The global coronavirus pandemic has had a staggering impact on lives and livelihoods around the world, and the publishing industry has not escaped the upheaval. In a poll of 50 publishers, 86% told Digiday that advertising had been negatively affected by the crisis, and in a separate report, 88% stated that they’ll likely fall short of forecasts this year.
However, traffic has hit record highs for some publishers. For example, The Atlantic saw its traffic quadruple, while NBC News’ traffic jumped by 160%, and The Washington Post saw a 119% increase in Facebook link clicks over a two-week period in March compared to February.
All evidence suggests that we’re in this new reality for the long haul. The publishers who adapt will have the greatest shot at survival. Here’s some of the best advice we’ve seen to help publishers navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.
1 – Harness increased traffic for good
Audiences are spending more time on news websites and social media channels as they shelter in place. The New York Times has reported that over half of America’s current news consumption on Facebook is related to COVID-19.
This means publishers have an opportunity to harness the increased traffic, but they also have an obligation to communicate responsibly about the crisis. Ensure that your publication is part of the solution and double down on your role as a source of timely, accurate information.
2 – Deliver valuable, relevant content
Publishers must be flexible and innovative to achieve longevity—which is especially true during this pandemic. The current approach is playing out in various ways. For example, several organizations have eliminated their paywalls for content related to COVID-19 to allow a broader audience to access crucial public health information.
Other publishers have traded in celebrity cover models to pay homage to essential workers. A lung specialist recently appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair Italy. And some publishers have started producing content to help audiences stay entertained while in their homes, such as niche-oriented lists of ideas, products, and services.
3 – Work with your advertisers to adjust their messaging
You likely had to go back to the drawing board with your content calendar recently—and you’re not alone. Publishers and advertisers are working together to adjust the tone and messaging of their campaigns for the mood of the times.
“I’ve heard of examples of cars which are focusing more on their hygienic qualities and their capacity to filter air, which might be a somewhat important thing under normal circumstances, but more important now,” Brian Wieser, Global President, Business Intelligence at GroupM told Digiday.
4 – Plug into virtual revenue streams
Seemingly overnight, conferences and events around the world were postponed, cancelled, or moved online to slow the spread of COVID-19. This was a blow to many publishers for whom events are a significant revenue stream. However, by shifting to a virtual event model, companies can still deliver a valuable audience experience that builds brand loyalty and contributes to their bottom line.
For example, U.K.-based LGBTQ media publisher PinkNews has recently moved up its virtual Pride march from 2021 to June 2020 and turned its attention to an app project.
5 – Focus on direct-to-consumer products
The coronavirus pandemic has rewritten the balance sheets of many publishers who are now simply trying to stay afloat and keep their employees on payroll. This has prompted many organizations to focus on alternate revenue streams such as direct-to-consumer products.
Augustus is one such digital media company. The Dubai-based organization has recently shifted focus to a membership program and streaming service. “There is a lot of ground work we can put into place that doesn’t need more investment in staff and is not dependent on a profitable year,” CEO Rich Fitzgerald told Digiday.”
6 – Think long term about audience engagement
Local news publishers have seen huge upticks in traffic during the COVID-19 crisis. Local news website visits increased by 89% from February 17-23 compared to March 16-22, according to a recent Comscore report.
The takeaway for publishers here is to find ways to hold onto audiences’ attention and drive engagement over the long term. Creating quality content and optimizing your website to guide readers through a deeper user experience should be top of mind.
7 – Take a few risks with your content
News websites aren’t the only media that have seen surges in audience engagement over the past few weeks. Entertainment companies like Complex Networks are also riding the wave. The organization’s YouTube channel engagement has increased by 35%, and its website and social media channels aren’t far behind.
“The quality of the content still needs to be there. But we’re at a moment in time where no one’s getting dragged for putting out content that isn’t exactly up to their usual standards of polish,” Justin Killion, GM of Complex Networks told Digital Content Next. “That allows us to take chances that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to take.”
A final tip: stay connected to your team
With entire organizations working from home, publishers need to get creative to keep their teams connected. Try a virtual coffee break with your staff, and check out some team building activities you can incorporate into the session.