Why you should not put marketing activities on hold during Covid-19 and what to focus on when budgets are cut.

A data analysis of publications’ web traffic shows now is not the time to avoid marketing activity. The B2B media is more read now than it was before the pandemic. And, as the 2008 recession showed, if you stop supporting them through not just adverts, but through high quality content, they will go under…

SimilarWeb has now updated its site traffic information for April and it appears that B2B media is not only still being read, but traffic has increased over March and February levels for many publications and across many sectors. PR-Evaluation has taken a look at the data for many of the leading publications from sectors that PR-Evaluation clients work in: from electronics to hospitality and from space to IT. And we found (for the most part) a consistent pattern:

  • more visits,
  • a greater number of pages per visit,
  • longer times being spent per visit.

Take EE Times and EDN. Two of the most influential global publications in the electronics sector. These saw monthly increases of 8.9% and 8.7% respectively, including increases in all of their 5 biggest markets. A similar picture is seen for UK electronics titles, with Electronics Weekly traffic up 7.7% on March. And even those that haven’t increased traffic, appear to have seen no significant drop off: Electronic Design saw a worldwide drop of 2%, and a 17% increase in its home (US) market.

Elsewhere, Space.com’s traffic is up 11.7% to 16.2 million sessions. Computer Weekly is up 12.5% and Light Reading (Telecoms) is up 21.2%.

And even in B2B travel publications, which appears to have been the most hit as hotels and airBnB property owners prepare for the worst, some of the leading titles have seen growth in traffic, notably PhocusWire with a 6.3% increase, including increases in four of its five biggest markets: the US, UK, Netherlands and Canada.

But ad spend is falling and content is drying up.

A consistent them with editors that I’ve spoken to has been advertising revenue is dropping. Staff are being furloughed. The few that aren’t are being over worked. And content has dropped.

And this brings back memories of the 2008 recession. Back then I worked for an electronics-specialist PR agency, Publitek and wrote its monthly newsletter, which wrote up news from industry publications, events and journalists. Back then I can remember the news being so bleak that it wasn’t for c.8 months that we had our first month with no emails about redundancies / closures coming in. This fact was even newsworthy enough to have made it to the top of our roundup note.

And at the time one thing seemed (I don’t have the stats to back this up) to be happening. Ad money stalled, so publications took any content, especially if it came from advertisers. Consequentially, quality fell, readers disappeared and the reason to advertise went with it.

From speaking with several editors, they’re worried about a lack of content coming through. Neil Tyler (New Electronics) in particular highlighted this, saying there was a noticeable drop in pitches about a week into the UK’s lockdown.

In short, without both content and money a publication will fail. Making supporting these titles a non-altruistic act.

Content should be a priority

I’d argue that a publication without money can continue for longer than a publication without content.

And what the SimilarWeb data shows above all else is that people who are working from home are paying attention to the B2B media. This means content not only altruistic in terms of keeping these essential publications running long term, but it is also effective. And content doesn’t have to be costly, especially when more time from your experts in the engineering, marketing or senior management teams may have just become available.

A good bylined article that drives traffic tends to be (in my experience) non-overtly-promotional. You’re not trying to do a hard sell but position yourself as an expert that can help. It should look at a problem in the industry, show that you understand it and highlight the solutions to it.

And while not everyone within the company will be Oscar Wilde (they’re hired for their engineering brain, their coding ability or their vision, not their penmanship), writing can be tidied up easily by the marketing team or an agency. With this in mind, discuss ideas with your internal experts and have them write the piece, an outline or a few bullets that someone can build on. And if the writing capability isn’t there I can recommend Abode PR (travel PR), Sonus (IT and tech), and Publitek / my parent agency, Fourteen Communications (Electronics).

And if you’re not sure what the most influential publications in your sector are, use SimilarWeb (or SEMRush or Alexa) to prioritise which publications it should be pitched to.

Still not convinced?

Even if you’re not convinced by the altruistic argument; or the long-term selfish argument, there is a short-term selfish argument that has been made very eloquently by the New Yorker, which while only anecdotal is at least strengthened by the SimilarWeb data.

And that’s from the cereal maker Kellogg’s. When the cereal maker started it was one of 42 (just to stress that – forty two) companies – and that’s just in Battle Creek, Michigan alone. Marketing helped take it to one of two dominant cereal makers in the 1920s (the other being post). But when the great depression struck they used two strategies – Post reigned in its marketing, Kellogg’s doubled its budget. Kellogg’s profits during this period increased by 33%. Hands up who has heard of Post Cereals?

And yes, this is anecdotal. This is a single example of where increasing marketing budgets during a crisis has worked ignoring the probable thousands of cases where it hasn’t. But as you’ll see by even a brief look at your Google Analytics, web sessions spike and then drop again quickly after coverage, so (in my opinion) it would be a mistake to cancel marketing activity completely, especially given the audience is there to listen and especially given it can be done relatively inexpensively.

End note

I’ve been toying with writing this piece.

This is the worst health crisis the world has seen in about a century and I’m well aware that (at time of writing – 16th May 2020) there have been 308,000 confirmed Covid-19 deaths. And many thousand unconfirmed ones to boot.

I also know that, in being able to work from home and balance work with home schooling young children, I am incredibly lucky. So, I do not wish to appear callous in the above piece. And will highlight that this blog is as far away as possible from suggesting going back to business as usual. And it is absolutely not suggesting doing anything that involves travelling or meeting people, or anything that increases the risk for anyone else.

Stay home. Stay safe.