The New York Times Building at Night

The Future of Journalism

The future of journalism will be defined by two parallel forces: algorithms and trust.

Online media has been in constant evolution since print newspapers and periodicals first moved online.

Industry innovation since then has mainly delivered new ways to cover and share news: podcasts; webinars; video; social media.

But the non-stop battle for readers and revenue never disrupted the fundamental business model of publishing. Outlets continue to generate revenue through either subscription-based or ad-supported coverage.

More recently, powerful new forces have put this model into question – one slowly and one suddenly. The response will define who maintains their positions as the gatekeepers of information moving forward.

Big Tech is poaching ad revenues

One major financial burden for digital publishers is Big Tech. Google and Facebook, in particular, have built their own news distribution and advertising platforms that offer larger audiences and more personalization options.

Quote with image of wrinkled newspaper: It's more appealing for advertisers to circumvent the publishers

It’s a natural if not inevitable evolution. Newspapers and periodicals curated and distributed great writing to a broader audience than the writers could reach alone. Big Tech simply does the same at a greater scale. It curates the best of the best for the biggest audience.

The publishing industry model has always financially rewarded the organizations with the biggest audiences and best ROI for advertisers. Big tech now wears that crown.

In response, many of the biggest publishers are lobbying to require tech companies to pay for the news they use. This would provide some relief for content producers but doesn’t address the competitive disadvantage of the model itself. It’s a band-aid option that prevents the industry from addressing larger issues at hand.

Money flowed from inefficient print newspapers to online publications because it delivered a better user experience and better ROI for advertisers. Even if regulators force Big Tech to share revenue with publishers, the same forces will continue to disrupt the online news industry from within.

The pandemic effect

The throes of a pandemic offer a fascinating glimpse into the true state and future of media and journalism.

Decision-makers and stakeholders need answers, guidance and insight into the factors influencing their livelihoods and lifestyles. That’s why many reliable publishers are experiencing huge surges in web traffic and engagement.

Publications like RIS News have built a reputation in their industries as being the gatekeepers of great content – and are rewarded for doing so, especially in times of increased need for information.

In a vacuum, this would be a harbinger of a revenue windfall.

However, the pandemic has led many brands to cut back on their ad buys with publications. This has resulted in a slew of media layoffs and furloughs, a cruel irony at a time when public interest in consuming content is high and the need is great.

Ultimately, a protracted pandemic and its economic fallout will accelerate the trends already underway. Ownership groups will consolidate risk, stack premier writing talent within fewer publications and double down on making sure those few outlets maintain profitability – at the expense of the rest.

The industry will get more top-heavy.

A symbiotic relationship

Although the pandemic will continue inflicting pain on the publishing industry, it eventually will come to an end. Similarly, Google and Facebook aren’t in the business of putting media out of business. In fact, it’s the worst thing they could do.

These tech platforms can’t – and don’t want to – create their own content. They prefer to identify and elevate the best content for each audience. Their algorithms do just that. And that’s why they’re so successful.

In a way, big tech is bringing rigid order to the Wild West of online publishing. They are the new gatekeepers of ‘good journalism’. And for better or worse, they don’t define winners subjectively. Behavior and preference data and search ranking algorithms leave no room for those who don’t follow the rules.

The role of trust in an open internet

There is another important factor working in publishers’ favor: platforms have issues of their own when it comes to policing their pages. Facebook especially has been battered by the fake new phenomenon. 

In an unregulated and open internet, trust comes at a premium. Ethical publishers will have a monopoly on trust that advertisers and brands will gravitate towards.

This does not mean that all online publishers will recoup the revenues they pulled in before big tech stole the show. Rather, well-defined and highly loyal audiences will continue to rely on digital publishers who exemplify those characteristics.

A new playing field defines the future of journalism

The importance and role of high-value content are the same as they have ever been. In fact, with questions about fake news and overt bias running rampant, it’s more critical to media sustainability than ever.

Publishers are just operating on a new playing field where new referees have reset the rules.

This game, like any game, will have winners and losers. But the players who create the best content for their audience’s needs will forever have a key role in defining the future of journalism. And readers and advertisers will reward them for it.

why coronavirus environment inspires content marketing

The Emerging Role of Content Projects in a Coronavirus Economy

About two weeks into quarantine, once the length of coronavirus stay-at-home measures became truly apparent, I felt a pressing desire to reconnect with old colleagues and friends.

It wasn’t just me. All at once, it felt like everyone was checking in each other people, working to gain insight into the true reality of the situation.

As unique as our professional experiences were, they were a lot of similarities.

Two things also became overwhelmingly clear:

  1. The marketers we talked to were planning to invest more in content this year than ever before.
  2. We had become very well positioned to help. Over the past year, we have been scaling up our graphic design and marketing capacity, as well as envisioning more project-based services.

The first-hand stories we heard from our friends were reiterated in overall industry trends.

Marketing budgets are getting cut 

In response to economic uncertainty, companies are decreasing marketing budgets. 

US spending on search advertising will decline by between 8.7% and 14.8% in H1 2020 – removing $6 billion to $8 billion from promotional budgets, according to eMarketer.

Canceled events are taking a toll on lead gen

Stay-at-home measures mean events of all kinds are canceled, a massive blow to one of many companies’ primary sales and lead gen channels. While webinars are filling in some of the gaps, they aren’t enough on their own.

Content converts, particularly now

Content has always played a key role in supporting all parts of the sales funnel: increasing overall awareness, generating leads and nurturing leads through close.

On average, conversion rates are six times higher for companies using content marketing, according to Aberdeen Group. 

marketers are investing more in content than ever before

But in the present coronavirus environment, content offers the unique advantage of rewarding time rather than financial investments, and it can promote a variety of expected outcomes.

Content can help you sell to your company’s future products and services. For example, let’s say you’re creating a new product to address coronavirus disruption in your industry. You can publish thought leadership content today that promotes the benefits of an ideal solution, drumming up demand in anticipation of its official launch.

Content can also help you highlight evergreen features that are always advantageous. If your product has a short deployment timeline, create content that highlights this value.

Content marketing supports the entire funnel

When we talk about content, we’re not limiting our conversation to long-form content, which is extremely influential but not the end-all-be-all. We’re referring to:

  • Blog posts: Great for lead generation through SEO and can be shared across every channel.
  • Infographics: Increase your reach; other companies love to share these.
  • Email marketing: As sales cycles shift (and possibly lengthen) email helps you stay top of mind. 
  • Press releases: Distribute company news publicly while validating market leadership and generating coverage.
  • Byline articles: Wonderful for thought leadership, boosting SEO and increasing awareness. 
  • Research: Identify yourself as the expert in your category through independent research. For inspiration, check out how we helped Adlucent capture attention during Amazon Prime Day last year.
  • Long-form content (eBooks, whitepapers, etc.): When hosted behind a gated form on your website or an ad, it directly generates leads. Repurpose this comprehensive content by turning it into more digestible thought leadership byline articles and blogs.

How to outsource content projects

Given the new urgency to create highly relevant and engaging branded content, we are now offering project-based services that help you grow your business without the commitment of a retainer.

We’ve always believed one of our biggest differentiators is that everyone on our team is a great writer.

Our new focus on end-to-end content marketing services means that we can help you write, design and promote content for any audience.

We’d love to talk with you about content ideas you’re mulling over, content types you’re considering or campaigns you hope to launch.

In addition to offering more project-based services, we’re also now offering a free, 30-minute consultation to our contacts. Take us up on our offer by emailing us at [email protected].

coffee shop open for business

Reopening Retail: What We’re Seeing

There’s only one topic that really matters in retail now: when and how to safely reopen retail so consumers can begin to shop and dine. The trick is to strike the right balance.

As retailers and restaurants open up their brick and mortar locations and slowly enter into a new way of doing business, it’s essential that shoppers feel safe and able to practice proper distancing and health practices.

Industry leaders such as Kroger have stepped up with their roadmaps for reopening. For example, Kroger’s “Sharing What We’ve Learned: A Blueprint for Businesses” has generated a lot of well-earned interest for its detailed recommendations.

What the experts are saying

In addition, Ketner Group has been in the middle of lots of discussions with clients, editors and analysts on the best ways to reopen retail. And we’re seeing interesting ideas begin to gain traction.

Ketner Group recently worked with our longtime client NGC Software on developing thought leadership on how to reopen retail in the era of coronavirus. NGC’s concepts are quickly gaining traction with leading brands and retailers, and we’re confident that they can play a role in helping to jumpstart retail.

This article in Sourcing JournalHow to Shorten the Timeline to Get Stores Back in Business – grew from a series of LinkedIn posts that generated 9,000+ views.

Another article in Glossy about how fashion brands plan to slowly reopen stores quotes NGC president Mark Burstein, along with retailers and other industry leaders that are working together to get retail up and running again.

We’re also helping Cathy Hotka and the Store Operations Council promote their recommendations for safely reopening retail. The Store Operations Council consists of leading retailers and industry thought leaders, and we’ll share those guidelines as soon as they’re available. As Cathy says, “We are in the second inning of a 9-inning game…we’re going to be dealing with this for a while.”

The key is for companies to work together, and we’re encouraged to see so many positive initiatives focused on the future of retail.

People shaking hands during a business meeting

CMOs and Media Relations: A Symbiotic Relationship

It’s quite possible that chief marketing officers (CMOs) have had to answer the following question countless times; “do we need a media relations program?”  

Spoiler alert… the answer is yes!

In addition to creating thought leadership and external awareness, a media relations strategy helps feed top of the funnel marketing initiatives. As well, a robust media relations program provides the sales team with additional ammunition throughout the sales cycle.

However, CMOs and heads of marketing hold the secret ingredient to make a media relations program succeed – driving the relationship.

A symbiotic relationship

During my time as an agency-side PR professional, the best agency-client relationships and most successful media programs I’ve seen have had a CMO at the wheel.

CMOs provide a holistic awareness of what is going on throughout their organization and understand the type of information that is most helpful for their customers and prospects. As such, CMOs can serve as the ideal conduit for information to flow between internal and external audiences.

Developing a strong media relations program requires knowing how your company serves customer needs and how industry trends affect the market. There’s no better person to lead that than the CMO.

Making the connection

As you position your company for media interviews, keep in mind that the CMO can serve as a primary spokesperson for the reasons discussed above. In the past, some of my clients have flagged concerns about having the CMO take interviews.

However, given their leadership over corporate and product messaging as well as customer needs, CMOs have proven themselves to consistently offer unique and valuable data and context during media interviews.

During every media interview, CMOs should look to create a personal relationship with each media contact. It’s no secret that reporters have to move at the speed of light to cover breaking news. They need a portfolio of sources they can tap to gather a balanced perspective of what the breaking news means for a particular community.

As CMOs connect with new media contacts this is a time to share the particular topics they can offer expertise on and available to discuss as news evolves.

After the interview, we often recommend that the CMO connect with the reporter. The best way is on social media, discussing recent stories, current industry trends or even funny discussions taking place in the Twittersphere. Just as CMOs do with customers, it’s about building a relationship with the media to stay top of mind.

A CMO’s media relations strategy during COVID-19

From a media relations perspective, today’s environment demands increased responsibility in the type of information we share externally.

CMOs need to take the personal media connections they’ve made and analyze how their company can further serve reporters’ needs in an efficient and responsible manner.

It’s about asking what kind of information is needed and useful for the reporter, as well as for their customer base. As well, CMOs also have the responsibility to work with their communications team and PR agency not only to align timing for company announcements with other marketing campaigns but to ensure the media and public will be receptive to the forthcoming announcement.

It’s critical to have all stakeholders and experts on hand to evaluate what is appropriate to announce and what should be put on temporary hold in the current climate.

We all hold a responsibility to limit misinformation and provide helpful commentary. CMOs across organizations can serve as guardians, conveying information that is helpful and informational in a time of crisis.

Strengthening the CMO-driven media relations program

As CMOs continue to get more comfortable with their media relations programs they can succeed by serving as conduits of information, fostering a personal relationship with media contacts and serving as guardians against the spread of misinformation.

Marketing and media relations go hand-in-hand, creating new paths of growth for a company and a powerful asset for brand building. The secret ingredient to making these programs work together lies with the CMO.

Grocery shelves full of eggs

UK Guest Blog: Will retail really be different after the crisis?

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact every aspect of life and the economy, our friend Chris Field, principal at UK-based FieldWorks Marketing, offers a look at some of the most influential trends that the crisis is accelerating, how retail will be affected by the crisis, and what the future of retail may look like as we emerge from it. We hope you enjoy.

As UK consumers discover that there are almost no home delivery slots available from any of the grocers, it is a timely reminder that only 8% of food is delivered online. And the grocers have defended themselves by saying that they cannot simply add huge capacity overnight, or possibly at all, given the controversy over staff working side by side in warehouses at the moment.

And it is also worth remembering, as so many people are calling the end of the store, that 85% of goods are still bought in stores, and that, while the stores landscape will look different after the pandemic ends and while retailers continue to explore just how many stores they need in a digital world, stores will not disappear, they will simply evolve, along the lines of the conversation we were all having before the pandemic.

Let’s put online shopping growth in perspective

Add to this that, albeit based on US research by Paymnts , only 25.4% of consumers surveyed said they were shopping online, and 16.3% were doing so on mobile more than they were before the coronavirus made its presence felt on these shores.

That’s only a slight uptick from the 22.1% and 16.7%, respectively, who reported similar sentiment in the survey at the beginning of March. So the idea that consumers alone will drive online growth and a further decline in store numbers may apply to certain types of goods that are already substantially bought online, ignores the fact that huge numbers do not shop online at all.

Rents are realigning

Consider also that, in the UK, there is growing flexibility among landlords to consider new types of rent agreements and the government is reviewing the rates system, so there should be a more benign environment for the store after the current crisis. This will, in turn, enable retailers to explore the right balance of on-to-offline and also to continue their journey to digitise stores to enable click and collect, browse digitally in store and buy online, store as warehouse and so on.

Consider also the role that retail stores play in the lives of consumers. Morrisons has recently reopened all of its cafes, not to serve tea and cake, but to provide a mini-warehouse for people to donate food to food banks.

You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone

And it is important to recognise that shopping in stores for most of us is a leisure activity that everyone would miss if it went away. A more useful debate to continue is the one about what people do when they go shopping in stores; they buy but they also chat, they drink coffee, they go to the cinema, they go on from there to the park and so on; so many different types of journeys that may be all shopping or just some shopping.

Remove stores entirely from that scenario and there are no more towns. So, listening to Silicon Valley tech investors and their hatred of stores, simply tells me that these are people who do not shop anyway; most of them are still men, so I probably don’t want to believe what they have to say about the future of the store.

So what I am concluding is that the reinvention that has been going on in retail for more than five years will continue after the crisis, even though in some areas, the velocity will increase.

If the pandemic is an existential crisis, it is one that has been going on for years.


Fieldworks is a UK-based agency that helps retail technology brands build visibility and reach prospects with award-winning digital marketing, content and PR.

When and why press releases

The When and Why of Press Releases, and Considerations for Today’s Normal

When it comes to tracking relevant industry news as a PR pro, it’s important to read press releases in addition to what the media is already actively covering. By using an RSS feed (maybe that’s very 2000s of me), I receive the news from the source rather than reading it second hand in the media. This is helpful for a number of reasons. It keeps us ahead of rapid response opportunities for our clients and new business ideas for Ketner Group. Perhaps even more importantly, by reviewing hundreds of releases a day, I’ve learned a lot about the when and why of press releases.

Since early March when the COVID-19 pandemic became a reality in the U.S., I’ve seen the number of press releases in my newsfeed drop considerably. But for good reason. A lot of the news we’d normally announce simply isn’t important at the moment. During normal times, there are a handful of categories that press releases fall into. While press releases aren’t altogether obsolete now, there are several additional considerations that should be taken. We’ll explore all of this below.

When and Why: Customer Stories

PR professionals, particularly in B2B, often argue that customer news is the most important. Customer stories validate a vendor’s product offering and provide real-world case studies – both for the media and an organization’s broader sales efforts. You can announce customer news at two stages of the relationship. First, upon signature (a customer win) and second, once results are achieved.

Unfortunately, customer releases are also probably the most difficult to procure for most B2B clients. Customer PR and marketing teams are often hesitant to sign on to a release. Internal customer stakeholders don’t always see the value or they’re afraid of giving away trade secrets to competitors. However, customers are more likely to participate in media activities if there’s a financial incentive. Given that these stories are so helpful for replenishing the pipeline, sales teams should make an effort to negotiate these incentives during the contract and renewal process.

Considerations for Now. If your industry is operating more or less as it normally does, there’s likely no harm in doing a customer release right now. But, your media targets may be stretched and not have the bandwidth to cover the news.

On the other hand, if your industry has been largely disrupted by the pandemic and its effects, customer releases are pretty much off-limits. The exception is if the customer news is directly tied to the crisis. In that case, customer stories are incredibly valuable and the media are eager for this content.

When and Why: Product Releases and Updates

In general, product releases or updates aren’t meant to drive a huge amount of media coverage. Don’t worry, a few opportunities exist to drive mentions. The exception of course is if you have a truly revolutionary new offering. While that is rarely the case, it’s important to make product news available to your customers, prospects and investors.

When it comes to product news specifically, turn to the analyst community. Use paid analyst relationships when you can to vet your messaging and ensure the offering resonates with your target audience. If you don’t have a paid relationship, pre-brief analysts before the news is public. Friendlies might still offer valuable feedback that can help you tweak your final messaging.

Like any release, customer validation is key when it comes to product news. Again, this can be negotiated. Ask beta users to provide a quote in exchange for early access to the product. If a customer quote is off the table, anonymize any benefits or improvements from those tests or aggregate the results from a collection of customers.

Considerations for Now. Unless there is a direct application to help users manage the current situation, product releases probably don’t make sense right now. But, like customer releases, with a relevant angle, the media might be interested.

When and Why: Company News

Company news comes in a variety of forms. A leadership change, a new service offering, an upcoming event, a strategic partnership or an office opening. Like product news, company news doesn’t usually drive significant media mentions. But it’s important to make your stakeholders aware of this news.

In general, it’s important to get this news out both over the wire, on your website, to analysts and to any media friendlies who cover this type of news. Unless you represent a Fortune 500 company, you don’t need to pitch top-tier media. Don’t waste your time or theirs.

Considerations for Now. At Ketner Group, we recommend that you post this news on your websites and distribute over the wire. That way it’s on your website so customers and prospects are ensured it’s “business as usual.” By distributing it over the wire, media have access if they desire. However, we don’t recommend directly pitching the news to media. Reporter’s inboxes are overloaded and editors are directing their teams to focus only on timely coverage related to the crisis.

When and Why: Unique Research

Proprietary research. It’s the holy grail. It’s the gift that keeps giving.

For PR professionals and media alike, unique research (done well, of course) is the biggest blessing a client or solution provider can provide. At Ketner Group, we can’t sing the praises of good research enough. While it often requires a significant upfront investment, the payoff will be worth it.

A robust research study can be divided into multiple releases – not to mention multiple bylines, thought leadership pitches, social media posts, email campaigns and more. Plan to repeat the research on a quarterly or annual basis, if you can.

Considerations for Now. If you completed your research during “normal times,” you might be in bit of a pickle at the moment. But look for ways you can tie in the current situation. For example, our clients RSR and Symphony RetailAI completed a joint supply chain study just before the crisis set in.

Initially, we thought we’d need to wait on the news. However, we were able to find a tie in, identifying how “retail winners” were prepared for the current situation and others could learn from them. As a result, the news generated considerable interest and coverage. Now is also a good time for real-time research focusing on the current situation. If you have the time and budget for research now, we highly recommend proceeding.

The Nevers

While the above might not encompass all types of releases, it’s a good overview. There are also times and situations when press releases simply don’t make sense. One scenario I see way too often is a release that’s distributed over the wire that simply quotes an executive’s opinion about a particular trend or piece of news. This is a waste of money! Trust me, I’m the only one seeing it.

A short release costs roughly $400 to put over the wire. There are much better ways to get your opinions out; namely, blogs, bylines, pitching reporters directly offering the perspective for a story idea and rapid response (AKA newsjacking) pitching.

Final Press Release Considerations

In general, if you’re considering whether or not a press release is necessary, ask yourself a few questions. First, is it newsworthy? Will the media cover this news? If not, is this the best way to disseminate the news to my intended audience? Would a blog or a social post be more appropriate? And especially right now when resources are stretched, is the time and cost needed to write and distribute the release worth the return?

If you don’t know the answer to these questions, ask your PR partner. A good PR partner will always ensure that your time and money are well spent when it comes to press releases.

Don’t have a PR partner? No worries, we’re here to help.

How to do media relations and PR during the pandemic

How to Approach PR During the Pandemic

The media relations landscape has never changed so quickly. Virtually overnight, media relations has pivoted to “all coronavirus, all the time,” as editors and reporters work feverishly to understand the impact of a virus that has upended all of our lives.

How can a PR agency communicate in a crisis like this? It can be summed up in a single word. Pivot—and the faster, the better.

In the last few weeks, we’ve worked closely with our clients to quickly adjust their communications programs and meet the needs of editors, reporters and other audiences.  Clients have stepped up to creatively collaborate with us and become part of the media conversations that are changing hour by hour. We’re proud of the way they’ve responded. And in working with media on behalf of our clients, we’ve identified four essential principles for PR during the coronavirus pandemic.

Read the room.

The worst thing PR professionals can do right now is send pitches that are tone-deaf or irrelevant. Now is the time to understand and respect the changing needs of editors and reporters, and only offer them the information that matters to them now. Save the routine communications for later; otherwise, you’ll lose the respect of the very people you’re trying to reach.

As one reporter recently shared on Twitter: “Dear PR friends, this is simply not the time to be casually dropping in to see what types of stories I’m working on or telling me about your client’s new skincare product. Please, spare my inbox just once in these trying times.”

Share your insights.

Does your company have unique insights that can help reporters better understand the current crisis? Now is the time to step forward, but only in an unbiased, non-promotional way.

For example, one of our clients, a leading national law firm, created a Coronavirus Resource Center to share insights on legal issues arising from COVID-19; it’s become a rich resource for business media. An ad-tech client created an infographic that advises brands on how to shift their advertising strategies in real time. We wrote an op-ed for another client on managing supply chain crises.  And we’re coordinating media interviews for another of our clients since one of their consultants is a former retail executive who helped his company navigate the SARS and H1N1 crises. We’re working with a number of our clients on media strategies during this crisis, and we’d be glad to share more examples.

Lead with empathy.

As my colleague Kirsty shared in her blog about how marketers can adapt to Covid-19, empathy is essential. Acknowledge that editors and reporters are operating in a high-stress, fast-changing environment. They’re working longer hours than usual, and they’re worried about their families and friends just like the rest of us. Even a simple recognition that you’re emailing them in a time of crisis will be appreciated.

Think beyond the current crisis.

In a webinar on the state of the retail economy today, IHL analyst Greg Buzek said there are two ways retailers will mark time after this year: BC (Before Coronavirus) and AC (After Coronavirus). We haven’t reached the AC phase yet, but it will happen. A new normal will emerge, and communication needs will shift.

We’ve already seen a few glimmers of hope. This week we surveyed key editors and reporters, asking them how we could better serve them as they cover the COVID-19 pandemic. A reporter for a top-tier national publication responded that her coronavirus coverage was actually starting to slow a bit, and she was returning to stories she was working on before the crisis.

There will be a time for new product press releases, customer announcements, case studies, blogs and thought leadership content that’s not focused on coronavirus. We’re not quite there yet. However, now is the time to begin planning, focusing on “AC” strategies, and developing the kind of content and media relations programs that will resonate in the AC era. Companies that do this will be the ones that succeed as we emerge from this present crisis.

how to address marketing through covid-19

Feel, Reflect, Create: How B2B Marketers Can Move Forward in Light of COVID-19

The world is changing more quickly and more dramatically than most of us have experienced in our lifetime. The coronavirus will fundamentally alter our lives. It is a lot to wrap your head around. 

At the same time, most of us are antsy to identify ways we can move forward. We want to keep doing what we love: creating unique campaigns, communicating with customers, driving a business forward. 

To help you move forward, we’ve identified three simple steps:

Feel: Begin at the Beginning

Before you can take action, you must understand your situation. That’s why I believe the very first thing we must do is feel. We must commit the time to wrapping our heads around the present, learning how our environments are shifting, feeling the impact COVID-19 is having on our business, our community and ourselves.

What is frustrating about this step is that, for many of us, the feeling phase may last much longer than we’d like. But because a global pandemic is a new experience for all of us, there is a lot of new information to take in, which takes time. Think of this period like you would a marketing campaign, your very first step is often to collect a lot of data. Feeling is that collection period.

Reflect: Identify the Marketing Work

Once you have taken the time required to understand your situation through feeling, you’re able to move into a period of reflection. The reflection period is all about evaluating the situation to develop a strategy for action. 

As B2B marketers, our essential question is what action can I take to help sell? Unfortunately, in times like these the old-standby-style answers are not always correct anymore. Reflecting must entail identifying what actions you can take to help sell in this new environment. Consider what you need today to support a sale in the short term and the long term. You can begin by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How is my sales cycle changing? Is my company’s sales cycle increasing or decreasing? Does it require different types of engagement? The virus could be shifting your cycle in ways you don’t imagine. Understanding how it’s changing will help you identify what you need to support it.
  • To support the shifting sales cycle, what resources do I need? Identify what prospects need at this moment. Do they need help grasping the new retail environment? Maybe you can support them with a byline article. Do they need advice on creating better digital experiences? Maybe you could offer a free consultation via email. 
  • What do people need when it comes to communication? The methods you use to communicate may need to change. If you use marketing automation, evaluate campaigns to ensure they empathetically address the situation. If you can, it may be even more effective to create tailored communication for each contact, calling some or waiting to contact others.

No matter what, you can’t go wrong by being compassionate. Asking empathetic questions and offering ways you can help will help us all identify a path forward.

Create: Develop Campaigns and Prepare for the Future

Once you have reflected on how things are changing, you’ll have the information you need to create new marketing efforts. Your sales process is likely changing. The volume and readiness of the pipeline may be altered, but your actual cycle may be decreasing or increasing as well. 

If your sales cycle is decreasing, you’ll want to focus on crafting action-oriented campaigns that can help convert prospects quickly. Dive into your data to identify which campaigns were the most effective at converting and dial those up. If an email campaign promoting an ebook has worked particularly well in the past, invest in that campaign. Just make sure the messaging has been updated to more compassionately address the current situation. If an ad on LinkedIn has shown success, maybe it’s time to re-active it, again updating the content and creative in light of the coronavirus.

If your sales cycle is lengthening because of COVID-19, it may be the right time to hunker down and invest time into big projects that will set you up for future success. Events and awards may have been rescheduled but there are things you can control. 

We’ve seen that long-form content is the backbone of B2B tech communications. Now is an opportune time to sit down and write. As a general rule, it’s good to have two to four long-form pieces of content (whether a whitepaper, eBook or research report) released per year. These can inspire blog posts, social media posts, ads, print collateral, webinars, articles, proactive pitching and even press releases. Overall, we see them help generate leads, illustrate your expertise and inspire new or ongoing campaigns.

Similarly, this could be a good time to invest in a time-intensive project such as a rebrand, website update, newsletter launch or persona refresh. 

Don’t Stop Engaging With the World

Now is our time to rediscover the world. As we feel the impact of the coronavirus on our environments, it can be very challenging to identify a path forward. But by remembering to feel first and then reflect, we’ll be able to identify steps we can take to create our new environment.

You do not have to go through this transition alone. If you are ever looking for perspective, advice or a compassionate ear, we are here to help. We’re in this together. We have your back.

Old time general store representing the basic retail model built on relationships

Coronavirus Puts the Focus Back on the Basics

Like nearly anyone offering a few words of reflection on the Coronavirus phenomenon, I’m far from an expert on the matter. I have tried for weeks to write this blog, and every two days the situation has changed so rapidly that I’ve had to essentially start over.

While I can’t offer any advice on how to assuage the public health, mental health, or economic threat this pandemic has affected, the process of learning, acknowledging, adapting and persevering that these few months have mandated from all of us is something I believe we should all take a moment to consider and to find great value in.

Like many, my first connection to Covid-19 was watching the virus take grip of China from the (physically) safe haven of Twitter, wondering along with everyone else whether what we were seeing was an authoritarian overreaction to assert political power or a global crisis exploding before our eyes.

When it burst through the border and put Italy under lockdown, I felt the emotional stress of being limited to FaceTime updates from my brother living 45 minutes from the country’s outbreak center with his wife and two kids – who as of this writing, we still understand to be healthy and safe.

When SXSW along with the City of Austin – where I live – canceled the event last minute, it felt like the most significant public acknowledgment that this crisis wasn’t just a blip on the radar or concern of only a foreign ‘other’.

Now, as we hunker down with our frozen pizzas, 1000-piece puzzles and the most organized junk drawers the world has ever seen, it’s provided the time to contextualize the moment and think about where we go from here and the lessons we should take with us.  

The benefit of being proactive

While I’m bummed that SXSW was canceled, it has proven to already be the right decision. The same goes for our clients who have had to cancel or postpone their customer events at their own expense.

Some things are just bigger than the bottom line, and I applaud the companies and executives being proactive about their broader long-term role in society even when they do so to their own short-term detriment. Their foresight and compassion had a massive effect on our ability to dampen the barrage.

It’s not always about being first to market with a new gadget or service. It’s not about being a fast follower. It’s not about taking credit as a pioneer in your field. The value comes from being quick to adapt and change to new conditions, for the betterment of all.

Flash vs substance

Having worked so closely with retail technology vendors for the past four years, it’s been very clear that most of the emphasis for building a modern retail business has been on customer engagement. When engaged, shoppers are likely to take desired actions.

We think about personalized marketing, same-day shipping, on-demand merchandise and endless aisle assortments. We talk about hyper-localization within a global economy and dynamic pricing in stores. It all sounds pretty wonderful, and it is.

But engagement doesn’t come from an innovation lab alone. It comes from personal understanding and connection to shoppers. For example, personalized marketing can only be done once you build real relationships with customers and learn enough about them to know what they want, when they want it.

If you can’t deliver on a shopper’s fundamental needs, all the work you’ve done to create new conveniences and ‘engagement’ is for naught.

Relationships and values are everything

What we’ve seen in recent weeks emphasizes this point. Families are paying more attention to grandparents than ever before. Businesses are finding ways to create more flexible, human-centric employee schedules. Dogs are getting more walks and parents are spending more playtime with their kids.

In times of crisis, we gravitate towards comfort and connection. We are drawn towards truth and fulfilling our fundamental needs. We realize more clearly what matters to us and what has been a distraction. And we see that much of our time and attention is dominated by clutter.

But who we are and what we mean to others is eternal.

When considering the future of business – all other considerations of financial management, product value, and bailouts aside – I’m sure that the companies who fare best and emerge from this with momentum will be those that have always emphasized building a brand and a culture of authenticity and responsibility, and actively cultivated customer and employee loyalty above all else.

Because when everything else gets called into question, our identity, our values – and what others know of them – are all you can rely on. It’s not only in times of stress that they matter, but it’s as good a time as any to realize the depth of their impact.

A most helpful Covid-19 legal resource:

Our client, national law firm Foley & Lardner, is offering a terrific library of support for companies navigating the complex legal ramifications of business disruption. If you’d like to get in touch with them, let us know!