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Consumers say Pandemic has Changed Their Entire View of the World and Their Own Country, According to FleishmanHillard Study

April 8, 2020

Majority Believe a Return to “Normal” Life is 17 Weeks Away;
One in Five are Predicting it’s Anywhere From Five Months to Two Years

ST. LOUIS, April 8, 2020 – FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice today released the results from its six-country study, COVID-19 Mindset: How Pandemic Times Are Shaping Global Consumers, unveiling how the virus is reshaping our perceptions, behaviors, values and societies.

“This crisis has clarified what really matters to individuals,” said Natasha Kennedy, senior partner and global managing director of FleishmanHillard’s TRUE Global Intelligence practice. “Consumer behavior has changed, and for many, those changes will persist past the pandemic. For example, consumers are signaling a seismic shift in their future buying behaviors for products and services they deem important. With a clear understanding of how the crisis has changed our expectations and beliefs, organizations can make decisions and communicate relevantly and meaningfully among employees, customers and communities.”

Simultaneous surveys of the United States, China, Germany, Italy, South Korea and United Kingdom recently carried out by FleishmanHillard provide a snapshot of various stages and expectations of the crisis, voiced by a cross-section of the population including healthcare workers, people at medical risk and those considered essential workers (65% of working adults), all of whom seem to feel the impact more acutely. While these countries are at various stages of the pandemic, the study illuminated some common experiences, which the agency will continue to track in subsequent studies as attitudes and behaviors shift over time. These include:

Consumers are most confident in their governments, least confident in their employers

  • Across markets, national government receives the best rating (47%) for its performance compared to other institutions, but while 79% of Chinese consumers rate their national government “excellent” or “great,” their counterparts in the U.S. (34%), U.K. (50%), Korea (43%), Italy (39%) and Germany (37%) all give their national governments much lower ratings.
  • Major corporations are also receiving higher satisfaction in China (66%), but ratings range from a high of 28% (U.S. and Korea) to a low of 17% (Germany) across the other markets.
  • Employers of all sizes perform the worst, with only 29% rating their response “excellent” or “great.”
  • Across these markets, seven out of 10 feels that other individuals are doing “excellent,” “great” or “good” in fulfilling their role in this crisis, though some still need to understand the importance of cooperating – 12% reported they’ve ignored shelter-in-place requirements.

Individuals are planning for the long-term and aren’t planning to snap back to “normal” life

  • A return to “normal” life varies by country, with the average individual in China believing it’s as few as nine weeks away. Individuals in other countries believe it will take longer: 15 weeks on average in the U.S.; 17 weeks in South Korea and Germany; and 22 weeks in the U.K. and Italy.
  • More than one in five believe it will take between five months to two years to return to normal.

While most understand there will be layoffs and furloughs, 89% expect employers to be generous and creative in mitigating the impact on workers

  • 91% expect companies to take steps to help workers stay healthy – providing them with protective equipment and hand sanitizer, making sure they have breaks to wash their hands and making physical changes to space and operations to allow social distancing, among other steps.
  • 78% understand that some companies will need to furlough and lay off workers, a majority that holds across these countries (59% in Korea, the lowest, and 86% in the U.S., the highest).
  • 52% describe employers taking better care of their employees as “very important” right now.

Consumers are willing to help organizations support their employees

  • 71% will find ways to continue to patronize businesses, such as opting for delivery and pick up (50%) or through holding appointments by phone or online (44%).
  • 34% will purchase or pay for things they can’t currently use, like gift cards (19%), and continue paying for memberships and services (17%).
  • 14% are willing to tip more and 9% are willing to pay higher prices.
  • 17% will donate to employer-administered funds that support workers.

Consumers plan to be cautious, even when the spread of the virus subsides – with substantial implications for economic and social recovery

  • 95% of consumers want companies to implement physical protection and distancing measures to help keep them healthy.
  • 65% are currently postponing purchases and travel, and 52% intend changes to their buying behaviors to continue.
  • 34% are postponing major life decisions, and 26% will take planning for major life decisions more seriously after the pandemic.
  • 27% are currently saving more than they normally do, and 26% plan to save more in the future than normal.

The pandemic has changed what people value, and they want new benefits and policies to endure

  • 68% report the pandemic has changed the products and services they once thought were important, a phenomenon even more widespread in China (86%) and Italy (73%).
  • 63% of employees want new benefits offered during the pandemic to be made permanent.
  • 71% want some of the positive government policies created during the crisis to be made permanent, including: 69% of Americans; 89% of Chinese; 77% of global millennials; 76% of workers deemed essential during the pandemic; and 77% of healthcare workers.
  • 21% of people (26% in the U.S.) who would normally need to be at their place of business to do their job now expect to have the option of working from home.
  • 26% of employees say they will be looking for another job with an employer that supports its employees, will no longer be loyal to their employer because of their actions during the pandemic, or will look into how an organization treated its employees when considering new employers.
  • 63% of America’s Republican Party demographic base and 68% of the Democratic Party’s demographic base say their view of the country’s political system as a whole has changed.

Nearly everyone has felt the impact 

  • 98% have undertaken some new practice or postponed or canceled plans or purchases, and 90% report enduring changes in expectations and behaviors after the pandemic ends.
  • 78% are concerned for their health, and 74% are concerned for their financial situation; this level of concern is consistent across demographics.
  • 18% have a family member or friend whose health has been impacted by COVID-19, including 5% whose family member or friend died of the disease. In China and Italy, one-third (31% and 33%, respectively) have a family member or friend whose health has been impacted by the virus.

“Our research underscores the indelible importance of the actions taken by organizations now,” said Peter Verrengia, senior partner and head of FleishmanHillard’s global Recovery and Resurgence practice with deep experience in helping organizations emerge from crises. “The study shows the bigger the threat, economically and socially, the more important it is to create a foundation of confidence based on accountability, transparency, frequent updates and realistic, incremental goals. Well-structured communications, based on values and actions, can acknowledge the pain and challenges we all face today, while helping to improve and even accelerate better outcomes for individuals, organizations and society.”

Around the world, despite different systems and experiences, individuals are being united by this common experience.

“What we have seen so far as cities in China begin their early stages of recovery, is a sense of purpose and determination, and a recognition of personal responsibility,” said Rachel Catanach, chair of FleishmanHillard’s COVID-19 Taskforce and president and senior partner for Greater China. “Workplaces are arranged to maintain healthy distances while still enabling operations to resume.  Employers can acknowledge concerns about the health and safety of their employees and customers, but still create an expectation of progress, even if there may be occasional setbacks. With ongoing communications to inform and engage all stakeholders as the return to work rolls out, we believe that organizations can encourage productivity and shared innovation that can speed a sustainable recovery.”

FleishmanHillard’s new Recovery and Resurgence practice is utilizing the data and insights from the study to provide guidance and communication expertise to organizations as they navigate the current situation and plan for a return to operations.

TRUE Global Intelligence, the in-house research practice of FleishmanHillard, fielded an online survey of 6,566 adults 18 and older in China (n=1,057), Germany (n=1,131), Italy (n=1,093), South Korea (n=1,043), the United Kingdom (n=1,123) and United States (n=1,119) from March 30-April 3, 2020. The data has been weighted by gender and age in all markets as well as region in the United States. The margin of error is ±1.2% for the global total, approximately 3% in each market, and higher for subgroups. For reference, 10% of respondents corresponds to 151.9 million adults across these six countries.

About FleishmanHillard

FleishmanHillard specializes in public relations, reputation management, public affairs, brand marketing, digital strategy, social engagement and content strategy. FleishmanHillard was named 2019 PRWeek U.S. Outstanding Large Agency; 2019 Holmes Report North America Large Agency of the Year; ICCO Network of the Year – Americas 2017-2019; Agency of the Year at the 2017 and 2018 North American Excellence Awards; 2018 Large Consultancy of the Year by PRWeek UK; PR News’ Best Places to Work in PR 2016-2018; Human Rights Campaign Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality 2018-2020; PR Awards Asia 2017 Greater China Agency of the Year; and NAFE’s “Top Companies for Executive Women” 2010-2020. The firm’s award-winning work is widely heralded, including at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. FleishmanHillard is part of Omnicom Public Relations Group, and has 80 offices in more than 30 countries, plus affiliates in 50 countries.

About Omnicom Public Relations Group

Omnicom Public Relations Group is a global collective of three of the top global public relations agencies worldwide and specialist agencies in areas including public affairs, marketing to women, global health strategy and corporate social responsibility. It encompasses more than 6,300 public relations professionals in more than 370 offices worldwide who provide their expertise to companies, government agencies, NGOs and nonprofits across a wide range of industries. Omnicom Public Relations Group delivers for clients through a relentless focus on talent, continuous pursuit of innovation and a culture steeped in collaboration. Omnicom Public Relations Group is part of the DAS Group of Companies, a division of Omnicom Group Inc. (NYSE: OMC) that includes more than 200 companies in a wide range of marketing disciplines including advertising, public relations, healthcare, customer relationship management, events, promotional marketing, branding and research.​

The FleishmanHillard study, COVID-19 Mindset: How Pandemic Times Are Shaping Global Consumers, unveils how the virus is reshaping our perceptions, behaviors, values and societies.