It's fair to say that the Irish advertising industry, like many other sectors, will be glad to see the back of 2020 and the enormous financial and emotional turmoil it unleashed upon all those who work in it.
Historically, during any downturn or period of economic or social uncertainty, marketing and advertising budgets are first in line for the chop. Often regarded as an expense by CFOs rather than an investment, it's the easiest item to eliminate as companies look to immediately reduce spending and conserve cash.
Understandably, this is what happened in the second quarter of 2020 when advertising investment in March, April and May fell off a cliff as the first wave of lockdowns kicked it and the severity of the unfolding global crisis started to sink in. Practically overnight, the market went dark and - with the exception of campaigns from the HSE, a number of government departments as well as a few of the big retailers - few brands were active in the advertising space. For many advertising agencies, an uncertain and possibly apocalyptic future lay ahead.
Thankfully, the advertising world was able to move through the five stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance - with gusto. Fast forward eight months, and now most creative and media agencies have moved on from acceptance to cautious optimism, according to the latest industry census carried out by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) which will be published next week.
According to IAPI, 76pc of the agency bosses it surveyed in the latest wave of research are optimistic about the future of the industry, while 98pc said that their agency would fully recover from the crisis that hit their business earlier in the year.
When that anticipated recovery might come, however, is a different matter altogether and a lot will hinge on the roll-out of a Coivid-19 vaccine, the general performance of the Irish economy in 2021 and, of course, advertising budgets for 2021 and beyond.
With the possibility of further lockdowns in early 2021 very much on the horizon, agency bosses would appear to be a bit more realistic about the timeline for recovery. In June 2020, for example, 44pc of agency bosses surveyed believed that they would be back to 2019 revenue figures by at least the middle of 2021 compared to only 27pc in the latest survey.
In addition, the 12pc who believed that recovery would take until the end of 2022, has now increased to one third
When advertising investment nosedived back in Q2 this year, many agencies were understandably worried as their own revenues were directly affected. Helped along by the various Government-backed pandemic-related support schemes, which many agencies availed of, initial survival was the name of the game for a lot of them.
But as the country moved through the various stages of lockdown and advertisers returned to the market, their worst fears of a collapse in the market by as much as 30pc for the year, have, thankfully, not come to pass. Instead, IAPI's latest census shows that they are now forecasting an average decline of between 15-18pc this year across the board.
For media agencies, which were hardest hit in Q2, the bounce-back has been noticeable with over 50pc now forecasting that their revenues will drop by less than 10pc this year. This compares to two-thirds which were forecasting a drop of anything up to 20pc back in June. Creative agencies, meanwhile, have also seen an increase in the volume of work since Q3 and much like their media colleagues, they too are a little more bullish about the outcome for 2020. Back in June 83pc of those surveyed expected revenue declines in excess of 20pc for the year but this has now dropped to 50pc.
For agencies that operate in the experiential and event management space, however, they are expecting to see their revenues to drop by as much as 60pc this year. While many of these have transitioned to offering online events, the reality is they will need to see a return of live events before a glimmer of optimism will be seen.
The picture painted by the latest IAPI research is indeed encouraging and with a very buoyant Q4 underway for both media and creative agencies the final outcome might be even better than expected.
With the Irish economy likely to experience modest growth of between 1-2pc growth in 2021, many industry experts are also forecasting a rebound in advertising spend for next year. If this happens, and it's still a big 'if', then for the first time in over 10 years, the growth in advertising spend could conceivably outpace GDP growth.
Maybe then, we can party like it's, well 2019 rather than 1999. Just hold off on popping the corks for a while.