28 Aug 2020

The Coronavirus crisis has prompted many industries to look at how to cater to the changed behaviour of their audience, and media is no different. For several years, print publications have been toying with how best to engage their audiences online.

Print remains crucial to many business-to-business readers. 82%1 of retailers say they pick up a business-focused print title at least once a week; and this week leading industry title RN announced that its official ABC audit had shown year-on-year readership growth of 3.2%. But audiences are looking for information wherever they can – and that increasingly includes online.

Lockdown has accelerated the move online. Key titles in the FMCG space, including Convenience Store, Morning Advertiser and Restaurant, have announced they will cease printing and cater for their audiences via the web.

According to Aidan Fortune, editor of ConvenienceStore.co.uk, a survey of convenience retailers conducted by WRBM found that 64% said digital was their favourite way to receive industry news and information. Restaurant said their magazine has “always had a loyal following and is requested by over 12,000 people each month…that said, in the last three months alone more than 1.4million of you have accessed our site”.

Morning Advertiser publisher Chris Lowe said similar. “Even before March 2020, our website reached 12 times more people than the magazine – and our magazines were the biggest reach in the market”.

So what are readers going online for? The immediacy and the ability to react quickly, according to Aidan Fortune.

“Convenience retailing is changing and evolving on a near daily basis,” he told Hanover.

“With a focus on online, we can react quickly to changing situations and provide real-time updates to our readers who need a constant stream of information and advice.”

“The change in content is similar to the change in shopping habits,” adds Lowe. “There is now a wider choice, in a format that you prefer, at a time when you need it.”

One of the key changes to an online world is what it tells us about the audience.

“User journeys become more tailored, personalised when online,” says Lowe. “We can see what a reader is searching for and serve only what is relevant. We can create newsletters based on previous behaviours that show the content even the reader isn’t aware they will be interested in.”

While established print titles are confidently heading into an online future, there are – of course – titles that have set themselves up as online-only portals from the start. They too have seen positive changes since the start of lockdown and with them, a solid belief that this is not just a flash-in-the-pan.

Gavin O’Meara, CEO and Head of Digital at FENews.co.uk, a platform for Further Education professionals, told us that things are going well, but innovation is vital.

“August has been our busiest revenue month ever (in 17 years). We have had to create three new ad zones as we were running out of advertising options!

“We are always innovating, always moving forward. We are thinking about our next digital strategy – that is another 18-month development. You always have to innovate”.

This drive to creating new types of content is key. It isn’t just about mirroring the content of the print titles – it’s about finding new ways to talk to the audience, and constantly evolving.

“We’ve already increased the frequency of our newsletters and made them more mobile-friendly as that’s where a huge proportion of our traffic comes from,” says Fortune. “We’ll also be increasing our focus on social media and examining new channels to help us better engage with retailers.”

Lowe agrees, and promises exciting new innovations on Morning Advertiser.

“We are investing in more multi-media and data capabilities,” he adds. “We have a new podcast system coming next month and a data wall being implemented soon after.”

Fortune agrees – and says that a digital approach will help brands be there year-round for the audience.

“Our readers still need the best possible supplier of information to help them run their businesses successfully,” he says. “The fact we’re focused on digital means a PR professional or supplier doesn’t necessarily have to wait until a particular category feature is coming up to provide best practice advice, there’s opportunity to supply it all year round.”

What does this all mean for business and brand communications? The onus is still on the basics – great relationships and an understanding of the audience – but it will enable brands to move at greater speed and get to the point quicker, as is demanded by the online audience.

“A key strand of our digital strategy is that we really want to cut through the buzzwords and waffle to provide useful and actionable advice for independent retailers that they can easily absorb and implement,” says Fortune. “So, if a supplier or PR agency can help with that, it will certainly enable us to help our readers.”

“The relationships [between PR and journalists] that existed before are as relevant as they were,” finishes Lowe. “We are able to be more flexible in terms of content plans and therefore our editorial teams will be more receptive to ideas.”

[1] Research from a leading trade media publishing house, 2019