Industries that are quickly pivoting to survive COVID - Lessons learned from successful advertising campaigns
In this episode, Pauline Grech from Intermedia Group joins host Shahin Hoda to talk about how COVID-19 has impacted Business-to-business (B2B) advertising.
They review the wins and misses of the industries that have been deeply affected, and how the lessons learned under a pandemic scenario can help reinvent the digital marketing strategies in B2B moving forward.
This episode’s guest:
Pauline Grech, Head of Digital at Intermedia Group
Pauline has worked in the Publishing industry for 15 years, where she has transitioned from a web development background into leading the Digital Team at Intermedia Group.
She has worked for major publications like Vogue and GQ and has experience introducing new processes and developing standards. With the advantage of technical knowledge and her digital marketing skills, Pauline can lead teams into delivering unique results.
Conversation segments on this episode:
- [0:44] About Intermedia Group and Pauline's career and software development background
- [3:27] COVID-19 impact on Business-to-business (B2B) industries and their campaigns
- [4:59] Intermedia Group's quick change of strategy
- [7:32] Industries that are successfully adapting to the COVID-19 scenario
- [12:48] New approaches in B2B marketing under COVID-19
- [14:24] What's next for B2B campaigns
- [16:43] Lessons learned from COVID-19 at Intermedia Group
Resources mentioned on this episode:
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Episode Full Transcript:
[00:23] Shahin Hoda Hello, everyone. Welcome to another show. I'm Shahin Hoda with xGrowth and today I'm talking to Pauline Grech, Head of Digital Strategy at Intermedia Group about what are the B2B industries that are quickly gaining traction after COVID. On that note, let's dive in. Pauline, thanks for joining us.
[00:42] Pauline Grech Hi, Shahin. Thanks for having me.
[00:44] Shahin Hoda Absolute pleasure. Pauline, now, for those who might not be super familiar with yourself or the Intermedia Group. Can you give us a quick background and intro?
[00:55] Pauline Grech Yeah, yeah, sure. So the intermediate groups of B2B publisher that's been around since 1968, it started off as a family owned business. And we now have a portfolio of about 30 different brands. Although my background is in web development, specifically PHP and WordPress development. So I've worked in the publishing space for about 15 years now. So where I started at newsmagazines, and I was working for publications such as Vogue, GQ, Taste.com.au and Home Life, which I think now is Home to Love.
[01:32] Pauline Grech And then I moved over to Intermedia in 2012, as a Senior PHP Developer, needing to service these 30 websites across a range of industries, and with a team of only three developers, including myself, so I had to introduce new processes, and a standardised approach to to build these websites in order to keep them maintained. So as the team grew, then I moved up the ranks to technical leads, digital project manager, and now head of digital. So I feel luckily that I have the advantage of the technical knowledge as well as the gained business and digital marketing knowledge.
[02:10] Shahin Hoda And that's fascinating coming from a software development background and then starting to dabble into marketing and really getting into that. And, you know, what I always say is, in this day and age, marketers who have that technical knowledge, have a massive advantage over a lot of other marketers, the combination of those two areas, it just gives people an advantage that is sometimes very hard to find. Did you find coming from that background kind of gives you an edge when you're doing your work or when you're talking to peers?
[02:51] Pauline Grech It definitely does. It definitely helps to know how things work and not just the theory behind it. So and then to know the impact and outs of how can we tweak this or maybe use it for our advantage. So having built it, and now using it, yeah, definitely helps.
[03:09] Shahin Hoda Now the Intermedia Group has a very strong focus on B2B Industries. And you know, it has multiple publications that really caters for, you know, businesses marketing to other businesses. Is that right?
[03:25] Pauline Grech Yes, exactly. Okay.
[03:27] Shahin Hoda Okay. Now, what I like to dig into is, what were some of the shifts some of the big shifts that you notice, right, when COVID hit the market in terms of the behavior of these b2b businesses, who were advertising to other businesses? What was it that kind of came out and you noticed in the whole middle of this, this COVID pandemic stuff?
[03:52] Pauline Grech Yeah, sure. So to give you an idea of what sort of industries we're talking about, you know, we scale from anything from hospitality, beauty, government, aged care and the list goes on. But I'd have to say across the board and almost overnight, advertisers basically pulled their campaigns, there was no spending. It went from, you know, booked in campaigns for six months out to zero. So I think the uncertainty of what we were about to embark on cause businesses to stop spending, and rightfully so.
[04:26] Pauline Grech I mean, the last thing on their minds was advertising. It was more about business survival. You know, it was front and center in their mind. And we had to be respectful of this as a business as well. So there was a week or two there where we were just basically waiting to understand what the lay of the land was, you know, how, how long would it last? Is anyone able to do business? I mean, can we support our clients through these times? So I think overall, there were probably more questions than answers.
[04:59] Shahin Hoda Interesting. Okay, and give us a bit of a picture of what happened afterwards. So, you know, as time went on, what kind of shifts that you start to see?
[05:11] Pauline Grech Yeah, sure. So I think we were in constant contact without our clients. But the biggest shift, probably, with us having to be agile and think quick on our feet. So we had to change the conversation between both us and our advertisers, as well as us in our audiences. So we quickly noticed how hungry people were to get the latest news about COVID and how it would affect their businesses. And this in turn into increased our traffic on our websites by 50% or more in some cases. So ironically, it was the best time to advertise because of all this traffic, but no one was advertising, when no one was confident to advertise.
[05:54] Shahin Hoda Wow, okay.
[05:55] Pauline Grech Yeah. We quickly you know, started creating these small hubs on each of our websites that had exclusive COVID-related content and giving them special hashtags, like hospitality strong or hashtag strong together, or for New Zealand titles, we had a hashtag hospitality Kia Kaha which is, you know, in their native tongue. So this created a sense of community and support for the industry.
[06:22] Pauline Grech And we created a joint advertising partnership for our major investors. And we leveraged, you know, existing long standing relationships with these advertisers. And luckily they all came to the party realizing just how important this message of support was during you know these uncertain times. So the campaign then became hospital you know, hashtag hospitality strong brought to you by advertiser x plus y plus c, we're in the past you would, we would have never seen that you know, joint advertising from two or three brands or more.
[06:58] Shahin Hoda Right. Very interesting. I mean, it's crazy to think that you say 50%. It's not like Intermedia Group is you know, is a small brand or, you know, it's a new brand that, hey 50% increases is, you know, it's normal for going from, you know, hundred and 250 visitors or even 1000 to 1500 visitors. It's not a massive increase, but you're in we're talking big numbers here.
[07:28] Pauline Grech Yeah. Yeah, it was, it was surprising.
[07:32] Shahin Hoda Gotcha. Now, I'd love to maybe dig a bit deeper into some of the industries that you seen going strong in these times and some that aren't picking up as much traction. What comes to mind and what have you seen?
[07:50] Pauline Grech Sure. So, I'll start with our stronger industries. I'd say generally, they've been the aged care industry. Ironically, the hospitality industry, and the beauty industry. So going, you know, speaking to our sales team, they've basically mentioned, you know, basically, we've been leveraging our long term relationships, because luckily, our brands are the voice of authority for those industries. They've been around for, you know, 20-40 years, some of them. And we were actually able to be flexible with our clients' needs, nurturing those relationships, you know, constantly throughout the whole pandemic.
[08:51] Pauline Grech And in some cases, it became more of an emotional sell the idea of supporting the community and then that's what brought our clients over the line. For the aged care industry, we had actually, unusually, an influx of new clients coming on board, mostly cleaning products, trying to take advantage of the whole pandemic, especially given all the recent publicity about aged care and how they've been affected. We've had to create extremely agile new packages, you know, very quickly for it to suit our clients budgets, and be very flexible in that respect.
[09:12] Pauline Grech And in some cases, creating a sense of urgency to take advantage of the pandemic and turn this negative sort of news story into a positive one, you know, with the whole support industry community.
[09:25] Shahin Hoda Yeah.
[09:26] Pauline Grech Yeah, we've also utilized some industry bodies and our relationships to those associations, and ask them to support the industry during these times, which Luckily, they have. We've also because we're in the print space, as well as the digital space, we've had to come up with new ways of converting our print dollars into digital revenue, you know, because a lot of our print products actually stopped during this time due to physical printing plants not being able to operate.
[09:52] Shahin Hoda Gotcha.
[09:53] Pauline Grech Yeah.
[09:53] Shahin Hoda It's really cool that you're saying the travel industry is, sorry, the hospitality started to get a lot of traction. Because I mean that industry completely, for lack of better word died in, especially in the first maybe month or two of this pandemic. And you kind of said that this was due to some of the strong relationships that you had, and the sales team had. But was there any other reasons that you can think of why, you know, people who are trying to market to hospitality, businesses all of a sudden increase their budget and really went strong.
[10:34] Pauline Grech I think they saw how quickly the hospitality industry were able to turn things around. So even though people couldn't come to them and sit in their restaurants or cafes, they were quickly turning their businesses around to serve, you know, basically do the reverse and create home meals that you could take home, pick up and take home. So I think the industry was able to find ways of still making money. In a very unusual time, people who are usually servicing cafes suddenly opened up their doors to the general public and a new local cafe almost became a corner store. Because the industry as a whole was being very agile and coming up with all these new solutions, then obviously, the suppliers came on board and help to support that.
[11:22] Shahin Hoda I see. And what about some of the industries did went quiet and are still quiet. Is there? Is there anything that comes to mind there?
[11:31] Pauline Grech Yeah, definitely. I'd have to say the events industry. Our retail sectors and film have been very, very quiet.
[11:40] Shahin Hoda Those are hard industries to do right now. It's just so much uncertainty there.
[11:45] Pauline Grech Exactly.
[11:46] Shahin Hoda To get anything off the ground.
[12:48] Shahin Hoda Regarding the industries that started to pick up their marketing and advertising, what did you see change in terms of their marketing, in terms of their messaging, in terms of go to market strategy and positioning? I mean you, one of the things you mentioned was how companies started to collaborate with one another in their marketing effort. Was there anything notable, anything else notable that you saw during the past three months that you like, this is unusual. We hadn't seen this before, or we haven't seen people approaching this particular area from this angle. Is there anything that stood out?
[13:27] Pauline Grech Yes. So aside from our suggested hashtag campaign, we noticed pretty much overnight businesses were super sensitive, you know, to what was happening. And the messaging changed immediately from you know, buy my new product or service to a more socially conscious messaging such as local matters support. We've been supporting local for over 50 years, or we support small business and it was all about support and community and rallying together. So yeah, providing that sense of community and support has been, I think some of the most successful campaign strategies we've seen over the last few weeks.
[14:08] Shahin Hoda Right. Right. And that makes sense. I mean, you don't want to come off tone deaf and start, you know, talking about again, buy my product where people are having difficulty.
[14:23] Pauline Grech Exactly.
[14:24] Shahin Hoda So the other thing that I wanted to ask is, from the perspective of the B2B industries that you worked with, what do you think is going to change in the coming weeks or months, like what you and the team are kind of anticipating? And I know, it's a hard question. It's almost like, you know, what do you see in the future? But what what are you anticipating to see from from the work that you're doing from the advertising, and everything related to that?
[14:53] Pauline Grech I think we're already starting to see this a bit of a change. So I think the thing that will change the most for is confidence from advertisers to start investing in campaigns again, I think as the restrictions lessen, and businesses are getting back to normality, they'll naturally be more confident to invest to get their company's messaging out there again. So I think given the unique set of circumstances we've seen over the past few weeks, this will open up some advertisers to new, more innovative ways of advertising through digital campaigns, and especially those who've been more print centric in the past.
[15:32] Shahin Hoda Okay, okay. Have you seen your clients coming to end suggesting new ways of advertising? Or have you seen a spike in the demand for a specific form of advertising or anything comes to mind from that perspective.
[15:49] Pauline Grech They often come to us for suggestions and wanting to know what we can offer them. We've actually started to promote more digital magazines as opposed to the print product, because that's our industry. And they've been very open to being part of that. Because it's so dynamic, you can, you know, have video, you can have, you know, there's so much more you can show and be interactive, you know, with a digital magazine as opposed to the printed product. So they've been more open to that and almost out of force, they've had to accept that format, but then actually embraced it at the same time. So that's been interesting to see.
[16:31] Shahin Hoda Yeah.
[16:32] Pauline Grech And yeah, mostly on the flip side would be on our websites, people are investing more in banner advertising, specifically.
[16:41] Shahin Hoda Gotcha
[16:41] Pauline Grech And sponsored content.
[16:43] Shahin Hoda So I'm going to turn that question and formulate it from your perspective, is there anything that you and the team at the company, Intermedia Group is going to change in terms of how you're going to be maybe producing content or the way that your customers are able to advertise or, you know, anything that this kind of COVID has brought about, that you're changing in the way that you're operating.
[17:16] Pauline Grech Definitely, I think it's taught us to be a lot more flexible and in the way that we package things up for advertisers. So that was one thing that we'll be tackling, and also possibly introducing new forms of advertising. So and obviously new formats. So sponsored content is a big area that we want to, you know, excel in moving forward and have different ways of basically suggesting not to, not only to our clients but also introducing that to our readers as wel, including more video content and making things generally more interactive. And basically just set ourselves apart from our rivals, you know, offering something new and fresh, because there has been a definite increase in the digital advertising space with us.
[18:11] Shahin Hoda Gotcha. Gotcha. That's lovely. Now, are there any other points that you think I haven't covered or you think listeners will gain value from that we didn't touch on in our conversation so far?
[18:34] Pauline Grech If I could learn from our biggest lessons we've learned as a business, basically, over the last few months, we, you know, we've learned that through empathy and being flexible with our clients, and being more sensitive to the situation at hand. We've actually, I think we've learned a lot and we've benefited a lot from that. I know that we're not through the woods yet. You know, it's still around, but I think we're hopeful that 2020 will still end positively for the B2B industry. I think there's still a lot in coming.
[18:58] Shahin Hoda Fingers crossed. Yeah, I mean, you know, we're getting worried again here in Victoria with some of the outbreaks. But that's definitely something we all hope for. And it seems like we're going in the right direction. Now, if anyone wants to basically reach you or they have more questions about the company, or they want to find out, Pauline, what's the best way for them to do so?
[19:24] Pauline Grech Sure. So you can find out about the Intermedia Group by visiting www.intermedia.com.au and if you're wanting to reach me, you can find my details on the Contact Us page. under Pauline Grech.
[19:39] Shahin Hoda Sounds great. Well, Pauline, thank you so much for joining us. I definitely enjoyed getting that insight from your perspective and what's been happening with with the B2B industry. So thanks so much for being on the show.
[19:52]Pauline Grech Thanks, Shahin. It's been great. Thank you.