‘Accelerated the need to get there faster’: 5 changes that will drive the future of media post coronavirus crisis

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A pandemic-caused recession has led to massive disruptions in publishers’ revenue streams. That paired with nation-wide calls for systematic changes has media companies reconsidering how diversity and inclusion are prioritized within their business processes and cultures. Five media executives shared their predictions with Digiday for what changes are expected to come out of this turbulent time. 

Trusted publishers will be viewed as the new storefront for advertisers

From a consumer perspective, Group Nine’s chief insights officer Ashish Patel said that as people spend increasing amounts of time on social media platforms, the more they’ll become inundated with transactional ads. “I can’t tell you how many random mask brands I get targeted with,” he said. “You don’t really know the brands that pop out of thin air. It’s hard to gage quality and where things are coming from and how things are made.”

As a result, Patel said there is a major opportunity for publishers that have years of accrued audience trust to work with advertisers beyond pushing awareness in campaigns and making seriously considered product recommendations. 

“It’s affiliate-plus,” Patel said, adding that affiliate is in no way a new revenue model for publishers. However, he said that Group Nine in particular is very interested in extending out the traditional affiliate model to include the scale play of social media, as well as using data gathered from the affiliate side of the business and working directly with advertisers to leverage those insights and drive more transactions. 

The long game

Meredith has been signing more multi-year, multi-media deals with advertisers during the pandemic and, according to chief digital officer Catherine Levene, that trend is not expected to slow down anytime soon. During the pandemic, Levene said that the company closed 10 joint business partnerships, some of which were renewals and some of which were new business for the company. 

These are partnerships that often include a product developed by Meredith using the publisher’s first-party data in order to determine what audiences would be willing to spend their money on.

“These deals don’t happen overnight. They take months and months of development in order to understand each others’ businesses. They don’t want short term deals either,” said Levene. “We’re in this for the long game.” 

Virtual engagements here to stay

While people were stuck at home with few options for offline entertainment, Joanna Lambert, head of consumer at Verizon Media, said that the online options for written, video and virtual entertainment became limitless. As a result, it became more competitive for publishers to “break through the noise,” she said, and forced media companies to develop new personalized, real-time coverage to their audiences.

And while real life activities are now slowly coming back into the mix, Lambert said the virtual habits that were formed during the pandemic will still have consumers coming back to the media companies who can deliver on new, innovative content. 

Verizon Media, for one, has been prioritizing augmented reality development, she said, because it’s “well suited to amplify shoppable video content, journalism, virtual events, concerts, classrooms and more,” for both editorial and advertiser products. Additionally, after garnering nearly 1 billion video views in the past two months on the 30 virtual events the company hosted, she said “virtual events will be a strategic part of our programming moving forward.” 

The more first-party data the better

Regardless of pandemic, the media industry is still racing headlong towards the day that the third-party cookie will vanish. “The current crisis didn’t change our path to the future. It just accelerated the need to get there faster,” said Kristen O’Hara, chief business officer of Hearst Magazines. This is because as advertising dried up and ad inventory spiked, only the most guaranteed deals were being closed because marketers wanted to make sure that the money they spent would get the greatest return.

“The ability to analyze that data is even more critically important now,” said Meredith’s Levene. “It’s not just the data but the ability to derive insights from the data and react in real-time” by creating new content and helping marketers adapt their messaging around that data. 

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Companies that are able to produce insights from content, audiences and commerce transactions will be the most successful going forward, O’Hara said. 

Monetization to drive culture shifts

“Employees and consumers are holding companies accountable more than ever around their actions supporting their words,” said Vox Media CRO Ryan Pauley. For publishers, this means they will need to be more cognizant of the diversity on their teams as well as the diversity they are putting forth in their content. For brands, this means a shift in where they invest their marketing budgets to more closely align with their company values. 

Vox started a new paid fellowship program for minority employees and committed $1.5 million to marketing and advertising services for projects aligned with racial equity and justice, according to Pauley. But sweeping change can’t be made through siloed actions, he said. 

Some brands, Pauley said, have begun thinking about the monetary endorsements made through marketing spend and have aligned to join the Facebook advertising boycott, but industry-wide, “this has been an underrepresented part of marketing strategy for a long time for a number of brands,” Pauley said.

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