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How Publishers Are Recovering Post-COVID

October 12, 2020  •  By: Joanna Wayburn

recovery post-covid

Did you ever think you would find yourself in a situation like this? That you would have to develop strategies for success in a post-COVID era?

You can have emergency preparedness strategies, ten-year timelines, and crisis response plans in your arsenal. But few publishers could predict a global pandemic and how it would affect the publishing industry — and consumer experience — as a whole.

Traffic to publisher sites quickly spiked by 60% as consumers gobbled up news about COVID-19 and resources for how to adjust to self-isolation. 

At the same time, advertisers cut spending to preserve brand safety, plummeting ad revenue by 33% for digital publishers and 39% for legacy publishers, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau. 

To adapt, publishers doubled-down on their subscription and acquisition strategies. The Atlantic drove 300,000 new sign-ups in the last 12 months, for example, and The Wall Street Journal saw a 110% increase in subscriptions.

Now, as we’re in the wake of the COVID pandemic, publishers are scrambling to retain those new website visitors and email subscribers, and make sure the hard work they put into revamping their strategies wasn’t in vain.

For guidance in navigating these unprecedented changes, we turn to each other to gather insights, commiserate about common challenges, and develop solutions to build a better, stronger publisher community.

That’s why we’re sharing some choice tips from publishers across the industry about how they’re recovering post-COVID and looking towards a brighter future.

Here’s what they have to say:

1. Janine Warner, co-founder, SembraMedia

“If you’re not overly dependent on any one revenue source, it’s a lot easier to keep your independence. But I think we’re really seeing now that diversified revenue is also the key to sustainability in times of crisis.”

2.  Michael Silberman, senior vice president of strategy, Piano

“Everybody is thinking about [retention], and we’ve been advising on some tactics to track users who have subscribed in March and April so that they can be emailed and messaged on-site to drive engagement. The same principles apply now as they always have: Find ways to deliver value, develop habits and remind subscribers about the value of the product.”

3. Amy Konary, global vice president, Zuora’s Subscribed Strategy Group

“In the media and publishing space, what is largely driving people to think about subscription models more so is the absolute collapse of ad revenue. Times of economic crisis are times where subscription businesses accelerate. It’s a very attractive model, especially in times of adversity and scarcity.”

4. Lindsay Wiles, head of programmatic, UK, Verizon Media

“In this context, relevance of messages is key. When faced with sudden and profound changes, you need to be able to adapt your media buying and advertising messages on the fly. Those brands that haven’t done it during the pandemic have soon looked exposed … The huge opportunity here is a powerful incentive for marketers to start thinking differently about their media planning and buying – to think about their audience reach across all channels, rather than within different silos with fenced-off budgets.”

5. Daniel Newman, CEO, Broadsuite Media Group

“The need for data to make all business decisions has grown, but this year, we saw data analytics being used in real time to make critical business and life-saving decisions, and I am certain it won’t stop there. I expect massive continued investment from companies into data and analytics capabilities that power faster, leaner and smarter organizations in the wake of 2020’s Global Pandemic and economic strains.”

6. Martin Hirt, senior partner, McKinsey & Company

“When you think about a COVID exit in 2022, 2021 becomes a bit of a transition year. And you need to think about both of these years. 2022 is probably best anchored in 2019 and a continuation of that trajectory, plus adjustments for trends that have accelerated — working from home, e-commerce, telemedicine — or slowed down.”

7. Eli Lippman, general manager of Celebrity Entertainment Group, A360 Media (formerly American Media)

“I think we’re starting to see the world come back and advertisers come back, so we’re excited there. And the second side of that … is our audience hasn’t gone back to pre-COVID rates. So the light at the end of the tunnel may be, can we make it out of this and still retain audiences at that size and hopefully have our ad rates come back and have a win?”

8. Jeff Kupietzky, CEO, PowerInbox

With everything going on, it’s easy for messages to get lost in the avalanche of social media, and email remains reliable, direct, and engaging. In fact, our publishers have seen a 20% increase in traffic, a 22% increase in CTR, and a 24% increase in revenue from their email since this whole thing started.

9. Bill Maslyn, vice president of revenue product & operations, Dotdash

“We have every intent and plan to grow. To some extent, it’s about risk mitigation against that and identifying the areas of uncertainty in 2021 that could impact that. One is privacy and new legislation on the docket in California come November. What is the plan around data? What’s the actual timeline when Chrome is going to eliminate third-party cookies? How will we think about segments and targeting and audience insights? A lot of our plans are around figuring out what we are doing to address some of those uncertainties.”

10. Ronald Petty, head of programmatic & adtech partnerships, Minute Media

“Be open to more of a performance-based world. Most of the performance-based models are really taking off this year. Just prepare for a world where the guaranteed dollars may not be there. We have to earn them as opposed to plan them a year ahead of time.”

Your post-COVID recovery toolkit

Diversified revenue, optimized subscription models, audience retention strategies, relevant content delivery, data and analytics programs…

These are just some of the key solutions recommended by the publishers above. And there’s one platform that provides all of them in a comprehensive, user-friendly package: PowerInbox.

Learn about more strategies for succeeding in a post-COVID world. Check out our virtual roundtable discussion on this topic with industry leaders, here. 


Built exclusively for publishers, PowerInbox helps publishers deliver targeted, personalized ad content across the web’s most engaging channels, including email, websites, push notifications, and news readers. So you can monetize content at each touchpoint and continue building consumer trust and loyalty even as the world continues to change.

Ready to supercharge your post-COVID recovery plan? Contact us today to learn more.

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