The Dow Jones and the FTSE 100 recorded their biggest quarterly drops since 1987, down 23% and 25% respectively, and economists expect economic contraction in the second quarter to be the most severe since WW2. It certainly is a brave new world, and it is no wonder that the topic has, and continues to, dominate all media coverage.
But what has this meant for those topics which were dominating the media’s agenda in the first few months of the year?
From a UK perspective, the obvious one is Brexit. It is now almost four years since the EU referendum; and yet that relentless media coverage now appears a distant memory, as negotiations with Brussels largely on hold, despite occasional rumblings from either side.
Analysis of media coverage conducted by JPES Partners has shown that mentions of the topic within the UK media fell by 68% in March when compared to December 2019, prior to the spread of coronavirus in Europe. This would have been unthinkable four months ago, and it serves to highlight just how greatly the media landscape has shifted in the last few weeks.
ESG has also dominated the media agenda in recent years, particularly within the financial sector. In fact, results from our Asset Management Trends report and ESG Media Audit last year reflected the extent to which the topic was a priority for asset management communication professionals and financial journalists alike.
However, unlike Brexit, the number of references to ESG within the UK media increased significantly in March (a 55% increase) compared to December, as journalists sought to determine whether investor appetite was waning in the face of market turmoil – and to identify how these funds were performing relative to non-ESG compliant counterparts, underlining that whatever the market is doing, ESG is now ingrained in the investment landscape.
At the start of the year, the media’s attention in ESG seemed to be moving towards subsets such as stewardship, climate change and diversity. Yet, last month saw an 18% decrease in the number of references to “diversity” within the context of financial services, suggesting these concerns, like many others, have been overshadowed by COVID-19. In fact, the unprecedented impact on businesses and the economy also saw the UK Government suspend Gender Pay Gap reporting this year.
So, while topics such as Brexit and Diversity have decreased in prevalence, what have been the main drivers in the financial media over the last month as a result of the coronavirus outbreak?
Liquidity was a major theme in 2019, with the Woodford scandal serving as a catalyst for a broad discussion around the subject, and this continued last month with an 80% increase in media mentions. Sparked by the severity of the market sell off, the resulting ‘dash for cash’ saw investors liquidating any assets they could, prompting the media’s attention to return to the issue of liquidity, further galvanised when a string of prominent UK property funds gated their funds.
Likewise, fears – and now, it seems, confirmation – that the world is heading for a global recession have dominated the media, with articles referencing recessionary fears increasing by an eye-watering 215%.
The ongoing human, financial and economic effects of the coronavirus will be played out for many months to come; but as many industry commentators have been quick to point out, this won’t last forever and there will a post-virus world, albeit one that will be markedly different economically and socially, from what we knew in January.
So what does all of this mean for communications? In this current environment, the news is more changeable than ever and being adaptable to such a dynamic agenda is vital. The biggest risk, however, is not simply that you may not be heard but that any communication must remain sensitive to the unfolding crisis – paying no heed to it, or worse, being seen to leverage it, will be remembered by journalists and your target audiences.