 senior leaders from Carta Communications and research firm The Pulse Business, 28% of those surveyed at the end of December 2020 said keeping colleagues motivated and supporting their mental health and happiness were the biggest threats to business over the next 12 months.

Carta Communications founder and director Matt Cartmell said: “It’s been stated on several occasions that right now, there are actually two pandemics running concurrently: Covid-19, and a shadow pandemic of mental health issues caused by social isolation, uncertainty and changes to working and living patterns. This survey shows that PR leaders see the latter as being a bigger threat as that posed by Covid-19 per se."

After mental health concerns, 26% said adapting to Covid-19 was their top threat, followed by budget cuts (12%) and managing flexible working (9%). Other risks included Brexit and politics, with Park Street Partners founder and director Gavin Devine saying the biggest threat would be “how we deal with clients being nervous and potentially holding back spending if Covid drags on, Brexit causes uncertainty, the Government wobbles and the economy swoons.”

Despite these challenges, 87% said they did feel positive about the future of their business over the next 12 months, with 24% of those saying “very positive” and the rest a more muted “quite positive”. Just 4% said “not very positive” and the same number again said they were not positive at all”.

Agency bosses pointed to new product lines, confirmed revenues and healthy new business pipelines as reasons to remain optimistic. Milk & Honey PR founder Kirsty Leighton said: “We continue to have growth plans for 2021 and beyond” while Mixology CEO Andrew Laxton said: “We expect contracting in Q1 to be slow, but a heightened period for RFPs and full programme activation to come back into play by Q2 as the roll out of the national vaccination programme starts having a positive impact on society and restrictions begin to ease.”

The Pulse Business owner Imogen Osborne said: “The findings suggest that once more, the PR and communications industry is bracing itself for re-invention. Some respondents are talking about how they are developing their company culture inside a flexible working model while others are coming up with new products and services that will appeal in a post-pandemic world.

“Many of our comms leaders are bullish about the next 12 months, driven by an understandable focus on the numbers. Yet most acknowledge the issues around mental health are building and given the period for self-reflection the pandemic has necessitated, you wonder if this will lead to some radical changes in how people treat one another in an industry renowned for its competitiveness.”