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Lessons from Lockdown: Dennis Publishing

Whilst the data underpinning the need for second Covid-19 lockdowns is debatable, especially in terms of reduced death rates not to mention more than adequate hospital capacity, many countries worldwide are ramping up restrictions.

This time, however, not only have publishers had time to prepare, but they have also been able to learn the lessons from the first lockdown. WNIP reached out to a few publishers to ask what lessons they learned, the mistakes they made, and what advice they would give other publishers from their own unique perspective as we head into winter.

For this article we interviewed James Tye, CEO, Dennis Publishing, one of the UK’s most iconic publishers with a varied portfolio of titles including The Week, Auto Express, MoneyWeek, Expert Reviews, Driving Electric, ITPro., Viz, and many more.

The first lockdown took the publishing industry, and the world, by surprise. What are the three key things that Dennis learned from its experience earlier this year?

There are three main learnings we took away:

Firstly, have a clear and easily understood plan. And then let it guide your every action. Ours was to (a) keep our staff safe and (b) protect our paying customers.

Keeping everyone at Dennis safe made the decision to shut our offices globally, ahead of any mandated lockdowns, a simple one to make. And focusing on the relationships that really mattered – our paying subscribers – kept us focused on producing great content, made us mindful (and highly appreciative) of our supply chain, and ensured we communicated with our customers clearly and regularly.

Secondly, it’s too late to fix the roof when the rain starts. Many of the investments we had made in 2019 really paid off when the world went into lockdown. Our investment in agile working and crucially the culture of trust that underpins that, our commitment to building a world-class subscription business and the re-platforming of all our web properties all paid real dividends both culturally and financially. 

Thirdly, be bold. Every disruption creates opportunity, just make sure you take the time to see it. The Week Junior was launched to plan in the US, at the end of March, right into the very teeth of the pandemic.

Of course, we hesitated about pulling the trigger in such uncertain times – we wouldn’t be human otherwise – but we identified that the role of The Week Junior, in guiding children in an uncertain world, had never been more important and relevant. Some 60,000 subscribers later, we are very glad we chose to be bold and press ahead.

What mistakes did you make during the first lockdown that you would not want to repeat again?

It seems obvious now but we chose to be blind to what was happening on the other side of the world. Even as the pandemic and the impact swept westwards, we chose to believe it would never happen to us. Even when it reached Italy and started to lock down the country and the economy, it felt far away even though it couldn’t in reality have been much closer to home.

It’s far too easy to ignore something that’s obvious, especially when it’s scary. We are a global, connected world but we very rarely act that way.

What are the successes that you would want to repeat?

We need to remember how we behaved in those challenging early days – we were agile and adaptable, spoke freely and with empathy, followed a plan rather than acting on emotion and were decisive, even if some of the choices we had to make were incredibly difficult.

We also stayed extremely close to our customers. With the automotive industry in trouble earlier in the year, our team came together quickly to devise and launch our Get Britain Moving Again campaign, giving away advertising space across our automotive portfolio through May. We had 16 out of the top 20 manufacturers support the campaign. We helped advertisers who weren’t able to spend when they still needed to, while opening up conversations and relationships with new clients, many of whom have seen the benefit of advertising with us and have stayed.

If there is a second lockdown, what advice would you give other publishers?

Keep talking – to employees, readers, advertisers.  And trust in and empower your teams and brilliant staff to find a way through.

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