Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

Spooky and Uncertain Times: Halloween 2020

When you rest your heavy October eyes, what do you see? Smiling jack o’ lanterns? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Bowls of delicious candy? If so, consider yourself lucky….

Those of us at the Ketner Group have been disturbed by an image of pure terror as we’ve slipped into our slumbers… skeletons filled with spiderwebs, ghouls, goblins, broken dreams, all dancing under the FULL MOON on HALLOWEEN. That’s right folks — a Halloween full moon. Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any more 2020, the moon rears its spooky glow on the 31st of October for a Q4 scare.

We’re not even talking the friendly Harvest Moon that Neil Young so lovingly crooned(?) about. This will be a Hunter’s Moon according to the Farmer’s Almanac. And while we’ll all be hunting for candy, the question we must all ask is… who will be hunting for us?

To answer that sinister question in an obvious way, it will be retailers hunting for our wallets as the holiday season approaches. But what does this Halloween’s retail landscape look like? Allow your mouse to be the planchette on this Ouija board of projections as we conjure some insights.

The boo normal

While last year was a graveyard smash, Halloween 2020 will obviously look a little different amid COVID-19.

With the CDC offering some safe trick or treating guidelines and alternatives, thankfully trick or treating is still on the table. I say that as a 26-year-old who definitely will not be trying to fill that pillowcase this year dressed as a ninja (mask included).

Still, according to the National Retail Federation, more than 75% of consumers say COVID-19 is impacting their plans to celebrate Halloween, with overall participation down to 58%. “Plans for parties, trick-or-treating, handing out candy and visiting haunted houses have all dropped, due largely to the fact that some activities do not easily adhere to social distancing.”

NRF expects this drop in participation to reduce the holiday’s spending to $8.05 billion, down from $8.78 billion in 2019. However, those who celebrating plan to spend an average of $92.12, up from $86.27 in 2019.

Ultimately, much remains uncertain for retailers this year as shoppers wait until the last minute to decide if and how they’ll celebrate. “It could either be the worst year we’ve ever had or the best year we’ve ever had,” said Tom Fallenstein, CEO of HalloweenCostumes.com, in a Marketplace interview.

Retailers and brands making a social media splash

With everyone grasping for a hero these days, a 12-foot-tall leader has emerged. One of the biggest celebrities of Halloween has been Home Depot’s “12 ft. Giant-Sized Skeleton with LifeEyes.” This hip decoration went viral on Twitter and TikTok, inspiring humerus content and selling out a month before Halloween by Oct. 1.

If you’re still interested in experiencing a life with this decoration, Home Depot uses AR to let shoppers see how their home could be haunted enhanced by this big guy. We’ve seen this capability with furniture in the past, but never has it spurred more gasps. Visit the product page on your phone to experience it for yourself (disclaimer: Ketner Group is NOT responsible for any frights or scares the user may experience).

As it goes on corporate Twitter, other brands hopped on this bandwagon as quick as they could.

NRF Quote Halloween 2020

A digital Halloween & holiday season

This clinging to an unlikely idol makes sense with America looking for new ways to celebrate Halloween this year. In fact, 17% of NRF survey respondents say they plan to celebrate virtually.

In a year of digital and e-commerce explosion, Halloween may not even be the beginning of the holiday season. Amazon Prime Day, having moved from its usual July date and taking place Oct. 13-14, is expected by many to be the kickoff to the holiday shopping season. According to Business Insider, “Amazon Prime Day 2020 will be unlike any other since its debut five years ago. Amid the backdrop of a pandemic and recessionary headwinds, this year’s event promises significant changes that will shake up the entire retail landscape heading into the holidays.”

Prime Day is expected to generate nearly $10 billion in sales worldwide, according to eMarketer.

Time goes on, but the frights remain

There are plenty of uncertainties in this world, now more than ever (to give you some spooky, early-pandemic commercial flashback). Cities are calling off Halloween events, states are putting forth guidelines for celebrating and All Hollow’s Eve retail projections are trending downward but still TBD.

Still, there will be plenty of fun to be had, whether digitally, socially distanced or alone on the couch slugging Reese’s Crunches (a sandwich consisting of two Crunch bars, with a Reese’s in the middle).

In this uncertain world, however, we can all take pleasure in knowing that, like every year, Halloween will be extremely spooky…now more than ever amid a FULL HUNTER’S MOON. 

retail re-emergence post-covid

“Retail Re-Emergence” in a Post-COVID World

For the August 2020 edition of our KG Connects webinar series, we hosted internationally known retail experts Manolo Almagro and Ben Gauthier from Q Division. They are experts in commerce and technology, working with startups and brands worldwide to promote and deploy emerging retail tech and take advantage of key trends. They joined us for a conversation on what to expect as the retail world resets, recovers and advances in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn.

COVID-19 creates an opportunity for retailers

While “post-Covid” may be overly optimistic to say at this point, retailers and technology companies need to know what to prioritize and where to focus to shore up infrastructure while the “opportunity” of closed or limited store capacity, so to speak, still exists.

While big box retailers including Target, Lowe’s and Best Buy have performed exceedingly well in recent months, mall-anchor retailers such as Macy’s, Nordstrom’s and Kohl’s are facing big challenges. In all cases, most of the response to the pandemic was cemented well before 2020, as they deployed or failed to deploy the right technology infrastructure, customer engagement strategies and assortments that served customer needs.

changing-consumer-behavior

A big part of that is that the way people shop for regular items – from groceries to back-to-school items to holiday shopping – is changing. Of course, that was true before the pandemic and those changes have accelerated tremendously since.

Retailers must go virtual to meet changing consumer behavior

Just like the way we communicate and entertain ourselves as communities have gone fully virtual, retail has to as well. And it’s benefited the big retailers who have pushed innovative solutions to sticky problems and punished the laggards hanging onto old glory. 

As foot traffic in physical stores continues to slowly but steadily regain momentum, it’s essential to remember that it’s human nature to be social. Shopping in person is part of that, but in a “post”-pandemic world, the digital influence can’t be ignored.

Of course, the way technology is deployed needs to be strategic and what works for one retailer would be foolish for another. That said, technology investments shouldn’t be patchwork, hole-filling remedies. Retailers need to truly reconsider how their business model plays with their consumers’ wishes – now and into the future – and respond in kind.

Technology is ready to power future retail success

Ben and Manolo took us through some of the most important innovations. Of course, the pattern will be different for everyone, but what’s true for all is that a service or process that was once radical may quickly become foundational, and what was once foundational may seems suddenly secondary.

retail-post-covid

One stat that stood out was that 75% of shoppers have tried a new shopping behavior since COVID-19 struck, according to McKinsey. And according to IBM, we’ve advanced up to five years ahead in e-commerce because of the fundamental need.

For example, curbside was a forced behavior among most grocers. A somewhat slow-to-innovate industry with customers who aren’t always highly tech savvy, curbside quickly became a lifeline and is now very popular across demographics.

When we look at restaurants, we also learn a big lesson on loyalty and owning the customer relationship fully even when launching new services. Restaurants obviously took a huge hit. But some sectors, such as pizza, did well. They were structured to thrive on quick delivery and had the ecosystem in place.

For others, the fees were so high on partnering with a service like Uber Eats that they struggled to really take advantage of the profit those services bring. And when the customer interaction with the restaurant goes through the app, brand identity and value take a hit, too.

That said, consumer loyalty across retail segments quickly shifted from an enjoyable in-person experience or goods rewards program to more fundamental needs, and availability became paramount for driving loyalty.  Now, success is all about delivering those new services with efficiency and transparency, and providing great results with availability, quality, speed and consistency.

How to identify the best technology application

Want to learn about the specific technology applications that will take center stage as retailers look to own their customer relationships while reimagining what retail experiences mean to their brand? Watch the webinar to learn more about:

  • Customer experience
    • BOPIS
    • Walk-up, curbside, drive-through
    • Cashierless/unattended stores
  • Home commerce
    • E-commerce
    • Virtual shopping / telepresence
    • Home delivery partners
  • Customer-centric convenience
    • Buy now pay later
    • Contactless transactions
    • Loyalty = availability
  • Operations and supply chain
    • ML demand forecasting
    • Micro-warehousing
    • Autonomous everything and robotics

Next up: discussing inclusive communication

It’s also critical that no business loses sight of the power of communication to develop and maintain strong communities. In September, we’ll host Kia Jarmon for a conversation on The Art of Inclusive Communication on how to do just that. We hope to see you there!

catch covid-19 retail webinar on demand
retail evolution 2020

Retail Evolution 2020: Pandemic Edition

Like much of the U.S., non-essential retailers closed their doors in mid-March. The whispers returned and eventually reached a crescendo, “The ‘Retail Apocalypse’ has arrived!” We’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is not here.

One more time for the cheap seats in the back (remember those?), THE ‘RETAIL APOCALYPSE’ IS NOT HERE. In fact, the ‘Retail Apocalypse’ is never happening. So let’s remove that from our vocabulary and put the rumors to bed, once and for all. Instead, let’s talk about what’s really happening — a retail evolution.

Like everything else in 2020, the retail industry has been faced with a new normal. Retailers who have failed to evolve, have had to make difficult decisions, from closing stores to declaring bankruptcy and even all out business closures.

Meanwhile, many retailers have thrived through the pandemic. In fact, Target reported that its curbside pickup service, Drive Up, grew 700% in Q2. 700%! How? Because again and again, Target has transformed to meet the changing needs of shoppers. With that, let’s dive deeper into the 2020 retail evolution.

The essentials

While many retailers temporarily shuttered to comply with state and local mandates, essential retailers like grocers, pharmacies and convenience stores, remained open. These retailers faced new challenges, from supply chain shortages to daunting volumes of online grocery orders.

However, most adapted and emerged as heroes. With digital grocery sales reaching a an all-time high of $7.2 billion in June, grocers have accepted that many of the forced changes of 2020 are here to stay. Grocers and their solution providers alike have worked hand-in-hand to rapidly evolve and meet shoppers’ needs as we continue to stay home.

essential retailers

Amazon’s 2017 acquisition of Whole Foods ignited a fire in grocers, and many began examining and implementing much needed technologies, from AI-enabled supply chains to digital grocery solutions. No doubt, they could have done more to be prepared for 2020 but no one anticipated a pandemic.

Grocers recognize the need for AI-enabled and digital technologies now more than ever. As a result, they will continue to digitally transform to address the fundamental shift in how consumers shop for everyday essentials.

Digital realities

Across the industry, retailers who have failed to embrace digital transformation have suffered immeasurably in 2020. On the other hand, forward-thinking solution providers who have been waiting in the wings for their heyday, and the retailers adopting those solutions, are reaping the rewards. Many digital solutions, like virtual fit and live shopping, that once seemed futuristic are now necessary to retail survival.

retail tech solution future

For example, Greg Alvo, CEO and founder of Ordergroove, launched the Relationship Commerce company in 2010. At the time, Amazon Prime and the Subscribe & Save program were in their infancy. But Greg recognized an opportunity in the market and had a dream of making consumer’s lives easier through subscription retail.

Ten years later, Greg’s vision has become a necessity as consumers look for reliable ways to get household essentials. According to Ordergroove, retailers and brands with subscription programs have seen a 40% in new enrollments as a result of COVID-19.

Digital capabilities like reoccurring subscription models are a win for consumers and retailers alike. From our daily conversations with solution providers, we’ve seen that retailers are clamoring to adapt such technologies ahead of the holiday season. Furthermore, consumers are adopting these new omni-channel shopping options as part of their ongoing routines.

The retail evolution is here to stay

Call it what you will — trade, retail, digital commerce — the retail industry will continue to evolve. It’s here to stay and has been for thousands of years. Yes, it will change but so will the rest of the world, and retailers and shoppers alike will adapt.

Speaking of changes in the retail industry, be sure to register for August’s KG Connects webinar, “‘Retail Re-Emergence’ in a Post-COVID World,” with Q Division.

kg connects august 2020
the future of b2b media

The Future of B2B Media

The future of B2B media is a topic worthy of a book. It’s a huge industry with a lot of moving parts, but there are a few trends that stand out to me as defining the future of the industry more strongly than any others.

In general, beyond just B2B, the most successful media companies have the full attention and trust of their audience. Regardless of what they promise – information, entertainment, perspective – they thrive when they capture time and attention better than anyone else.

In my last blog on the future of journalism, I dug into the monetization challenges facing online publishers battling the two-headed monster of Big Tech and the COVID pandemic. While I am confident that the best publishers will benefit, emerging from this inflection point stronger than ever, others are at risk of defeat.

As PR and communications professionals, it’s important for us to consider what the future of B2B media looks like, and how the roles and powerful voices within it will evolve over time.

The short answer is, media companies are finding new ways to stay competitive, while individual experts and corporate brands are simultaneously taking on characteristics of media companies to survive and thrive in the attention economy. We see it playing out something like this:

B2B media consolidates

In a market where revenue disappears overnight, only a few players will remain strong—mirroring the media industry at large. We’ll see the most trusted names in each market consolidate their influence by bringing in the lion’s share of the reduced available revenue.

Those who were already struggling will have to close. The big players will capitalize on the opportunity by investing in new services and staff who help them further monetize their attention share. They have the time and resources to wait out the storm.

Publications monetize new services

“Successful media companies have to have two things. They have to control their own distribution and they have to have their own programming. People that don’t have both either have to rectify that or go out of business,” said Michael Bloomberg, as shared in a great Twitter thread on Bloomberg’s experience.

With big tech platforms like Facebook and Google taking a larger role in distributing the media’s content, publications must quickly build out their own distribution methods. They need to shift from relying on search and social to reaching their own audiences where they are.

We talk about it all the time with our retail tech clients – retailers must be everywhere their shoppers are. It’s no different in media.

In terms of programming, we’re already seeing the most well-respected B2B publications scale services well beyond online and print articles. They host webinars, conduct sponsored research, curate multiple regular newsletters, create video, run conferences (and will find ways to take leadership roles in virtual events), award programs, and more. Those who continue this content mix and find ways to own the distribution will come out on top.

Independent experts change the game

Adding new services that go well beyond reporting the news isn’t the only reason the definition of ‘media company’ is changing.

New content creators are entering the mix, often without affiliation to any media brand. They’re not in it to compete for ad dollars; their currency is attention. They might be company executives, consultants, investors, academics or industry analysts. As long as they have deep expertise and a platform to share thoughts, they can play the game.

These high-relevance industry experts and brands are the thought leaders and entertainers that news organizations can never be. They can take positions that exist outside of pure fact; they can challenge conventional knowledge and accumulate loyal followers.

Social platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube have given SMEs free platforms to become the go-to experts in any domain. They provide a “boots on the ground” sense of reporting objective truth.

influencers aren't truth-tellers

What’s more, these influencers don’t repute themselves as objective truth-tellers. That makes it easy for them to say what they think and use personality and entertainment to elevate their spot in the intellectual hierarchy.

These SMEs will challenge publications for the title of the most reliable and influential voices in the industry. As they do, they will continue to monetize their position. They will offer their own secondary services – selling products, services or time without the overhead or scrutiny that media companies deal with. As this proves an increasingly powerful sales tool, more players will enter the field.

Corporate brands double down on ‘content marketing’

The industry’s savviest entities won’t be left behind in this paradigm, either.

Digitally intelligent and highly engaging brand “publications” will increasingly become entertainment hubs for their industries. This will take the form of both robust blogs and brand-agnostic, semi-independent media entities.

publications become entertainment

Without the need to supplement content with advertising revenue, they will build platforms that offer cutting-edge storytelling experiences.

Funded by corporate profits, they can invest heavily in being at the forefront of every industry conversation. Eventually, corporate profits will help them be among the first to deploy new storytelling technologies such as augmented or virtual reality, or 360-degree video.

In the attention economy, pervasive brand awareness and affinity leads to sales of their core product or service offering. Their media platform can operate at a net-negative cost and still drive significant gains in corporate profit.

Communications professionals take control of audience engagement

Every company today, in some way, is (or should be) a media company. Everyone has an online presence, competes for views and attention, and wants to be a key voice in their industry.

As B2B media, corporate, and individual players compete for attention, they’ll overlap and collaborate more; we’ll continue to see the splintering of long-held industry roles.

But we can’t just wait and see how the future of B2B media affects our approach to brand building. The new market context demands that we also take control of our own content creation and distribution. We all need to be media companies now.

Do you want to propel your company’s growth by adopting a media company mindset, but don’t know where to start?

We’re offering a free 30-minute conversation to help get you started. We’d love to brainstorm with you! Just get in touch.

woman at laptop planning PR and marketing

2020 PR Planning, Take Two: What to Do Now

2020 PR planning was derailed for many companies far too early this year. The global pandemic forced companies to scrap carefully laid business and marketing plans and adjust at lightning speed to constantly changing conditions. We’re now at the mid-point of 2020, and the question is: what comes next for marketers?

Despite the ravages of the coronavirus, we’re seeing some signs of optimism among our clients. They are focused on the future and have moved quickly to pivot their products and services to meet the uncertainties of the post-pandemic world. Companies are rethinking business models, looking for new opportunities to help their customers succeed, and aligning their marketing and PR plans accordingly.

So, how can you take your bearings and set a new marketing course for the remainder of the year?

Here are some initiatives that are a must for every company and marketer.

Re-examine your brand proposition.

COVID-19 put a pause on business as usual, but many companies are using this time to re-examine their brand proposition and the value they bring to their customers. Companies are asking if their value proposition in the pre-pandemic world still makes sense as we face the uncertainties of a “new normal” that is still taking shape.

For the B2B technology companies we work with, the challenges their customers face are sharply different now. How can their solutions help companies in a world that’s constantly shifting, and how should their messaging change to reflect that?

Forward-looking companies are taking time to re-examine their 2020 PR planning.

This process includes:

  • Re-evaluating messaging across channels – making sure that their messaging around products and services remains relevant;
  • Conducting research that helps them understand trend changes;
  • Rolling out new messages through PR initiatives, website relaunches, social media and owned content.

Innovate fearlessly.

If there was ever a time to roll out new strategies, this is it.

Some changes will be born out of necessity—the overnight rise of virtual conferences and trade shows, for example. There is also increased emphasis on content marketing, social media and earned media.

We’ve quickly made changes here at Ketner Group, too.

When business-as-usual ground to a halt in March, we launched a new webinar series, “KG Connects”. In doing so, we built a new avenue to help clients, partners and other companies explore fresh marketing ideas. It also helped us reach new audiences and showcase our expertise.

At the same time, we started monthly office hours for clients only. The private setting promotes candid conversation about their unique PR and marketing challenges. We’ve used this time to build closer relationships with our clients, and they’ve reacted positively.

Focus on the fundamentals.

Innovation is critical, but don’t lose sight of the fundamental PR and marketing activities that are important to your brand.

This is not the time to go dark on press announcements and corporate communications. These initiatives are essential for securing the media coverage you need to get the attention of customers, prospects and investors.

Are you announcing a major new product or making another significant company announcement in the second half of 2020? Be sure to check out Adrienne Newcomb’s recent blog on the necessary steps for a great product or business launch.

Reallocate your unspent marketing budget.

Remember all that budget you had earmarked for events later this year? If at all possible, use it—don’t lose it.

The cancellation of SXSW early this year was just the first of a wave of event cancellations in 2020. Many events planned for early 2021 will likely be rescheduled, too. You can reallocate that budget into marketing initiatives that will keep up your visibility. We’re actively working with our clients to help them do that, and we’d be glad to offer our strategic advice.

The key thing to keep in mind for marketing now is simple: don’t stop.

Your customers and prospects are looking to you to provide expert guidance in turbulent times. So, it’s critical to communicate with them through carefully planned and executed campaigns. Take this opportunity to re-examine your brand, innovate with new ideas and keep up your PR presence.

These are the kinds of challenges that can bring out the best in our companies and marketing efforts. With these initiatives, your updated 2020 PR planning will help you showcase that.

Broadcast Media Relations During COVID-19

Note: We published this blog post in preparation for Justin Goldstein’s webinar on broadcasting. Since publishing, the webinar is live, and you can catch it on demand!


Broadcast media is booming as the Coronavirus pandemic restrictions only begin to loosen and everyone searches for sources that can provide reliable and timely information. Consider, recent findings from Nielsen show that 83% of consumers are listening to as much if not more radio than before the pandemic.

Clearly, if you’re looking to secure television, radio or podcast placements, now is the time to do so. But, be aware that producers and reporters are just like us and mainly working from home due to the virus. A refined approach is more important than ever to break through your contact’s inbox and earn their interest in an interview. 

Here are a few recommendations to consider:

Provide Key Assets Upfront

Are you in the process of developing assets like b-roll, headshots and bios for your spokesperson(s)? If so, hold on pitching until you have these elements so that you can include them in your first pitch to producers and reporters.

These contacts are sifting through hundreds of emails while trying to coordinate interviews via platforms like Zoom and Skype that they normally don’t work with. There’s a good chance that if a reporter opens your email and doesn’t see at least one or two of these assets listed, he or she will delete your email and move on to the next opportunity. If for no other reason, moving on reduces the stress of sending a follow-up email to ask questions. 

How can you best incorporate this information into your pitch?

  1. In your subject line, note that you’re offering an interview and these assets.
  2. Provide a link to download your b-roll and headshots via Dropbox or a similar platform to avoid your message going to spam.
  3. Include your spokesperson(s) bio towards the end of your pitch so that it doesn’t take away from the story that you’re trying to tell at the top. 

Use Your Voice

Phone pitching is critical in broadcast media relations, especially during COVID. Newsrooms are overwhelmed with pitches, coordinating segments with their producers from afar and receiving updates on Coronavirus-related stories from the public. So, the chances of them responding to email outreach are less than the print/online reporters that you might be more familiar with. 

It will likely be harder to reach reporters and producers directly. Your next step is to call a network or station’s assignment desk and speak with an assignment editor. They are well-positioned to coordinate interviews or connect you with a contact that can do so. You can also leave a voicemail on a producer or reporter’s phone. They often check to make sure that they’re not missing any important messages while away from the office.

Be Flexible

Many broadcast contacts are doing their best to adapt to navigate the pressures of virtual planning meetings and interviews. While you can certainly share your spokesperson(s) platform preference for connecting, try to be flexible.

If a reporter asks to connect via Skype and your spokesperson(s) is hesitant to pursue because they’re not used to the platform, try to schedule a quick training session. Get them to feel confident and comfortable going into an interview rather than push back on the reporter. 

Consider creating video-conference meeting invites for reporters and producers and offering your willingness to do so in your pitch. This removes one extra step in coordinating an interview that they don’t have to manage.

Be aware that if you’re staffing interviews on Zoom video, your video box will appear, so it would be best to confirm with your contact that he or she can have their team edit you out before finalizing their segment. 

Broadcast media is a powerful tool that should be leveraged for your media relations program. But, it’s crucial to approach your contacts in a strategic manner to garner their interest. Your results depend on it.

Attend June’s KG Connects Webinar to learn more

Want to hear directly from Justin about the state of broadcast media and both evergreen and timely best practices for securing coverage?

Join us on Friday, June 26 at 10:00 a.m. ET for the next edition of KG Connects! Learn more and register here.

About Justin Goldstein

justin-goldstein-press-records

Justin is president and founder of Press Record Communications, a strategic media relations agency with expertise in broadcast media. He is an award-winning media relations pro, voted an Exceptional Under 35 by the Public Relations Society of America. He has developed and implemented broadcast media relations programs that have supported clients like General Motors, Best Buy and the Clinton Global Initiative.

In recent years, Justin has coordinated event broadcast press campaigns for the Consumer Electronics Show, Detroit Auto Show and Conference of Mayors. Justin also served as morning drive producer at WRHU-FM, New York’s number one non-commercial radio station. His work has been recognized by PR News, PR Newswire and the Hermes Creative Awards.

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.