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.”