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May 19, 2020

How WaPo Plans to Weather the Ad Storm

There’s a new commercial playbook in place at Jeff Bezos’s Washington Post since the lockdown evaporated its usual ad market, and it is built around brands showing their utility in the wider world.Or, as the Post’s chief revenue officer Joy Robins puts it, “our first priority can’t be to sell advertising”. Instead, she says, it wants its partners to leverage its content production and brand trust.Robins took up the chief revenue officer role in February 2019, charged with heading up the Post’s sales division, as well as its WP BrandStudio which includes adtech, event sponsorship, video, audio and programmatic. Under the lockdown, each of these channels has experienced change.There’s been a shortfall of display ad revenue, first of all, forcing publishers around the world to cut and furlough staff. The New York Times estimated a 55% ad revenue shortfall, which is pretty indicative of what’s going on in the wider market.Live events, meanwhile, are freezing or moving online, and direct buys from brands have been strangled by market hesitancy and the freeze of business supply chains. “We must establish our team as a trusted resource for our clients in order to help guide them, with research and insights and what we are see as the most effective way to speak to consumers right now. “Its conversations with brands have changed these last few months. Many went dark in the immediate aftermath, but she says now, more than ever, it is working with ”brands that have been thrust on to the main stage for the first time because their product or service is providing real utility in this new world order”. Notably off the table right now are conversations about “short-term ROI” – that will come into play later. “They are coming to the Post to better understand consumer sentiment, and what those consumers are reading more of or less of as the weeks go by as the news environment changes rapidly. We’re able to use our insights and technology to help them navigate the way they communicate with readers.” In particular, going front and center of this new product suite is “purpose-driven storytelling,” Robins points out, explaining that this was something the Post and other top news titles had been jostling to deliver – a natural extension of their news products. “Demand for that has been accelerated significantly. The combination of scale and trust creates the conditions for news organizations to be the ultimate place for brands. But they also need to navigate how they show up, and that is exactly what we are focused on guiding our partners through.” Its delivery of audience insights, research and thought leadership has continued. But a new problem has emerged. Many brands that were committing good deeds, with philanthropy meeting their long-term brand building, but in proudly communicating these actions they have been criticized and accused of chasing publicity. There’s an imbalance that Robins thinks the Post can address.WP BrandStudio has created two digital platforms featuring news about how businesses are swapping profit for purpose and launching efforts to help. As the Post puts it, these are not ads, but "an easy-to-navigate resource of world-renowned brands working on the front lines of this crisis”. One is for national brands and the other for local brands. “The important tone to strike with these directories was humility and usefulness,“ says Robins. “The resource is not meant to be self-congratulatory for the brands featured, but a single place for our readers to better understand how the brands they have supported for years are now holding themselves accountable to help their customers, employees and communities. We already knew from subscriber research that this type of content was exactly what consumers wanted more of, so it felt like a natural connection to make.” On a region by region, sector by sector basis, the acts and lockdown practices of businesses are listed. It’s a good way to keep a line of contact with those who may spend again once the slowdown continues. And for any businesses undertaking extraordinary changes, or with a message for the public, there’s the option to put the BrandStudio to work to tell that story"...

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