2020 was a year full of events that no one could have predicted. We asked leaders from across different media associations to share their thoughts on what the future holds, including how COVID-19 will continue to impact businesses, what we should look forward to in 2021 and what word businesses should use for guidance in the new year. Here are our interviewees:
- David Chavern, President & CEO, News Media Alliance
- Sammy Garrett and Lisa Pistilli, President and President-Elect 2021, The Media & Content Marketing Association
- Derek Lackey, Chairman, Response Marketing Association, and Managing Director, Newport Thomson
- Shannon Lewis, President, Canadian Media Directors’ Council
- Michelle Manafy, Editorial Director, Digital Content Next
- Maria Ravera, President, Great Western Audience Alliance
- Simon Redlich, President, International Federation of Audit Bureaux of Certification and Chief Executive, ABC UK
- Dean Ridings, CEO, America’s Newspapers
While each response uniquely reflected their specific industries, we saw many common threads including: continued flexibility in remote work, business diversification and continued flexibility.
How do you think COVID-19 will continue to impact the media and marketing industries in 2021?
Sammy Garrett and Lisa Pistilli: Live events will most likely be delayed through Q3 in 2021. Folks will continue to look for and optimize workable, scalable alternatives.
Derek Lackey: Authentic personalization has never been so important to a marketer. For some, their customers are gone. If you bet your customers will come back and they don’t, you might use all your resources staying alive while you wait. It might help to ask yourself: what does my customer truly need today?
Shannon Lewis: We will see brands and the media industry collaborate more than ever and at a local level. Consumers’ renewed refocus on their local communities amid the pandemic will become a long-term trend. You can also see this as brands finding new ways to connect consumers via local businesses. Multimedia advertising campaigns are encouraging consumers to shop locally, while offering financial incentives to customers who support small businesses. This movement is here to stay.
Budgets will remain tight, but I expect to see some radical thinking about business models.
- Simon Redlich, IFABC and ABC UK
Michelle Manafy: Several trends that were simmering came to a full boil in 2020 and will certainly spill into 2021, most notably ecommerce. Other changes were subtler, but likely to stick, such as a focus on family, health, and home. Aspirations have turned inward as we’ve all grown more introspective and reevaluated priorities, particularly in light of the social and economic disparities that came into stark relief in 2020.
Maria Ravera: COVID has acted as an accelerant, leading news media companies to make changes—that may have been part of their long-term strategy—far sooner. The reduction of print days is one example, with many news media companies reconfiguring distribution and delivery of content. The silver lining is that our industry has become more nimble.
Simon Redlich: It has already accelerated existing trends and—in some ways—freed people up to think the previously unthinkable. Budgets will remain tight, but I expect to see some radical thinking about business models.
What’s one trend from 2020 you think will become permanent in 2021?
David Chavern: The pandemic forced news publishers to innovate faster and to dial in to their subscription and audience engagement efforts more intentionally. And they did it because they knew their readers wanted localized information about global and national events, and that they trusted news publishers to provide it. News publishers saw the opportunity, and while they provided (and still provide) much of their coronavirus-related content for free, they capitalized on the opportunity to gain new subscribers by showing readers the value of their products. I think we will see publishers continue to innovate and introduce new products and services, and they will continue to act on cues from their readers that will help grow their subscriber bases even more. And I think most new subscribers will stay, even after the pandemic is over.
One of the biggest lessons for all of us is that we don't have a fixed amount of resilience. Instead, it is a muscle we can build.
- Shannon Lewis, Canadian Media Directors' Council
Sammy Garrett and Lisa Pistilli: Virtual and hybrid events will become a mainstay in 2021 with extensions beyond the current available platforms and experiences, such as Zoom. The reach, affordability and flexibility of virtual and hybrid events made them the big winners in 2020.
Derek Lackey: People will continue to think before buying. Consuming everything on impulse has taken a serious hit in 2020. People focused on what they really need rather than what they simply like. The lesson for businesses: be relevant to your audience.
Shannon Lewis: Resilient leadership. Resilience is a word that we are hearing a lot in 2020 that will carry to the new year. I think about qualities of being stronger in the face of adversity—being more determined, courageous, creative, and optimistic. One of the biggest lessons for all of us is that we don’t have a fixed amount of resilience. Instead, it is a muscle we can build. And it’s a springboard for the creativity that will drive a vibrant media industry through the recovery and beyond.
Maria Ravera: Our members have identified that working from home is likely to continue. Tools such as Zoom, video calls, Slack or chat have enabled immediacy and connection. However, companies may see fatigue against the “always-on” mentality and need to rethink employee well-being.
Dean Ridings: The remote workplace will continue into 2021 and beyond. Many companies have seen minimal change in their employees’ productivity, and those that are able to reduce their real estate expenses are doing so.
What should the industry look forward to in 2021?
David Chavern: Compensation arrangements with the tech platforms for use of news publishers’ content are long overdue, and this year we finally started to see progress with governments in France and Australia saying they will require Google and Facebook to pay news publishers for use of their content. The News Media Alliance has actively supported a bill in the U.S.—the Journalism Competition & Preservation Act—that would give news publishers the ability to collectively negotiate with the big tech platforms for fair compensation for use of their content. The bill aims to finally make the tech platforms accountable for their anticompetitive behaviors, which harm the sustainability of high-quality journalism.
Sammy Garrett and Lisa Pistilli: Live events toward the end of the year and exciting, new hybrid events that broaden the scope of prior in-person events. Everything learned in 2020 will be used to make 2021 and onward more engaging and available to a wider audience.
Derek Lackey: Data protection and privacy is changing the industry dramatically. California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and California Rights Privacy Act (CPRA) will change the media industry in the coming years. Canada recently announced the Consumer Privacy Protection Act (CPPA)—a revision to the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Document Act (PIPEDA) with very strong enforcement measures. I believe consumers have been sending signals of unhappiness to brands that did not respect their privacy rights. With increased awareness regarding personal privacy, this will only increase in 2021. Take good care of your subscribers. If you treat them well and put them first, you will likely be beyond compliance.
Michelle Manafy: Optimism will make a comeback in 2021. We’ve all found ourselves marching along on a long slog through 2020. But now there really is just enough light ahead that we can again look forward with optimism. The industry will be changed, but some of the changes will be for the better. I am ready for it!
Maria Ravera: 2021 will be the year of transformation. With the profound strategic changes ahead in content delivery, digital marketing, and technology platforms, we need to move into a leadership position in local communities and with partners, in ways that support both relevance and revenue generation.
Take good care of your subscribers. If you treat them well and put them first, you will likely be beyond compliance.
- Derek Lackey, Response Marketing Association and Newport Thomson
Simon Redlich: A heightened awareness of the need for quality content. And on the macro level—vaccines, some clarity around Brexit (maybe!) and January 20.
Dean Ridings: In 2020 we’ve seen an acceleration of trends that have been going on for the past decade. I expect these to continue in 2021. Digital subscriptions are growing and will likely continue to grow, although not at quite the same pace as this year. While FSIs continue to be a viable marketing vehicle, legacy retailers that have been impacted by the pandemic cut back on their FSIs at Thanksgiving at a higher rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if the decline in FSI revenue continues at a higher pace than previous to 2020.
What’s one word your clients should use to guide their businesses in 2021 and why?
David Chavern: Engagement. Our members have done amazing work to grow their audiences, and a key piece of that is cultivating and improving engagement. For example, publishers that have been through the Table Stakes program and embraced its key principles of modern publishing have seen their audience engagement—and their subscriptions—skyrocket. Through understanding what is important to their audience, news publishers can tailor everything from their content, to their media formats and platforms, to their subscription sign-up process, to increase new subscriber conversions and reduce churn. The recipients of our 2019 John P. Murray Award for Excellence in Audience Development all found success through making engagement a priority.
While creative solutions continue to characterize our industry, smart leaders are diversifying their strategies, from business models to marketing channels and more.
- Michelle Manafy, Digital Content Next
Sammy Garrett and Lisa Pistilli: Inspired. 2020 challenged the industry in so many ways; from events to digital property investment, publishers and industry service providers were forced to create, adapt and adjust to the new day-to-day reality. This experience will only attract a wider, more influential audience in 2021 and beyond.
Derek Lackey: Customer. We have collectively taken our eye off the ball—the one thing that truly causes business success. Trashing your relationship with a group of customers to make the quarterly stock market expectations has a tangible cost, which is not always immediately evident. This is the source of the “customers are no longer loyal” mentality. We are taking them for granted and they know it.
Michelle Manafy: Diversification. It became apparent that one way of doing business, or one route to success could be met by a roadblock at any turn. While creative solutions continue to characterize our industry, smart leaders are diversifying their strategies, from business models to marketing channels and more.
Maria Ravera: Our motto is: Connect. Learn. Drive change. The year 2021 will require active participation with colleagues, data analysis and iteration, and the willingness to make bold decisions.
Engagement. Our members have done amazing work to grow their audiences, and a key piece of that is cultivating and improving engagement.
- David Chavern, News Media Alliance
Simon Redlich: Scenarios. The current high levels of uncertainty make agreeing on a plan well-nigh impossible. Scenario planning to cover a range of possibilities will be a necessity.
Dean Ridings: Service. Customer service is always important, and that means delivering what the customer orders, whether it is a subscription or an ad, digital or print. Many newspapers have reduced their quality of service because of cost-cutting measures, but if you don’t love your customers, they won’t love you back.