There are a number of steps media and publishing companies can take to position themselves for success in these uncertain times.
It is not an understatement to say that over the last two months alone, the world of media has been turned upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. Carefully planned campaigns are being canceled or rebooked, creative content is forced to evolve in near-real time to align with a rapidly shifting situation, and, although everyone is working hard, money is being pulled out of the system and ad spend is down. But while 2020 will undoubtedly go down as a difficult year, change is around the corner — and it is best to prepare now to ensure you are well-positioned for the reboot. For example, even as the reality of live sports evolves, 2021 will feature the Olympics, EuroCup, and fans of domestic sports leagues the world over eagerly coming out to watch their favorite teams play again.
While recessions are difficult times for everyone, they encourage innovation and force companies to become lean and invest where it counts. Some of the world’s most admired companies have emerged in the midst of recessions, including the likes of Microsoft, Netflix, and Airbnb.
At SEI, we are working with our media clients to build rapid COVID-19 task forces to help them realign their operations quickly and effectively. This involves addressing their immediate needs and then crafting interim and long-term plans that will enable them to emerge from this challenging moment stronger than ever before. These plans need to be realistic, taking time and resource constraints into account. Below, we explore the key steps media and publishing companies can take to position themselves for a post-pandemic future.
1. Reforecast Revenue Early and Often
Nearly every company is in the process of recalibrating its forecasts to account for the effects of the pandemic. This is a vital exercise to gain a full understanding of the anticipated impact the pandemic will have on your advertising revenue. It will also help inform your long-term planning, as the effects of COVID-19 are expected to last through 2020 (and beyond) and will almost certainly result in lasting changes to consumer and business behavior. Don’t just do this once — the world is rapidly changing, and your forecasts should be reviewed, stress tested, and adjusted more frequently than usual in this environment.
2. Maintain Data Security
Data security is incredibly important right now, as there has been a significant spike in phishing emails and scams during the pandemic. What’s more, media and publishing companies are still obligated to comply with data security regulations like GDPR and CCPA, even in this challenging environment. In times of calm and times of crisis alike, the biggest security risk to an organization is its people, so it is essential to ensure training and communications are in place to prevent any type of data breach.
3. Demonstrate Empathy and Loyalty to Your Clients
All your clients are going to be hit differently by this pandemic. While industries like travel and entertainment are being hit the hardest, other industries like technology are experiencing mixed outcomes, and industries like grocery, e-commerce, and healthcare may see growth now and in the near future. Though making necessary changes to maintain your own financial stability is key, any good will and loyalty you can afford to your struggling clients today will make for far more secure relationships in the long run.
4. Adapt Your Business Development Strategy
We have all seen brands pivoting their creative advertising and audience segmentation to align to this new normal. Previously designed ad campaigns have become irrelevant overnight and need to be overhauled to speak to the situations of today’s consumers. Similarly, your B2B outreach needs to evolve in order to remain relevant. Guide your clients on how to achieve long-lasting business outcomes spanning beyond the current economic situation. Talk about brands that came out on the other side of recessions and depressions in a stronger position. For example, Kellogg’s emerged as a category leader by investing in advertising during the Great Depression while its competitors stayed silent — and there are many similar examples to be found throughout the years. Simply put, since CPM is cheap and ad clutter is down, this is an opportune time for the companies that can to invest in advertising.
5. Increase Focus on Emerging Trends
Redeploy company resources in line with known media capability trends. For example, try improving omnichannel capabilities through data analytics or moving from probabilistic to deterministic targeting or improving addressable TV offerings and capabilities. Many of these changes will require technology and process investments, but if you are in the fortunate position of being cash strong, consider taking a risk and investing in your business. Generally speaking, resources are less expensive right now, and if you act strategically, you’ll likely emerge from this crisis ahead of your competitors.
6. Reevaluate Creative Strategy to Be More Agile and Nimble
Be unafraid to experiment with your creative strategy. During this unprecedented time, consumer behavior has changed drastically. Use those insights to try something new. Do not let uncertainty or the quest for perfection prevent action. Be agile and nimble — test and adjust your creative as you learn to connect with your customers.
7. Improve Processes and Reduce Costs
Find opportunities to streamline and/or standardize your operations. The breadth of players in the media ecosystem makes this a particularly complicated industry, especially when it comes to operational considerations like vendor invoicing, client billing, and media buying. Use the disruption caused by the pandemic to zero in on areas you know can be improved but you never had time to improve in the past.
8. Protect, Maintain, and Upskill Talent
The talent wars are raging, and companies should avoid engaging in unnecessary mass layoffs lest they find themselves woefully understaffed when the economy bounces back. Many agencies have taken creative steps to keep their talent on board, including pay cuts, stock issuances, and furloughs. The compassionate steps you take today will build good will for your company both internally and externally. This moment also gives you an opportunity to upskill your employees, especially towards skills that are desperately needed in the new economy (e.g. OTT and data analytics). Finally — and most importantly — take steps to ensure the physical and mental health of your people. Create a plan for transitioning back to the office that includes things like physical office hygiene, extended work from home strategies, and clear internal communications.
9. Embrace a Work from Home Culture
Most companies have seen that their employees can remain highly effective while working remotely. Evaluate your current real estate costs against what is truly needed to be effective. However, before making any decisions, it is important to ensure your workforce can thrive in a work from home setup. How can you continue to deliver your message without face-to-face interactions? Don’t wait for that in-person coffee meet-up — how can you make pitches now? Effective ideas we have seen include:
- Move creative to animation to reduce production needs
- Send care packages that are opened as part of a pitch
- Create strategies to ensure you continue to stand out in a more virtual world
10. Reflect on Where You Stand
Conduct a retrospective of the weeks immediately following the first wave of major COVID-19 reverberations. Were you agile and able to adjust? What went well and what failed? Create a plan to strengthen your company in the latter areas. Although these are unprecedented times, business continuity is vitally important to any company, and this moment offers a unique opportunity to review and improve on your weaknesses. Consolidate these learnings to build actionable items that propel your business forward and kickstart change in your organization.
Moving Forward Together
At SEI, we have worked through times of crisis before, and we have the experience and flexibility to help our media and entertainment clients deploy proven frameworks for quickly executing on a wide range of critical actions — including those outlined above. Please reach out to learn more about how we can help you navigate the uncertainty of these trying times.
Learn more about how SEI is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This article was co-authored with Jean-Marc Papin.