‘Listening Precedes Telling’; Education Week’s Empathy, Outreach Offer Revenue Lessons

Facing the heavy loss of advertising dollars, Education Week used the surveys they had launched early in the pandemic to pivot their products and also show their advertisers where customer needs had shifted. “You really want to ask your customers what they need, how best you can support them… and how [you] can be a partner to them,” Jeson Jackson (pictured), marketing and customer experience manager for Education Week, told us.

“The biggest hit that we took that [looked] to be long lasting was from our advertisers,” Jackson said during our BIMS event in December. There was just so much uncertainty about what schools were going to do, what they would need.”

Advertisers worried about their print visibility, and everyone worried about the impact on revenue. “As a partner to our advertisers, we wanted to help support them in the same way that we supported ourselves, and that was by listening to our customers to find out what they needed,” Jackson said. “Much of the survey data that we collected”—early on in the pandemic Education Week launched twice-monthly surveys to all areas of their audience—“we made available to our survey partners. We created sponsored survey products and had advertisers add questions.”

For Education Week, the goal was to take away some of that uncertainty. “That not only helped us generate good will with our advertisers but helped them see that schools were going to be more reliant on product and service providers than ever. That helped us with our advertisers in the tech space but also with those that provide social and emotional learning, and emotional support for teachers. It opened up budget lines that allowed them to continue advertising with us and help us retain revenue moving forward.”

Many of the solutions I hear from publishers result from asking customers questions and focusing intently on the answers. Education Week calls it “listening precedes telling.” It’s one of their four marketing principles, along with leading with your mission, attracting—not driving—customers and focusing on credibility and clarity.

Jackson started his talk by saying that their biggest goal during the pandemic has been to be both “relevant in content and empathetic in tone.” I heard that again this morning from Lev Kaye, founder and CEO of CredSpark. He even got a bit fired up when that subject came up in our conversation.

“The number one piece of advice we give our clients is to find ways to be relevant to individuals,” he told me. “That’s what everyone craves. They’re not starved for content, they’re starved for relevant content. Ask questions, learn about your audience. Then you can decide, does this person get a phone call because there’s a [specially suited] package or should this person be targeted in another way?

“You’re asking questions to be able to get towards relevance with an individual. That’s the basis of the relationship [you want to build]. That way you know you’re going to provide value for them. And the reason to do this is because Google and Facebook are not going to do this. That’s the beauty. That’s what B2B media can do. You have more meaning to your audience.”

Of course, this is not new, but it certainly has become even more valuable during the last year—when we’re not getting any in-person feedback, and people are pretty open to be communicated with in a substantive way.

“For us, customer intelligence became the new currency internally,” Robin Crumby, co-founder and managing director, Kademy—and formerly the head of Melcrum—told us at a session in 2019. “So every team meeting would start with an insight from a customer conversation, and people learned very quickly that if they really weren’t having regular contact with customers, they really weren’t having say in those meetings.

“What we found was the higher the price point, the deeper the level of engagement that is required. [For a] $30,000 product, sometime the customer can’t articulate the need or what a product should look like. So we try to understand some of the challenges that they’re facing, trying to understand their individual pain points and how can we pinpoint our individual products and services to address those. It went beyond listening to co-creating the solutions.”

The difference now is the need for the empathetic tone. “We’ve been framing the conversation that we’re not necessarily here in this moment to make a sale, or to convert to some sort of product but to support you,” Jackson said. “And to do that we had to listen to their needs… because we really didn’t know what our readers needed most. We had some assumptions, but you really want to ask your customers what they need, how best you can support them… and how we can be a partner to them and supply what they needed. So some of that led to us reframing some existing products and getting that out to them, and some led to new products.”

Brittany Carter, president of Columbia Books & Information Services, once told me about a small company they acquired and with it an HR Guide that they published every year. “Does this even apply anymore,” she asked? The author assured her yes, and they published it.

“We didn’t sell a single copy,” Carter said, and she soon found out that the last one didn’t either. But because of the lack of transparency—and customer outreach—nobody knew, not even the author. “I said right there, ‘We will rearrange this.’ You don’t think any of this can happen, but if no one is thinking about the end user and what the customer is telling you, then it can happen.”


Sorting Your Events Now and Finding ‘Complements’ for the Future

We’ve all seen the obvious hits that events are starting to take. Tom Hagy of HB Litigation Conferences wrote a thoughtful response on the Discussion Forum this morning why he “backed off the event business last year.”
“It’s too vulnerable. Vulnerable to everything from weather to calamity to greedy employees and partners who don’t hesitate to take the money and run,” he wrote. “I never intended it to be a standalone operation. It was always a great complement to what else I was doing…”
Of course, that doesn’t help our present situation. But the Discussion Forum is in other ways. There has been a solid strand on cancellation policies. Ed Coburn of Cabot Wealth Network posted a policy that his colleague Linda Vassaly found from Hubspot:
“First things first: the INBOUND team’s foremost goal is to keep you, our future attendees, safe. We’re optimistic that COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) will be contained before INBOUND, but we wouldn’t be event organizers if we weren’t planning for every possibility. This is why we’ve extended our 100% refund date to June 1 to ensure you can buy with confidence. See our help page here, where we’ll be providing continuous updates as things develop.”
Lev Kaye of CredSpark wrote to encourage asking questions of your subscribers and members.
“What’s your personal level of concern about traveling to an event to be held in the month of _______? What are some of the key factors you’d use in deciding whether or not to attend/exhibit on the currently-scheduled date?”
“It takes confidence to ask such questions—there’s always the fear that it will be interpreted as reflecting indecision. But this is a time of complete uncertainty for nearly everyone, and your audience will understand that you’re trying to gather their input to inform your best thinking. And likely they’ll appreciate being asked.”
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report, “Get Your Mass Gatherings or Large Community Events Ready for Coronavirus.” The guidance is intended for organizers and staff responsible for planning mass gatherings or large events in the U.S. You can read it here.)
In this time of uncertainty, Hagy’s phrase, “great complement to what else I was doing,” stands out. On Tuesday, I wrote about two virtual events that have been far exceeding expectations—Education Week’s Online Summits (which we will hear more about at SIPA 2020) and’s Zoom On Ins. Even when live events return to form, virtual events can remain a strong complement.
Video streaming is picking up momentum. The Interactive Advertising Bureau is recommending that presenters for their late-April, yet un-cancelled NewFront event stream their presentations instead of hosting in-person gatherings.
“To be clear, based on feedback from longtime NewFronts participants, we at IAB strongly recommend streaming-only productions for all presenters,” the organization said. “However, we are committed to supporting the industry and believe that the new streaming option we’re outlining here allows for the most flexibility to serve your specific requirements.”
Podcast presenters are also reporting an uptick. CNN recently launched “Coronavirus: Fact vs Fiction” a daily 10-minute show which hit 1 million downloads a week after launch. Digiday had this quote today in an article titled In the Age of Coronavirus, Publishers See a Podcast Mini Boom:
“Both publishers and consumers are going back to trusted long-form sources of information that can be refreshed very quickly,” said Peter Mitchell, group managing director at podcast consultancy 4DC. “News is the biggest genre-growth in podcasts, it’s not surprising that’s where there’s growth.”
They make the point that while advertisers might withdraw from being next to a depressing news topic, “they’re not currently doing that [with podcasts],” said Sam Shetabi, U.K. content director at Acast. In some cases it’s actually the contrary. “In fact, the growing health concerns have seen the number of health-related audio ads go up,” said Scott Simonelli, CEO of audio ad platform Veritonic.
But like the Zoom On Ins, podcast publishers are mostly using the intense scrutiny to build audience, not profits. The upselling comes later.
Much more to come. And SIPA will be with you all the way, right up to SIPA 2020 June 1-3, starting with next Thursday’s important Webinar: Coronavirus and Your Events: How to Make Decisions that Protect Your Business and the Safety of Your Staff. Register here. You will not want to miss this.