October 29, 2021
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What To Expect As We Plan for 2022

We’re well into the fourth quarter and if yours is looking anything like mine, the conversation du jour is what’s coming in 2022. Naturally, in my day job, I am thinking a lot about how to grow the business and what could impact that—both positively and negatively.

But in general, I believe there are three areas that are worth exploring as media operators plan out their organizations’ 2022.

Recalibration of subscriptions

The era of President Trump was a boon to news media in such a way that people in the industry lovingly referred to it as the Trump bump. But the immediate fear when he lost the election was if there would wind up being some sort of a Trump Slump.

I, originally, was unsure if we were going to see the slump. My argument boiled down to one important point.

Readers were activated. They had become used to paying for news and were engaged and interested in continuing to read the news. I believed that it would be enough to reduce a huge amount of churn. And in some respects, it may have.

But the problem is that a dependence on Trump meant that many media companies were using the entertainment value of politics. It’s about winners and losers. When politics becomes more boring, that game becomes less interesting and people don’t pay as much.

And so, we’ve seen traffic numbers drop for many of these national news organizations. It should come as no surprise to anyone, but a reduction in outrage likely results in a reduction in readership. And a reduction in readers means the funnel is smaller, so fewer net new sign-ups.

But that’s okay. We’re coming up on a year since the last election and I believe we’re at a point of subscription stabilization. People that are still subscribing to these publications are likely doing it because it’s something they’re actually interested in rather than because of the outrage effect. Therefore, we can really focus on the future.

What does that look like it?

Ultimately, I think it requires a deeper appreciation of the types of content that paying subscribers are reading. Those that are sticking around are looking for information about specific topics, so we need to deliver that to them. I think this is much easier for the B2B world because we’ve always been focused on a much more narrow topic versus the national publications.

There’s a reason so many more publications are investing in climate change reporting, for example. My suspicion is that data shows these types of stories resonate with paying subscribers. The nice thing about this type of reporting is that it’s less tied to the news cycle. In other words, reporters can find stories rather than simply waiting for something insane to happen in the White House.

Subscription media brands will continue to grow. But it’ll require a refocus away from the horse racing of Washington D.C. and, instead, a deeper focus on news that current paying subscribers are engaging with. That can act as the foundation to then expand our acquisition engines again.

Advertising will experience an extended hiccup in some areas

We’ve been hearing about supply chain issues for a while now. In September, I cautioned that this could come back to hurt us in the ad markets:

None of this is to say that this is tied to supply chain issues, but I can’t help but wonder if companies are looking at their stock and determining that spending as aggressively in Q4 may not be necessary.

Unfortunately, this is highly speculative and it could certainly play out that brands continue to throw money into advertising irrespective of supply chain issues. But if DTC brands and less-advanced retailers don’t have stock, they may not spend as much, which could depress process all around—especially on the programmatic side.

On October 11th, Business Insider wrote:

Insider spoke to executives at five advertising agencies who said at least a few of their clients have cut their 4Q marketing budgets, by anywhere from 10% to 50%. They spoke on condition of anonymity to protect their relationships with clients.

But another agency source said supply chain woes have been brought up by marketers in every new business pitch they’ve been in recently as ongoing concerns for planning campaigns and advertising budgets.

Well, shoot. For many publishers, Q4 is supposed to be the highlight of the year. Brands are spending so much to get consumers to go big for the holidays. Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t appear to be abating anytime soon.

Some expect supply chain issues to last until mid-2022. Craig Fuller, CEO of FreightWaves, has been suggesting that the passage of the infrastructure bill will only create more problems for the supply chain because so much construction material will be getting shipped.

So long as brands are struggling to get goods to sell, they’re unlikely to spend on advertising. Why promote empty shelves?

Publishers need to be prepared for a slower-than-usual start to the advertising market in 2022. For those of us less dependent on retail brands, it should be fine. But for consumer-brand heavy publishers, I’d expect the latter half of 2022 to be a rush to reclaim some lost revenue opportunities.

Events will explode in 2022

Earlier this week, I talked about how event brands are seeing mixed results. For nearly half of operators, they’re unlikely to do their first live event until next year. It also seems that the worst of Covid is behind us. According to The Guardian:

“My most optimistic assessment is that if we keep vaccinating, sometime during late fall, into the winter, the pandemic phase of Covid will be substantially reduced over much of the United States,” said William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

He added: “We could move from pandemic to endemic, and endemic means that the virus remains in the community, akin to influenza, smolders along, keeps being transmitted, but the rate of disease that occurs is profoundly diminished, and the impact on individuals and health systems is very much controlled.”

If this is the case, I anticipate a flurry of events to be hosted next year by a wide variety of publications, old and new. There’s so much pent-up demand. For us operators, I think 2022 is absolutely the year to bring live events back if you haven’t already in 2021.

But we need to be careful here. We are not dealing with the same consumer that we were prior to the pandemic. Maybe it’s just my group of people, but there is a harsher expectation of appreciating things in life. People just don’t want to waste time on average.

That means the same old events that we were lazily hosting prior to the pandemic won’t cut it. The experiences need to be better. The quality needs to be better. The speakers need to be better. I also can’t help but feel like events should get smaller. Maybe it’s just my niche media way of thinking, but to deliver on an exceptional experience, you have to cater it to the group of people. Can you do that if you’ve got 10,000 in the room?

2022 is the year to put a stake in the ground for companies doing events for the first time. But be wary… a lot of these venues lost a ton of money over the past couple of years, so they’re going to try and extort us. We decided against using a hotel for a 2022 event because they wanted us to buy a large room block for a single-day event.

Wrapping up…

Depending on the type of business you’re running, some of these might not be applicable. I run a network of B2B publications, so consumer advertising is irrelevant to my business. But I know that I need to get our events product off the ground next year because there’s an opening.

As we plan for 2022, we should consider some of these possibilities. But considering them and reacting to them are two different things. The worst thing we can do is overcorrect because of short-term trends. Yes, advertising may struggle a bit in 2022, but that doesn’t mean we should blow up advertising.

The true north star should be continuing to focus on what is working. If we deliver incredible value to our readers and if our readers would miss our publications if they disappeared tomorrow, then we’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading. If you have thoughts, please let me know or join the AMO Slack channel to discuss all things media even further. Have a great weekend!

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