Making prompt adjustments

B2B publishing companies and freelancers adjust how they do business with new measures set in place due to COVID-19.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

People across the world have had to make many adjustments in the past month in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control reports that cases had been reported in all 50 states by March 17. Since then, many state governments have been issuing stay-at-home orders and other safety procedures to limit the spread of the pandemic.

With new safety measures, businesses across the U.S. have had to adjust in the past month on how they operate. All industries are being affected by COVID-19—including B2B publishing. In recent weeks, workers in the B2B publishing industry have been adjusting to work-from-home setups as well as upping their digital media games and changing events strategies.

On April 22, ASBPE is hosting a webinar on COVID-19 and B2B Publishing. The panel discussion will go over editorial coverage and how to maximize and focus journalistic resources as well as the impact COVID-19 is having on events, staffing and advertiser and sponsor relationships. Click here to register and learn more about the webinar.

Adapting to work-from-home setups

Some B2B editors and freelancers worked from home prior to the pandemic; however, many have had to make the adjustment to a work-from-home setup.

Jim Keefe, publisher of the Recycling Today Media Group at Cleveland-based GIE Media, says he thinks the biggest “immediate change” his company has felt from COVID-19 is having the majority of the company’s teams work remotely.

“We’ve been doing lots of video meetings and video calls to help the team remain connected day to day and keep connected with our readers and advertisers,” Keefe says.

Lynne Sherwin, managing editor at Plastics Machinery Magazine of Endeavor Business Media, says working from home has been her team’s biggest challenge. “Our editors and designer have always done a lot of face-to-face collaboration to sort out daily duties and manage workflow,” she says. “We’ve had to move a lot of that over to Microsoft Teams messaging.”

Freelance writers and editors might have already been used to working from home, but some of their clients are not as familiar with that type of work environment. Kaitlin Morrison, a freelance content marketing writer and strategist based in the state of Washington, says she had been used to working from home but some of her clients are still getting used to their new setups.

“A lot of the people I normally work with are now working remotely for the first time,” she says. “They need patience and flexibility. Since I know we’re all in this together as human beings facing an outside threat, I’m more than willing to be very flexible.”

Strong focus on digital brands

B2B editors have reported that the pandemic has made digital media a more important part of their brands lately.

Some publications, such as Plastics Machinery Magazine, have shifted their priorities from print to focus more time on breaking news on their website and social media platforms.

“Plastics Machinery Magazine has always been a print-first publication, but the coronavirus gave us a perfect opportunity to experiment with digital-first content,” Sherwin says. “Senior Reporter Bruce Geiselman, like me, comes from a daily journalism background, so we dusted off those skills to post an umber of stories on how companies are coping with the crisis.”

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Convenience Store Decisions magazine, a WTWH Media publication that covers the convenience store industry, offered a free webinar to its readers on how to keep their employees safe during a pandemic. Convenience Store Decisions Editor John Lofstock says convenience stores are still considered an essential service that need to be open to provide safe access to food and essential items for their communities.

“Our industry is especially challenged because the convenience stores are real necessities—everyone relies on c-stores for fuel and daily items like milk and bread,” Lofstock says. “No matter the natural disaster, convenience stores are still open. We’re focusing a little less on how to make coffee and instead how to protect your employees and customers.”

In the past, Convenience Store Decisions’ webinars would attract about 100 people to register. However, when the magazine announced it would host a webinar on how readers could keep employees safe and how to clean their stores if an employee or customer entered with the virus, more than 600 people registered. “That shows the need for information,” Lofstock says.

B2B publications have also been increasing their outreach to readers via social media. Sophia Bennett, editor of Window Fashion VISION magazine and a freelance writer, says Window Fashion VISION magazine has been sponsoring biweekly Facebook Live events called IWCE Business Forum.

“We did the first one on March 26, and it was great,” Bennett says. “On the weeks when the IWCE Business Forum doesn’t happen, we’re continuing with our other Facebook Live series, which is called Vision Seat. I host those broadcasts, and we have interior designers on to talk about a range of topics, including how they’re getting through the crisis, educational opportunities, trends, products and business ideas.”

Change of events

During the second week of March, some B2B editors attended ConExpo-Con/Agg trade show in Las Vegas that is geared primarily toward construction and mining industries. Kevin Yanik, editor at Pit & Quarry magazine of Cleveland-based North Coast Media, says he attended this trade show, adding that the coronavirus was a main topic of concern among event attendees.

“The show took place before a national emergency was declared, so ConExpo-Con/Agg attendees and exhibitors alike were really trying to get a feel for what the right thing to do was regarding the show,” he says. “The coronavirus story was still unfolding, and everyone was trying to make the best decisions at that time for themselves and for their companies.

“In the end, I think every company did what they felt was best for its people. Some attending companies did not go; a handful of exhibitors did not go, but the show largely went on. I’d say most of the trade press was there, but I heard from a couple of exhibitors that they did experience some cancelations with the trade press.”

However, Yanik says ConExpo-Con/Agg organizers decided to shut it down a day early in response to COVID-19.

And it was around that same time that B2B editors had to report on a flurry of industry event cancellations and postponements as well as figure out their own event strategies.

In recent years, more publications have been reliant on events for revenue. Bennett says she is concerned that segment of B2B publishing won’t rebound. “Events will seem like a much riskier investment—at least for a few years—and people may be less willing or able to travel. On the flip side, I think people will be desperate to connect with each other, so I think there’s still a space for events. Maybe they’ll be virtual. Maybe they’ll be smaller and regional so people don’t have to travel as far. But I believe the events industry will look really different after this.

Forecast on freelance

Freelancers in B2B publishing are also experiencing shifts in workload as a result of the pandemic. Morrison says she has noticed some projects get delayed as budgets are “reshuffled.” However, she has noticed “a lot more content going out right now” and increased demand for some B2B publishing sectors.

She adds, “Some traditional pitching and prospecting is becoming difficult with many editors working away from their desks.”

However, Bennett says she has noticed some freelance work opportunities dry up in recent weeks. “I was working on two articles for national publications that got put on hold—one until the beginning of June. A regional publication I write for has ended publication until the crisis is over. I’m sure part of the reason for my slowdown is that I write mainly about food, wine and hospitality, all industries that have obviously been really hard hit by the crisis.”

She adds that she suspects things might pick up later in the year after the pandemic subsides a bit.

“The last recession pushed more businesses to work with freelancers because it was more affordable and less risky than taking on full-time staff. I suspect the same thing will happen this time around.”

Long-term impact

B2B publishing companies are still unsure of how COVID-19 will impact their businesses in the long run.

“It’s difficult to know with certainty what the lasting effects of this crisis will be,” Keefe of Recycling Today Media Group says. “Certainly, many organizations have been thrust into remote offices, and that’s likely to have an effect. At the same time, we’ve seen increased engagement in our digital channels as well. We’ve always been focused on our digital channels, [but] today’s climate emphasizes this.”

Yanik of Pit & Quarry magazine adds that he also thinks the pandemic will prompt more B2B publications to improve their digital platforms.

“In the B2B publishing world, I believe print still has firm place at the top,” he says. “I do, however, think the most successful editors have separate plans for telling pandemic stories on a digital platform and a print platform. With an event like this one that changes by the day, editors need to look ahead with their print magazines and ask: ‘Is that messaging going to resonate when the issue mails 10 to 14 days from now?’”

The role events play in B2B media might change as a result of COVID-19.
The role events play in B2B media might change as a result of COVID-19.

Lofstock of Convenience Store Decisions magazine says he is hopeful readers will want to engage more with B2B publications because of the pandemic.

“I would hope that the companies we cover will realize that B2B publishing provides a good source for them to run their businesses,” he says. “Even if they don’t read us every month, we are there to provide information and guidance to the kind of news they need to run their business and keep employees safe. For magazines like us that have been around many years, it’s good to remind everyone that we’re still here and still focused on helping them do their business.”

ASBPE members can learn more about how B2B publications are responding to COVID-19 by tuning into a free webinar on the topic from 2-3 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, April 22. Click here to register and learn more about that event.

Megan Smalley

Megan Smalley is associate editor for the Recycling Today Media Group at Cleveland-based GIE Media Inc. She focuses on writing, editing and podcasting for Recycling Today magazine. She has been with GIE Media since 2017 in several positions, including associate editor for Lawn & Landscape magazine and managing editor for Recycling Today magazine. She has been working in B2B media in the Cleveland area since 2014. She received a bachelor’s degree in magazine journalism from Kent State University in May 2014.

Smalley previously served on the executive committee of the ASBPE National Board of Directors, and she is involved in ASBPE’s social and website committees.

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