4 Ways Publishers Can Adapt to Survive the Pandemic

COVID-19 is driving severe turbulence across the digital media space. Consumers aren’t behaving normally — by the pre-COVID-19 definition of ‘normal’ — and neither are advertisers. With global lockdown, shopping habits have changed and the effect on publishers is clear. According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, online ad spend is down 33%, and PubGalaxy analysis shows that in some sectors the dip in ad spend has reached up to 48%.

This doesn’t, however, mean every opportunity is closed. It’s rare for any publisher to focus purely on revenue from one campaign vertical, and they can still navigate their way through — if they keep a steady hand on the wheel. While some major advertisers have halted investment, others, including Unilever, are finding the potential to increase their reach with dynamic spending and creative reallocation.

Where possible, publishers need to follow this adaptive example. In periods of crisis, those who thrive are often the ones that focus on action, taking small steps to adjust their activity for the best possible results now and greater future success. A proactive mindset can make a big impact.

1. Embrace the Chance for Experimentation

Digital media finds itself in a unique position, with some publishers seeing big increases in online traffic, but lower ad revenue, and others not faring well on either front. Yet there are familiar elements in these circumstances. The first few months of any year often see a dip in advertising, with the summer also especially quiet for some. What makes the situation different is that it’s unknown when the coronavirus-driven shifts will end or what will happen afterwards. But the benefit of unusual conditions is that they present an opportunity to experiment with new, and even better, ways of working.

With floor prices for programmatic inventory undergoing significant fluctuation, revenue is already disrupted, and the risk of adapting practices is lower. Now might be the ideal chance for a spring clean and refresh, such as pausing formats yielding low CPMs and trialing new ad types. By adapting standard supply and analyzing the impact on bidding and CPMs, publishers might discover they can drive higher revenue by mixing up the norm.

With visits to digital sites also at an all-time high, this could also be a good time for refining user experience. Maintaining strong traffic is always a priority, and evaluating the effect of minor tweaks in UX and user interface design could help draw larger audiences and pave the way for increased audience engagement after the storm passes – provided that overall site usability, content sentiment, and publication values remain consistent.

It almost goes without saying that testing should align with current profitability. If a publisher’s ad income is going strong, or remaining stable, then continuing the strategies that are working best is the right course of action; these publishers can save any spring cleaning for another time.

2. Pivot Toward Steady Programmatic Demand 

Alongside testing, it will still be important for publishers to sustain steady demand, and this is likely to mean fine-tuning their programmatic set-up to accommodate buyer requirements. As a starting point, focus on optimizing pricing models.

For instance, campaigns focused on tangible performance — such as cost per click, cost per lead, or cost per acquisition — are usually stable during economic uncertainty, as advertisers are assured that they will only pay for engaged audiences and fuel strong returns. By opening up inventory to action-based demand sources such as Google AdWords, publishers can tap this reliable buyer interest. The added advantage being that any falls in demand will quickly be made up by the constant influx of new small businesses to the marketplace.

Lou Carpino is VP Publisher Development, North America at PubGalaxywhere his skills in creating data-driven strategies and leveraging smart tools play a vital part in optimising yield with quality ads and expanding operations. Carpino has over 15 years experience across the technology and publishing sectors, including positions at Bloomberg LP and Go Digital Media. He has also been appointed to the Luxury Marketing Council advisory board, earned membership of the New York Advertising Council and acted as a consultant for well-known brands, in addition to co-founding his own predictive and contextual search company, Hindsight.