Media Amidst a Pandemic

by Megan Smith
September 23, 2020 • 5 minute read

There is no doubt COVID-19 has changed the business landscape and media is no different. The pandemic has affected how media is bought, placed and even the inventory capacity itself. It’s become even more vital for marketers and business owners to plan and operate in adaptable ways. Because, as much as we may not like to think about it, change is inevitable, and things may never actually return to the “normal” we have all been used to.

To help navigate through these muddled times, Paulsen Media Specialist Megan Smith shares her insights about the changing face of media and what businesses can do about it.

Q: What is affecting media inventory in ag marketing in general?

Megan: One thing affecting ag media inventory is something that has affected rural America as a whole, and that’s as farms consolidate and become larger, the population of farmers shrinks. As larger operations are buying out smaller ones, there are fewer producers to view the ads. Producers have historically been a larger audience for ag-based media, but fewer producers means fewer impressions. This also means that they have greater purchasing power, so reaching them with the right message is essential. The pandemic may be increasing the amount of time producers spend with their devices, a trend we are seeing everywhere.

As digital marketing continues to gain in popularity with clients, we were already in a supply/demand struggle with reaching the large grower demographic, especially through tactics like video. This spring, publishers definitely saw an upward trend in traffic with producers spending more time with their devices, but it did not necessarily meet demand in limited inventory for the large grower demographic on owned and operated ag content sites.

While I am a big believer in the theory that farmers are more receptive to advertising in the right contextual environment, this inventory struggle is creating opportunities for audience targeting through programmatic media partners. Limited inventory on owned and operated ag content sites creates an opportunity for brands to test multiple strategies.

Q: Why not just let fewer people see the ad more times?

Megan: Think about ads you’ve seen over and over again. When people see the same thing repeatedly, it gets tired, old and even annoying. The ad then becomes counterproductive. So really, media buyers should be wary of message fatigue. It’s good to have a cap on how many times one person should see an ad during a campaign.

Media Buying is still about balancing reach and frequency: Establish reach to a broad target audience, and build frequency as budget allows. Frequency is a natural part of the traditional media buying process and should be built into campaigns on the digital side, too. Every digital media buy should use frequency parameters to limit the number of times a producer sees an ad per day, per week or per campaign. I’d like to see all ag publishers agree that this is a necessary step to providing a good digital experience for those consuming the content. It will benefit everyone in the long run. Tactics like native ads and sponsored content have shown that engagement decreases after 3-4 weeks.

Q: Why have many advertisers reduced their ad spends during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Megan: The ag industry is already unpredictable at times, between weather and political policies, so a global pandemic just adds to that uncertainty. Many businesses are worried about simply making it to 2021 intact. As they are already nervous about losing profits, cutting advertising spending is one way companies are trying to proactively protect their budgets amidst uncertain future financial situations. Other companies have used this opportunity to ramp up their advertising to gain market share.

Q: Has COVID-19 been beneficial for marketers in any way?

Megan: Yes, SEM (search engine marketing) has been doing really well. With more people working from home and activities canceled, people have been on their devices more. So on the consumer side, we’ve been seeing higher numbers of impressions on digital campaigns. In some ways, it’s been a boost for digital marketing. SEM is especially important to capture the audience that sees banners but does not click, then later Googles the brand and visits the website then. We track this behavior by monitoring view-through conversions.

Q: When advertisers are ready to pick their spending up in the coming months, will it be difficult to secure an adequate amount of inventory to run media?

Megan: The ag media industry naturally sees an uptick in business during Q4. Coupled with clients delaying advertising until after the November election and with COVID-19 recovery, it could create great strain on Q4 inventory. I would definitely recommend everyone planning as early as possible, especially if you have advertising in a state with great demand from political inventory. The pent-up demand post-election will be significant in some cases.

Q: 2020 is a political year. What effect will that have on media inventory?

Megan: Political advertising eats up a lot of space, especially in flexible formats like digital. This also means make-goods are not always available since that inventory has been secured by political advertisers. So the best way to manage rates and keep your desired schedule is to buy space early.

It’s also a good time to shift your advertising focus to alternative tactics. Television prices go up and its inventory gets eaten up, so switching gears to more social, print or digital outlets can be beneficial. Plus, as we’ve seen, more people are on their phones or tablets, so a bigger digital focus is a great strategy.

Q: What can advertisers do to work around this limited inventory?

Megan: First of all, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify risk by putting media dollars in several different tactics. Like I mentioned earlier, especially in light of COVID-19, everyone is home on their computers and phones, so utilize multiple digital avenues.

Print options also require advanced planning which means they are not as flexible for political campaigns. Print’s strength is in its reach, so it has a place in a media strategy. While radio is a traditional form of reaching rural areas, its flexibility may mean inventory will be low during a political season.

It’s also important to be able to be flexible and have back-up plans, knowing your first choice for placement may not be readily available. It could be a good time to look into things like e-newsletters or different publishers you may not have considered before. Of course, it’s still important to monitor the types of audience, to make sure you’re not too far off base.

Inventory restraints tend to be very geographically focused. For clients that have geographic flexibility with their products, this is a great time to shift dollars to geographic areas that are not a political hot zone.

As we head into October, we know that increased political advertising causes screen fatigue for consumers; at times it feels like we simply cannot escape being inundated with political messaging. Be aware of the political climate and shift your flights as you are able.

Q: Will all of this cause rates to increase?

Megan: It’s quite possible as it’s the law of supply and demand. A political year means there are more advertisers scrambling for the same amount of inventory. That’s another reason to be flexible in where you look at putting your media spend.

Our media partners in ag have been through several political cycles, and it’s nice to know that most still place great importance on the non-political relationships that stand the test of time. There could potentially be short term inventory-crunched rate issues, but most will dissipate immediately after the election.

Q: How should businesses proceed with advertising in the coming months?

Megan: The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for marketers, as eyes are likely in different places than normal. So again, it might be a good time to rethink where you’re placing your media. When news of COVID-19 first started to spread, many businesses were uncertain about spending on advertising, but now that things have settled down a little bit and are a little more certain, you should definitely be locking in inventory, maybe even more so.

Just like other challenging times, we will recover from this. Marketing now is an investment in your future. Now might just be the right time to work on your brand message.

Conclusion

Eventually, the effects of COVID-19 will dissipate. (We hope!) But something new will take its place. Whether it’s another pandemic, policy revisions or technology changing at lightning speeds, nothing in the marketing world stays the same for very long. By staying vigilant, monitoring trends and being prepared and flexible, you’ll be ready to meet any uncertainty head-on.

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