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How one indie US publisher is navigating the current crisis

East End Taste was born at home in 2014, just three months after my first child came into the world. As a digital publication that began as a humble blog, East End Taste grew out of my love for my community that is the East End of Long Island, more famously known as The Hamptons. The digital publication focuses on the Hamptons lifestyle with a focus on cuisine: chef profiles, restaurant innovations, specialty food, local food trends, and more. Our secondary component is culinary-focused travel. Unfortunately, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, half of our coverage focus is at a sudden standstill.

There is also another side to the East End Taste brand that focuses on experiential marketing. We were on a fast track to doing our annual Hamptons Interactive Brunch in Southampton this summer in addition to three other smaller events in the Hamptons.

My team and I were set to go, and the excitement surrounding this year’s upcoming events would light up a stadium. 2020 was the year we were going to knock it out of the park.

As the Publisher and Founder, these executive decisions are often never simple. Our strategy for this upcoming summer season had to be and is in the midst of constantly being reworked, almost on a 24-hour cycle. We are weighing the news and information accordingly, with the health and well being of everyone involved as our top priority. While juggling the responsibilities of rescheduling our calendar, working with the editorial and web development team, and navigating the right direction our freelance contributors, I have to be ready for any sudden change of events. Everyone on the team is aware and we are in open communication with one another.

But perhaps the timing of this crisis may be seen as beneficial to the publication (I express that delicately as no one with good conscious benefits from a deadly virus). I had just returned from a three-week trip to Kenya on March 2nd. It was a food-driven safari adventure in the Masai Mara, Nairobi, and in the north near Mount Kenya. I arrived back to New York with plenty of content for our social media channels after taking a three-week break from being ‘connected’. Our readers had read our announcement and newsletter stating we would be in Africa and would be “eager and ready to share our adventures in Kenya with you upon return.”

Soon after I shared the first week of scheduled social media posts, that was when I received a concerned call from my Ad/Sales team leader. He was gravely concerned about the coronavirus and how it may spread rapidly. He accurately predicted a full lockdown of New York City. We both agreed to put any future planned outreach to potential sponsors and vendors for our annual summer event on hold. And, Kenya culinary coverage may have to wait.

Sunday, March 15th arrived. That week prior, I had received notification that three press trips were postponed until further notice planned for April-May. My SEO manager emails me: “you and your writers have to start putting out coronavirus-related content. All other keywords are significantly down.”

The unique core aspect of East End Taste is we take pride in being very approachable and understanding. We incorporate many avenues for correspondence and sharing news with our readers including the digital publication, our social media channels, our public (and private) Facebook groups, and the most important – direct communication or word of mouth. In the midst of trying to carefully word our newsletter, which went out last weekend, I asked my readers to reach out with any newsworthy material or information, particularly regarding the restaurants in the Hamptons. If these restaurants are open, they are available for delivery or takeout only.

The timing of the arrival of the coronavirus from East End Taste’s perspective is quite coincidental. No future airfares were booked and all travel plans were still being finalized. I always book my flights last, and sometimes within a few weeks of my scheduled departure time period. I am used to being flexible especially because there are so many moving parts to the publication, I have to stay open-minded. Anything going forward could shift. To be ready and able, I must stay well informed.       

It has been years since I have worked at such a rapid speed. We are now approaching week two (or more than 11 days) since the restaurants closed for dine-in service. Panic ensued immediately from the restaurant owners and small businesses. A wave of people made their way to their summer homes in the Hamptons from New York City and the Tristate area, causing even more concern for local business owners over fears of the virus spreading faster.

Most East Enders are in self-quarantine to protect themselves, their loved ones, and the general public from the virus and potentially spreading it. According to New York’s Governor Cuomo, New York residents are ordered to stay home as much as possible. The most devastating impact of COVID-19 is on the restaurant and hospitality industry. Coincidentally, East End Taste focuses on covering updates and notable individuals specifically within these industries.

Businesses are pausing public relations efforts, advertising, and outreach. These efforts are at the core of the publication. We would not have the content and access to relevant sources and materials if it were not for my close relationship with numerous agencies. Directly affecting the publication are a diminishing number of advertisers, sponsored partnerships, and paid brand partnerships. The number decreases every day, creating a startling reality for what the foreseeable future may hold.    

What is working for me as a Publisher are my efforts with direct outreach to local businesses. I am continuously putting out e-blasts and messages online, encouraging business owners to reach out to me for coverage. I want to make sure they know I am there for them. If it were not for many local businesses here in the Hamptons, I may not be where I am today. These businesses are the backbone of the community and if they fail, everyone will feel its effect.

Our strategy is first and foremost reassuring the staff that their jobs are secure. Second is outreach. As we are hyper-informed with coronavirus updates, I have to be up-to-date with the news and constantly crosscheck and make notes. Our editorial calendar has never shifted so rapidly as it has now. However, the more businesses I speak with and the more I put the publication out there, the more successful the coverage.

Digitally speaking, we are boosting our posts more than ever before, carefully refreshing our targeted ads once per day, and staying informed with the newly established hyper-local Facebook groups, including our own through member posts.

We may be socially distanced for the time being, but our community has never been so close-knit as it has now. Once this all passes, I hope that our community’s joint forces maintain its bond.

Vanessa Gordon
Founder and Publisher of East End Taste Magazine

About: East End Taste Magazine covers all things food and drink in the Hamptons and North Fork, and culinary-focused travel. The digital publication also covers specialty food, events, fashion, beauty, lifestyle, and wellness. Vanessa Gordon oversees the day-to-day operations across all platforms, including social media. Find East End Taste on all major social media channels @EastEndTaste.

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