23rd March 2020 is a date that will be burned into our collective psyche for a generation or more. There was no single big event or catastrophic change from the day before, but, that night, the endless churn of undifferentiated days officially began as the nation went into lockdown.
But as we all rapidly approach the big 5-0 – fifty days since the Prime Minister gravely told us all to ‘stay home, protect the NHS, save lives’ – we’ve been reflecting with our journalist and influencer colleagues on how COVID-19 has impacted news agendas, social media, product launches, and the media landscape we were accustomed to.
Generally speaking, the news is encouraging, even if work practices have had to change. From Father’s Day to Christmas, all the regular seasonal events and stories to prove much needed escapism and advice to readers are still high on the agenda with media, albeit with sensitivity to ‘the current situation’. Where there once would have been restaurant recommendations there may now be recipe ideas and where parties would have been referenced, we may be talking more low-key gatherings or products to enjoy with your lockdown family. But products, innovations, inspiration and news are still needed to fill pages, and with many titles having staff furloughed the journalists we’ve been speaking to are stretched very thin. When talking to trade media, they are actually seeing a surge in NPD news and most of their regular features are continuing, however all now inevitably include questions on the impact of COVID-19 on the market and a number of titles have shifted to digital only formats.
Challenges to the retail sector have been significant, so we find ourselves in a unique time to really add value through the media. The multiple retailers need reassurance that brands are able to adapt and meet increased demands, and the convenience channel – without their usual rep visits – is clamouring for category and legislative advice as well as commitments from brands to keep stock flowing in. When speaking to The Grocer and Convenience Store magazines recently, both remarked that whilst trends are less important, input from brands who are able to react quickly to the news and offer opinion and insight based on the latest government plans will be gratefully received.
Home working does bring its own unique challenges though – and we’re not just talking small children or unruly pets deciding to join conference calls! (We actually rather like that bit.) Photoshoots can’t really happen making content creation a real challenge for media. Which is where branching out into working with professional content creators, or strengthening existing relationships, can be invaluable. Across both consumer and trade media, having a strong image or dynamic video content to support a story can make a huge difference to securing great editorial coverage, so investing in content could significantly help with cut through. These content creators are often – helpfully – social media influencers too, so you can also get some added ‘bang for your buck’ by commissioning them to shoot products, recipes and even videos for your brand.
To this point, online is booming – screen time is up across all platforms; from Instagram to Facebook, digital newspapers, magazines and trade titles, we are all consuming more digital media than ever before – up to 80% more in some cases. With these mediums often offering a far quicker turn around to get stories ‘out there’ and currently enjoying significantly higher traffic and dwell times than usual, there is an argument that lockdown is actually a great time to speak to your business and consumer audiences. Influencer and magazine social channel reach are also skyrocketing as we all turn to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to pass the time and be inspired. Whilst out of home advertising plans may be (sensibly) parked, these channels could be the perfect route into the hearts, minds and baskets of shoppers – and at a fraction of the cost.
What is more, it’s not just us that wants to connect with audiences. Consumers and retailers also want to hear from brands, with recent research suggesting over 70% find it helpful to receive inspiring content.
Our advice to clients remains clear – keep the news flowing, be agile and reactive and think about what insights you could share to add value. Journalists who we work with will remember that you were there helping them write their pages and keeping insights, products, recipes and news – virtually – coming across their desks.
As understandable as it is to consider going quiet to ride out the storm, this isn’t what the media or consumers want. As one journalist said: ‘we all need entertainment, inspiration and advice – now more than ever. And we’re still trying to plan as usual for the rest of the year – it won’t be like this forever.’
This too shall pass. And in the meantime, we have journalists, influencers and shoppers hungry for news of all types to break up the monotony of lockdown.