‘They’re gonna go with what they know’: Publishers struggle to win new business amid pandemic
This has not been a good time for media companies looking to win new clients.
With uncertainty continuing to hang over the American economy and advertisers continuing to face pressure from CEOs who want to see ad spending drive results, it has gotten harder than ever for publishers to start relationships with advertisers, executives at five different media companies told Digiday.
While ad spending has rallied in several key categories over the past five months, many brands, particularly those in the retail category, worry about going dark for extended periods of time as fall begins and winter looms. Because of the concern, many advertisers seem content to work more closely with publishers they already have relationships with, typically on smaller, cheaper campaigns that can be executed quickly.
“They’re gonna go with what they know,” said Rich Routman, the president of Minute Media, a sports-focused startup that owns titles including The Players Tribune and 90min.
Perhaps the biggest driver of this dynamic is a lack of time, as brands, worried that consumer sentiment or the health of the economy might take a sudden turn, are planning their ad spending over much shorter windows of time, to avoid paying for ads that might seem out of touch with a fraught moment. An executive at Vox Media said they’d seen lifecycle of many advertising client campaigns — from RFP to IO — shrink to half, or even a third, of its typical length over the past five months.
The chief revenue officer of another publisher, who asked not to be identified, said that many of his largest clients are still working on 30-day planning cycles, making big branded content deals or ambitious creative campaigns all but impossible. “Our business has gotten a lot more transactional and turnkey,” that CRO said.
For publishers that have numerous direct relationships with brands, that squeeze hasn’t been all bad. Though much of the work advertisers feel comfortable investing in right now is less expensive than the campaigns publishers typically pushed, the work is more frequent; sources at three different publications said that brands want to work on smaller branded content projects lately and at brisker than usual cadence.
But those same conditions make it a lot harder to win business from advertisers they haven’t worked with before. Though the number of RFPs circulating has begun to tick up after falling precipitously earlier this year, there is no guarantee that hike will continue: MediaRadar’s RFP predictor tool cannot predict how many RFPs brands might issue in the fourth quarter of the year.
Minute Media has managed to win some clients over the past few months, Routman said, including the charcoal brand Kingsford and the lawn care company Scotts. That’s partly thanks to a forced shift in their content strategy: Many of Minute Media’s titles had to overhaul their content strategy in the spring, after most professional sports leagues halted their seasons. Minute responded by focusing on what it called “athlete-generated content,” much of it personal, often lifestyle-driven fare made by professional athletes cooped up at home.
But Minute Media also benefitted from all the work it’s done in the past with professional athletes around topics including racial and social justice.
“Brands want to align with someone that has a purpose,” Routman said. “We’re not someone who’s taking advantage of something going on in the market. These are stories that have been part of The Players Tribune’s fabric for a while.”
Media companies that do not have a deep track record in covering racial justice or public health have had to rely instead on other ways to start conversations with advertisers. Many have invested more heavily in custom audience and consumer research.
Publishers including Leaf Group, for example, have significantly increased the cadence of consumer research they are doing, hoping that the insights and predictions they now share weekly can start conversations with brands that lead to business.
“It’s one thing to say, ‘This is what’s happened and why,’” said Jay Ku, Leaf Group’s svp of advertising and brand partnerships. “It’s another thing to then add to that, ‘And based on that, we predict that these changes (or no changes) will happen to your industry in the next 30 to 60 days.’”
Others have tried to pique advertiser interest by partnering with A-list talent on built-if-sold projects that advertisers can get involved in more deeply. Vox Media is among several publishers that have been working with talent agencies such as CAA on projects like these, the Vox executive said. In early August, Vox Creative hosted a Zoom panel discussion, featuring the actress and director Olivia Wilde, on the subject of democratizing opportunity for artists.
But by and large, sources said that there is a measure of resignation that any new business they’re able to drum up is likely to be small.
“The bigger stuff is just not gonna happen [with a new client],” the first chief revenue officer said.
Cheat Sheet: At IAB Podcast Upfront, diverse voices take center stage while podcast advertising revenue and audiences boom
Most of the companies that presented at the IAB Podcast Upfront signaled they had or were going to add more diversity to their programming, both in hosts and content.
Member ExclusiveMedia Briefing: What media companies’ latest earnings reports say about the state of the industry
Media companies' Q1 earnings reports signaled a continued return to business as usual — for better or worse, depending on the company's digital business.
‘Brands tend to be selective’: OMG report offers options to media buyers facing upfront inventory crunch
With a tight upfront TV marketplace expected, one agency group is recommending alternatives in video and CTV.
SponsoredHow The Company Store is reimagining customer experiences for pandemic-era growth
Throughout the pandemic, some retail categories have been inherently successful. Home furnishings and décor are among them; with consumers spending so much more time at home, updates and renovations flourished. Criteo data from the first half of 2020 showed sales for items like outdoor furniture sets up 434% year over year, with other home items […]
‘You’re fixing a number, not changing the culture’: Confessions of a media exec on diversity quotas
In the rush to improve diversity rates, businesses are in danger of overlooking more fundamental ways to sustain inclusivity in the workplace, according to our latest Confessions interviewee.
‘Direct revenue driver’: How local broadcaster News 12 is partnering with Google to build a younger audience
Local broadcaster used support and funding from Google News Initiative to build a new tool that can automatically identify and feed video content into new website verticals.