Revenue, Remote Work and More: 40% of Respondents to SIIA-Connectiv B2B Media Survey Say Business Has Returned to Pre-COVID Levels

A ray of hope in our collective slog through the COVID-19 crisis: 40 percent of respondents to a recent (and unscientific) SIIA-Connectiv survey of B2B media and information companies say revenue has already returned to pre-pandemic levels.

However, that’s tempered by the fact that the second largest group of respondents (30 percent) say they don’t know when revenues will recover (the remainder anticipate revenue bouncing back in either first half 2021 or in 2022).


While more than 90 percent of respondents said they see up to 25 percent and 50 percent of revenue coming from live events, close to 40 percent say they don’t know when live events will return, while 25 percent anticipate hosting live events in the second half of 2021 and another 25 percent say 2022 or later. Just over 10 percent expect live events to return in the first quarter of 2021

Remote Work, Return To Office

Predicting a return to the office is equally murky but most B2B media and information companies surveyed noted little change in productivity with remote work except in a few key areas.

While most respondents reported less than 25 percent of their employees worked remotely pre-COVID, 80 percent said their entire staff is currently remote during the pandemic.


That’s led to some creative policies for publishers to enable employees to balance home life and work. Industry Dive has adopted a flexible approach to supporting employees should they decide to live in another part of the U.S. during lockdown, while keeping staff connected by offering a video-based story time hour for employees’ children as well as cooking demonstration, yoga and workout sessions.

Meanwhile, just 10 percent of survey respondents say they have already started returning to the office, while over 30 percent anticipate say they will start going back in 2021.

However, more than 40 percent of respondents do not know when they will go back to a traditional office setting (respondents were equally split between saying they anticipate needing the same amount of office space they had pre-pandemic and requiring 50 percent less). The majority of respondents say remote work will still be an option when offices re-open while more than 30 percent say they are considering going remote permanently.  

Productivity Scores Well, Collaboration Suffers

Productivity with remote work has either increased or stayed the same for most disciplines (while advertising sales received the biggest knock for the inability to meet face-to-face with clients, the majority still said productivity with ad sales was better or the same, particularly as sponsors look for digital and marketing services outlets for dollars that normally would have gone to events)


Still, an increasing chorus (not just in media but business as a whole) says the main problem with remote work isn’t getting the job done (as employees on back-to-back Zoom calls from dawn till dusk can attest) but in fostering organic collaboration and on-the-job learning for junior employees.

However, the single biggest positive impact of the pandemic reported by Connectiv CEOs (and leaders at Connectiv sister associations such as SIPA and AM&P) is the way teams have pulled together. With pandemic working conditions unlikely to change significantly through the first half of 2021, enabling that trend to continue will be critical to the industry’s recovery. 

crisis mode

‘We are thinking differently’, Crisis Mode May Mean Innovation Mode

Our condo association told us that we have to get our dryer vents cleaned out this year. A neighbor put up a sign recommending we call this company for a group rate. So I called. They told me that the date they’ve set to come is Saturday, Oct. 24 because people can be home. I said, ‘Maybe that was true in olden times (like 2019), but I know I’m tied to my laptop and condo Monday through Friday and try to get away a bit on Saturdays, so that wouldn’t work. How about another day?’”
“Well, we barely have anyone signed up that day so I don’t think so—we need to fill that day first.” Argghh. 
The pandemic has brought on circumstances that require we change many of the ways and habits we have become accustomed to or to innovate and start a new habit. Here are positive examples that I’ve seen.
Double down on content. When the pandemic hit, Morning Brew launched a guide telling readers how best to work from home. It quickly became a pop-up, three-days-a-week newsletter, The Essentials, with tips on how to be active, healthy and happy during quarantine.” More than 75,000 subscribers in the first three days later, and it’s now sponsored by a cold-brew coffee company. “Another example of our mission and how we’re being a resource to readers…,” said Alex Lieberman, CEO and co-founder. “We are thinking differently about the media landscape.”
Create new reports. InsideARM, which addresses the debt industry, is promoting a free whitepaper titled Succeeding in Collections Today Requires More Agility. “Collection Operations of all sizes need to be more agile in order to handle the growing number and frequency of changes they will have to make in the NEW NORMAL.” I can hear the clicks now.
Build crisis hubs. I’m sure I’m not alone in looking for the coronavirus news hub on any site I visit. Spidell Publishing has an excellent one, replete with tax information and Spidell webinars that address that information. Almost every publisher I’ve interviewed has said their coronavirus hub has brought increased engagement—and goodwill because most are paywall-free. Of course, we all hope that nothing takes over our lives like COVID-19 has. But the success of these news hubs could provide a blueprint for future hubs around big-ticket or charitable topics.
Run virtual demos. According to a Brand United report, B2B publisher HousingWire has been hosting virtual software demo days to educate its audience of mortgage lenders and real estate professionals about technology solutions that enable business continuity during the pandemic. “We looked at the environment, we looked at what our clients were looking for, we looked at the needs of our audience, and were able to bring together a product that we’re going to repeat again and again and again that solves a lot for those needs on both sides of the equation,” said HousingWire CEO Clayton Collins.
Don’t just virtualize but redefine your events. With in-person events, we mostly traveled to a place, so the dates of the event were finite. For virtual events, there really are no time limitations. For their Virtual Divorce Conference, BVR added bonus sessions both before and after the main event. So there was a 50-minute conference preview on Aug. 27, then the actual conference Sept. 9-11, and then three 100-minute, follow-up programs Sept. 17, 24 and 30. “We feel that people are getting a lot more value this year,” said Jared Waters, training director for BVR.
Add more webinars but make them shorter. The Association of Proposal Management Professionals initiated a Power ½ Hour Webinar Series. They are free for members and $75 for non-members. For a time, they also increased their standard one webinar a month to as many as four—some of those are sponsored—knowing that members needed more information to navigate the crisis. 
Mail swag boxes to members/subscribers. Hearst Group Autos launched R&T Crew (Road & Track) Magazine in January with a subscription box geared to kids. The first box included a beanie with a designable patch, trading cards featuring different cars, socks with auto graphics and a car kids can put together and paint. Subscribers receive six boxes for $225/year. Of course, adults like cool stuff, too, especially now. If you can get a sponsor, mail out some of the swag that people would normally get at your events. Michelle Panzer of Hearst Autos said, “The goal is to find ‘white space’ in the market where you can fill a need that no one else has already identified.”
By Ronn Levine
The dome of the US Capitol obscured by the trees of Washington, DC.

Election Outcome Scenarios: Webinar Recap


By Jesse Spector – Recording available for SIIA members here.

We’re less than a month away from one of the most hotly anticipated and consequential elections in our nation’s history. And despite recent polling, the outcome and reverberations are still anyone’s guess. To help us ‘game-out’ possible election outcome scenarios and examine what they would mean for the overall policy agenda, SIIA hosted a virtual discussion on October 6th with Steve Haro and Dean Hingson, two Capitol Hill veterans and Principals at one of DC’s top government relations and strategic consulting firms, Mehlman, Castagnetti, Rosen & Thomas.  Although politically Haro and Hingson sit on opposite sides of the aisle, they were able to find some points of agreement, and both had plenty of thoughts on potential outcomes for the months ahead.

Haro forecast a 291 electoral vote win for Joe Biden and a 50-50 split Senate result.  Hingson emphasized that President Trump was very much still in the running and agreed on the probability of a 50-50 Senate.  In Hingson’s view, the biggest risk in this election is the validity of the vote (i.e. whether Americans will see the result as valid). He pointed to two cases out of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as examples – one that set a high standard of technical compliance for mail-in ballots, and another that allows ballots received up to three days post-election to be counted. With these rulings, one could envision a high level of rejected ballots and extended counting delays which could call the validity of results into question.  Both did however, agree that voter turnout will likely be historically high – up to 150 million ballots cast, compared to 128 million in 2016. 

One point of agreement was regarding the stimulus, with both agreeing the prospect of a fourth relief package before the election was low, despite reportedly promising talks between Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and Speaker Pelosi.  In fact, shortly after the event President Trump instructed Secretary Mnuchin to discontinue discussions with the Speaker. 

With respect to tech policy, both Haro and Hingson predicted more similarities than differences between Biden and Trump.  Either administration would be likely to increase antitrust enforcement in the sector.  With regards to the liability shield under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA), in their view it not a question of whether this will be amended but rather how and when. 

Hingson anticipated that should Trump win, policy on the pandemic and the economy would likely not change much.  While Haro expects that a Biden victory would lead to a greater emphasis on solving the pandemic including a heightened interest in addressing social issues.  

The conversation between Haro and Hingson was lively and cordial (if daunting at times) and members are encouraged to watch the video recording linked below.  The bottom line is that many outcomes are possible, including several that would lead to a 269 to 269 electoral college split and/or a 50-50 Senate.  The only thing that anyone can say with any certainty is that the next several months will be interesting.

Back view of male employee speaking on video call with diverse colleagues on online briefing with laptop at home.

Hybrid Model of Remote and Flexible Working Might Be Plan C

By Ronn Levine, originally published on the SIPA blog. 


“It is time to re-imagine what the workplace is for,” writes Sue Unerman, chief transformation officer at MediaCom, on Haymarket Media’s Campaign site. “If you took someone who might have known Charles Dickens and, through the power of time-travel, transported them to an office in 2019, undoubtedly they would be shocked and surprised by mobile phones, computers and the number of women around. They would be less shocked by the overall look of the place: lots of people with their heads down at desks working away, with some managers walking around occasionally to see what they were up to.”

Up until now, most of what we have read takes the form of, “when offices reopen…,” “people going back to normal…,” etc. But as spring turns to summer turns to fall, new conversations are taking place, more focused on the realities of the new normal—where people are not returning to offices until at least next summer and as some do, many others will continue to work from home.

I spoke to Erin Hallstrom last week, an incredible, do-everything person for Putman Media—SEO, podcasts, she created their groundbreaking Influential Women in Manufacturing program—and she told me that half of their staff had been working remotely before this, including her. And she’s always felt more productive.

“For 12 years, I’ve always had a digital job; at 10 o’clock at night I might have an idea [to write down]. If there’s a huge fire at a factory [at any time], someone needs to write about it. Why do I have to go into the office?”

Hallstrom believes, however, that there will still be a need for in-person collaboration. “I used to go in two days a week, with digital folks similar to me. On one of those days, three or four of us would sit down and put our heads together. The people I’ve been closest to, we haven’t seen each other, but, of course, we still have conversations. I miss you guys.”

I remember a couple years ago interviewing Cassandra Farrington, CEO of Marijuana Business Daily. They figured out quickly that some face-to-face communication was needed from their remote team and decided to require people coming in for about 20-25 hours a week. “The rest of the time, as I tell my team, I couldn’t care if you are working from the surface of the moon, so long as the work is getting done to high effectiveness.”

>I think you’ll see some of that in the new normal, with even less hours required in the office, but still some hopes to get people in for a day or two a week—while also finding better, more participatory technology for those working remotely. Back in October, Dan Fink, managing director of Money-Media, who was already embracing working from home, said that they had “installed some large screens in conference rooms [to accommodate remote staff]. There’s a marked difference in how that person participates. And how the people feel; it feels like that person was in the meeting room. It really does make a significant difference.”

But as Unerman relates, having people come in to just put their head down and work won’t make sense anymore. 

“A hybrid model of remote and flexible working, with offices re-imagined for the better is likely,” she writes. “These experiments are under way, and they do raise another question—what is office culture without everyone in the office?”

Here’s how she finishes. “In a great culture each person enhances each other’s performance. Helping the collective is rewarded. Without everyone in the office most of the time, leadership of a good culture is even more crucial. And in a good culture there are cultural leaders and advocates in every single seat, wherever that seat is located.”

In April, Steve Cody, founder and CEO of PR and marketing firm Peppercomm, spoke with Ragan’s Diane Schwartz, who credited him with building a team culture, steeped in tactical communications that especially helps in these precarious times.

“It will be a foreign experience; how do we ease that transition [back to the office]?” he asked then. “This idea of re-boarding—not onboarding, but bringing them back—we’re working on that now.”

Odds are he’s now working on Plan C.


Use Virtual’s Strengths, Integrate Sponsors and Offer a Mix of Content Types for Successful Event Pivots

By Ronn Levine, originally published on AM&P blog. 

Thursday morning, Eric Shanfelt, founding partner of Nearview Media, led a Connectiv Digital Media Council on virtual events, and perhaps the first thing he advised was not to simply move your in-person event to online, but reconfigure it. “I think we know this intrinsically. But I see the biggest problems are when we’re trying to emulate an in-person event. Take advantage of the unique strengths of the virtual.”

This reminded me of an article I just read on the ASAE site by Angela Hickman, director of research and marketing at the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) in Alexandria, Va. “As we began planning for a virtual event, we knew we didn’t want to simply move our event online,” she wrote. “School counselors were frustrated, exhausted and concerned about what virtual education was going to look like. We wanted to inspire, energize and inform these critical educators on the front lines.”

ASCA’s members now depend on the strengths of virtual communication. Knowing this, ASCA did the following: 

  • found a high-quality platform that met their needs—HUBB; 
  • sent every registrant a pre-event gift package; 
  • provided multiple learning formats for the event; 
  • made it fun with happy hours, live trivia, a movie night, a live awards presentation and cocktail demonstrations—which coincidentally, Shanfelt mentioned was the most popular session at a virtual show he recently helped to put on; they called it “a master course on mixology.”

Here are more tips from Shanfelt, who said that a survey he saw this week rated the likelihood that marketers would attend an in-person event through mid-2021 at just 3 out of 10:

  • Focus on the profitability, not the revenue. Your dollar numbers will, most likely, be lower, so better to look at your profitability. “It’s really about cash flow,” Shanfelt said.
  • Mix the content. Use keynotes, Q&A, video, panels, how-to information, market intelligence, data findings—short and long, but nothing too long. For a paid event, the bar for good content is so much higher. “While most ASCA@Home [the name of the rebranded event] sessions were 30-minute breakouts followed by live Q&A, we also offered keynote speakers, brainstorming sessions and special events,” Hickman wrote.
  • Consider a series. Shanfelt said that rather than burn people out with a long, multi-day event, one publisher pivoted to a successful series. “We’ll just do a live webcast every Friday at 1 pm Eastern. We’ll record it and put it in the members only section, and then in a podcast. Sponsors will like it because they get multiple mentions in email, the webcast, on-demand and the podcast. People can then come in when they want and view what they want.”
  • Integrate sponsors into sessions. Don’t put them off in separate areas. Even if it’s short, give them a role in your sessions.
  • Facilitate chat with specific questions. Even if you record your sessions, you should try to do live Q&A’s. 
  • Video/audio quality is critical. Require that any presenters use webcams. Test on the days before.
  • Give people post-event access. This is crucial, as not everyone registered will be able to attend your event. Make it as simple as possible for them.
  • Choose your platform carefully. Conferences are having a more successful time transferring to virtual than trade shows. One of the biggest problems is when trade shows use virtual event platforms built more for conferences.
  • Use a moderator for the entire event. Can add cohesion to your event. Do you have a podcast host who is comfortable in that role?

You must work hard at getting people not just registered but to attend. This is not a problem for in-person events. Who isn’t going to Florida or California after signing up and booking flights? But it is an issue for virtual events. “Keep focusing on the what’s in it for me [angle],” said Matthew Cibellis, formerly of Education Week. “ Remind them on what they signed up for in the first place. It’s a lot of retargeting. You want them there live. You’ve promised sponsors certain types of personas. Email and text reminders.” Make it easy for them to sign on and use testimonials: “Here’s why I’m going to the show.”

Consider having a Preview Week. Make it a week earlier than the event, and attendees can make their plans about what to see. Could be a big push.

Provide opportunities for people to meet one-on-one. Shanfelt warned not to make these too short. One “speed dating” type session he attended gave just two minutes and that was barely enough time for introductions.

Try (intentionally is okay) to put more content in your event than people can watch—and then strongly promote the on-demand. “Watch the sessions that you missed!”

This ongoing situation “will force us to keep thinking and reinventing,” Shanfelt concluded.