As businesses start to plan for life after Covid-19, a crisis with no precedent, how should we approach a world challenged by economic recovery? That was the topic posed to a panel of industry experts during a recent webinar hosted by the World Media Group, and chaired by Damian Douglas, Managing Director EMEA, at Time.
Douglas framed the conversation by looking at where we are in both the news cycle and the financial markets. While both suggest we are in recovery mode, the situation is still fragile. The crises of recent memory (the dot.com bubble 2001, the financial crisis 2008) were economic in origin, and neither led to mortality or unemployment on such a significant scale, which adds another layer of complexity.
As lockdown measures are eased and businesses start to come back to life across all sectors, marketing strategies, media buys and budgets are likely to come under scrutiny. So how can publishers rebuild confidence and encourage advertisers to return after a period of such disruption?
Consumer confidence on the rise
Consumer confidence plays an essential role in how well brands perform and, by extension, how much advertisers are willing to invest. Douglas asked Phillipa Leighton-Jones, Editor At Large, The Trust, The Wall Street Journal|Barron’s Group, to talk about its consumer confidence reports and what they meant for brand behaviour.
Leighton-Jones described The Wall Street Journal|Barron’s Group as a bellwether of what the C-suite is thinking. “These are the decision-makers who will be shaping the economy of the future in many respects,” she said. “And when you’ve got marketers who are fighting hard for every dollar of discretionary spending, you need to make sure that they know what kind of environment they’re talking in and what kind of conversations they need to be having.”
So what are the decision makers thinking? According to Leighton-Jones more than half of the1000 respondents surveyed across The Wall Street Journal|Barron’s Group expect the economy to get better in the next three months, a 22 percentage point gain from mid-March. They also anticipate an increase in expenditure on personal goods and travel, she said.
With non-essential stores reopening this week, we’ve seen how keen the general public is to return to ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping. People are eager and ready to spend, and it stands to reason that this will increase as lockdown ends and people can go to bars, restaurants and other entertainment outlets.
Advertisers can have fun again
With that in mind, Douglas asked David Wheldon, Vice President at WFA and the former Chief Communications and Marketing Officer for RBS, whether it was safe for brands to revert back to type and start entertaining us again after months of being circumspect with their advertising.
“I think people have had enough of ‘we’re all in this together, with you every step of the way’ type communication,” Wheldon said, adding that some of the advertisers doing it looked “pretty inauthentic” and there was a lot of “twaddle” around. Citing some of the better communication he had noticed during lockdown, Wheldon praised KFC for really understanding its market. The fast food provider encouraged customers to make their own KFC at home and post their attempts on social media, then responded with “relatively insulting” comments about people’s efforts. It went down well because “they understood their audience, got the tone right, and were sensitive to what was happening,” Wheldon said. It comes down to authenticity, and “a brand, knowing what it is and what it does, and doing it in the right way, with the right tone,” he said.
Relieving Customer Pain Points
The same rings true for publishers producing content. Returning to The Wall Street Journal|Barron’s Group’s Leighton-Jones, Douglas asked how publishers could capitalize on what has been a period of growth, with increased audiences and engagement. “People are looking for brands to talk to them,” she said. “Not necessarily to sell to them, but to demonstrate some value and leadership. It’s always going to be about putting the customer first, and thinking deeply, not about what products or services you want to sell them, but how you can solve their pain points.” Demonstrating what she called “edifying utility”, allowed businesses to tell “brave brand stories that are authentic, and that show your leadership,” she said.
Picking up a theme from the webinar’s audience members, Douglas asked how far businesses can plan ahead when everything is changing so frequently. According to Wheldon, based on his conversations with CMOs, it’s difficult to plan more than a month in advance. “On the whole, it’s a 30 day rolling plan with the 90 day horizon, and financially that kind of works for most people,” he said. “Because beyond that, how would you know? So zoom in tight on 30 days, and be flexible and pragmatic.” For publishers, flexibility and agility will be essential in order to support advertising partners as they navigate these uncertain times.
When will the industry bounce back?
Douglas wrapped up the webinar by revealing the results of an audience member poll asking how optimistic they were that the advertising industry would bounce back before the end of 2020. The results, he said, were fairly evenly split (35% optimistic, 42% pessimistic and 23% unsure), reflecting where we are right now with the ever-changing news cycle.
Finishing on a positive note, he pointed out that there was “everything to play for”. For publishers, that means an opportunity to work more closely in partnership with advertisers to support and assist clients and businesses as they navigate through a period that no-one’s experienced before. There are no ‘right’ or easy answers, but the panel agreed that a spirit of partnership is central to helping businesses move forward. “As humans we will make mistakes,” Douglas said, “But ultimately, I think we’ll get judged on motive and generosity.”
Director, World Media Group
The full webinar is available to view below:
About the World Media Group:
The World Media Group is a strategic alliance of leading international media organisations that connects brands with highly engaged, influential audiences in the context of trusted and renowned journalism. Its members include The Atlantic, BBC Global News, Bloomberg Media Group, Business Insider, The Economist, The Financial Times, Forbes, Fortune, National Geographic, Reuters, The New York Times Company, Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and associate members: Moat, Smartology and The Smithsonian.