Is Your Audience ‘Aware of the Breadth’ of Your Coverage? Engagement Lessons From The Washington Post.

When you can get someone to tell you a personal story about a meeting with Jeff Bezos and how to maintain and monetize the engagement from the COVID-19 coverage you’ve been putting out, then you have quite an interview.

And so we did last week when Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives for The Washington Post, spoke to my colleague Matt Kinsman of SIIA’s Connectiv division (who did a great job moderating). Members can watch this session along with the others from CES Deconstructed at this link. Here are some highlights:

The Jeff Bezos? Asked how to present stories that need to be told but are not sexy enough to reach the upper left quadrant, Gilbert gave us a “personal experience.”
“…It’s your job to make the important news interesting.” Three or four years ago, “our publisher had two teenage daughters and… was very keen on us being a part of Snapchat Discover…,” Gilbert began. “And when we were looking to join Discover, we were invited right before Snap was going public as a company. We had a call with Jeff Bezos [owner of The Washington Post and Amazon], a strategy call, and he said, ‘Do you have any concerns about going forward with this?’ And I said, ‘Yes I have this concern, I think Snap wants us to be the serious news and not necessarily the compelling news. And the audience will look at us as vegetables and not dessert.’
“And Jeff paused for a second”—and Gilbert paused in telling it—”and then he said to me, ‘Don’t you think it’s your job to make the important news interesting?’ I was stunned, and I said nothing because what do you to say to that. So what I would say is, ‘I don’t think it is a fair or reasonable thing to say we have stories that are important but are not interesting. If a story is important enough, it is our job to find a way to tell it in a way that’s sexy.’… Almost always you can find a way through animation, interactivity, audio or video or graphics to make important stories compelling and if we’re not doing that, it really is more the fault of the newsroom than it is a fault of the story.”
Most publishers have seen a jump in engagement since the pandemic began. How do they maintain that engagement post-COVID. “I think there are two important things about this,” Gilbert said. “One is when you have those moments, when people are intensely interested in your content for a very specific reason, everything feels changed. We need to think how we can make our news and information [continue to be] relevant, but especially how we can make people aware… about the width and breadth of coverage we can do. Not that I think all of you are general news publishers, but I have to think that even after COVID-19 that there are lots of reasons that your information will be relevant. So some of that is how do you attract people to products that can continue? Newsletters are a great example. People tune in now because maybe they have more time or because they’re in front of the computer more or feel more isolated, But if you can get them to subscribe to a newsletter, you have a way to reach them even when they go back to in-person offices and in-person meetings.
“The second thing is, you need to think, what it is about the relationship that felt important,” Gilbert continued. Why did the audience turn to you now so you could continue to make that valuable? Many of the people taking our subscription offers today are taking them on annual plan. So by April of next year, we would have had to make the case to them that their subscription is still valuable, even if we are in a happier, healthier position by then. So how do we transition people? If you are one of the almost a million people who subscribed to our COVID-19 email newsletter, what are the other newsletters that may be valuable to you? What kinds of coverage did you click through from the email newsletter and how can we use those interactions with our site or native apps to get you to stay?”

There will be other coverage that people will need. “So what we’re trying to do [is show that] our arts writers and critics, our sports writers and critics, our food writers and critics can feel relevant now but also signal to our audience that after the COVID crisis, we’ll have different kinds of coverage that they will still need,” Gilbert said. “So that’s really what we’re trying to do to combat that challenge. But I absolutely feel that imperative every bit as much as your members do, and we’re thinking very deeply about what are the things, the products, the tools that we can offer our audience and how can we bridge [new subscribers] from caring about the news in the time of the virus to caring about the news when things are going better.”

It’s all about audience needs. “And so if we can keep the needs of our audience at the forefront and not just think of our audience as consumers who buy our products but also people who need our news, we’re going to have a better experience,” Gilbert said.

Again there was much more to the interview that you can watch here.


‘Thrilling to See it Happen’ – Transition to 100% Remote Work and Non-Event Revenue Give CEOs Optimism

When offices open up again, what will make employees comfortable enough to go back in? In an engaging and revenue-focused CES Deconstructed session titled CEO Power Panel: How Leading Companies Are Planning to Not Just Survive But Thrive, Arizent CEO Gemma Postlethwaite offered one answer that resonated with her colleagues and audience.

“We have tried to quantify this [with a survey],” she said. “We’ve asked specific questions of what you would need to have in place to feel comfortable [to go back to the office]. It’s very clear from our part of the world that until there are vaccines, most people will be uncomfortable commuting in and out of New York City. [Plus] 30% have school-age children.”

Of course, she also pointed out that “people who live alone and who work alone are itching to get back to more communication in real time. How do we serve our community and make decisions in the best interest of that community and families, and keep up productivity? We’ll embrace it and look at it as an opportunity.”

Tony Uphoff, president and CEO of Thomas, and Connectiv’s just-named 2020 McAllister Top Management Fellow, has accepted the commuting-will-be-tough mantra and went one step further earlier this year—100% remote.

“It was thrilling to see it happen,” he said. “We saw personal protection equipment coming out of China early on and did a couple things quickly. There were 2000 manufacturers who volunteered to make PPE, and we operate where goods are traded. Usage of Thomas is up 45%. The demand for our advertising solutions is up 100%… For us, this is an accelerator” to the direction they were already moving in.

In the hour-long session, four media company CEOs talked about finding the cents and sensibilities floating in our new uncharted seas. The consensus seemed to be, don’t count on events coming back too soon. Instead, find what can replace them both in terms of revenue and networking.

“We’ve really been aggressive with virtual and digital events,” said Tim Hartman, CEO of Government Executive Media Group. He believes it will be a while before we return to any semblance of what physical events looked like, so they will focus on digital advertising and marketing services and virtual events.

“I really want to avoid [this] and caution everyone else that delays in pushing back live events can be problematic. That requires keeping relationships going with vendors, venues, locations. It’s hard to do—delaying to August, then October, then 2021. We’re avoiding that. [Instead] we went to clients with a combination of new products and an incentive for digital advertising—convincing them that this is good idea. [Fortunately] it works for us. Our clients are open and are still getting paid by the government.”

Sean Griffey, CEO of Industry Dive and a holdout in the events world—although he said that they had been looking to acquire an events business before the crisis—said they have remained focused on solving problems for their audience.

“Culturally, our sales team doesn’t view themselves as selling advertising. And we’re not selling webinars or banner ads,” said Griffey. “They’re trying to solve customers’ problems. That’s allowed us to be very nimble… We’re always looking for something that has a foundation. I’m excited about peer-to-peer networks. How do we do that virtually? What do our audiences need? What do our advertisers need?”

They have “seen some tailwinds shift from event budgets to online. Our clients have problems they’re looking to solve, [and with us in] 19 different markets, we have a vast array of [solutions] to offer… In education [for example], people with remote learning solutions are coming out of the woodwork. We’re fortunate on how we can position ourselves. Sales and revenue are up.”

With those 19 verticals, Industry Dive’s doubling down on content has not gone unnoticed. Postlethwaite said that Arizent has also “invested a lot in our editorial content.” They’ve been able to pivot to an integrated approach, helping to make more truly meaningful connections for their clients. “We’ve made big investments in our studio,” she said, adding that clients are coming to them more for the content they’re producing. “We’ve been gearing up to have way more inventory for sponsors and have also seen a greater demand for valued leads and marketing services.”

Still, the idea of remote working and if not live events, then what permeated much of the conversation. “Are there emergent event models that will happen… that will be complimentary to live events?” Hartman asked. “If there’s going to be a new world, live will have virtual instances. Events may turn to more Netflix-like programming… We have the opportunity to create the next iteration of that. We’re just in the first inning.”

Hartman added that he sees more product and development energy taking place now, and—in a recurring theme with the panel—more added content. “We’re meeting more frequently. We’ve invested in podcasting; we have our own podcast for every editorial brand. Also six or seven white label podcasts. You can listen to a podcast while you do your chores around the house.

“We’re also spending a lot more time with our sales team, listening to what they’re hearing in the market,” Hartman said. “So they have the newest version of our perspective on the future… How we’re going to educate clients on what that will look like is an imperative for us as well.”

As for the working from home, Uphoff said that they are “thriving remotely” and will make coming in optional even when the situation changes. Griffey also said that they will be a lot more remote in the future. In addition, he said the pandemic affects how we all look at office space moving forward.

“Do we need more space to sit apart or less space because less people will go into the office? I will not force people to come in or get on a plane. It’s not on me to tell them they have to be here as long as long as they’re productive.”

The CES Deconstructed Power Panel session can be accessed here. The sessions continue throughout May. If not already registered for CES Deconstructed, sign up here.