Weaving Their Way through the Pandemic Publishing Maze

“This situation brought out the best of people.”

That’s the feeling of David Mulrenan, head of investment at Zenith UK, when asked how the publishing industry is coping with COVID-19.

“Continuous innovation, whether that be in how the copy gets into consumers hands or using their first party data to help take the temperature of the nation, I think the publishing industry has stood out,” Mulrenan is quoted in this compiled piece in MediaTel. “The way they have interacted with agencies and clients has been in a respectful but helpful manner, particularly when they are being hit so hard in terms of revenue.”

Mulrenan joined Hearst’s Amy Brown, Sue Todd of Magnetic Media, David McMurtie from Google’s Partner Business Solutions, and Lee Lythe from Spark Foundry in an online event chaired by MediaTel’s Steven Scaffardi.

Brown used the word “resilient” in her answer, saying “most brands have adapted well and more importantly in a conscientious manner. With printed brands we faced a huge technical challenge of creating, editing, printing and distributing 19 brands and we did not miss a single deadline.”

Todd, an industry-wide voice for magazine media, noted the 200% surge in some subscription rates since the lockdown in the UK, and how editorial priorities shifted on a dime.

“Editorial switched immediately to helping audiences cope with their working and lifestyle changes and have continued to provide useful and reassuring information to consumers,” Todd notes. “The close relationship magazine titles have with their readers has helped deliver highly relevant content that has been ‘on point’ in terms of the mood of the nation.”

Lythe has been impressed by how quickly news brands were able to make these shifts in both content and sales. “By speedily implementing strategies such as reassessing their distribution points, subscription promotions and introducing new home delivery propositions, they have done everything they can to safeguard their circulation,” he explains.

McMurtie meanwhile made a literary reference that is all too applicable, quoting Dickens’: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Overall, the publishing industry took this head-on, got real with what their audience was experiencing, (because, after all, they were all experiencing it too), and took the opportunity to innovate in unexpected ways. They’ve begun to truly own the importance of cross-platform audience engagement and gained a better understanding of reader behavior, while recognizing that yes, sometimes what that audience needs is a good print magazine. And they’ve all learned just how important trust is to the modern consumer.

“I believe that the changes in consumer behavior because of this pandemic and other world events will only make trusted news sources more important,” Mulrenan notes. “Some of the changes in consumer behavior will stick around, but not all of them. Let’s hope that one of the ones that does is the increasing amount of people consuming content from our fantastic publishing industry.”

As we all look to the immediate future and the longer-term change we are in the midst of, the brands we can trust are the brands we’ll keep. Publishers are learning this lesson in double time due to COVID-19.