As challenging economic conditions persist, brand publishers say they’re focusing more than ever on flexibility.
Flexibility can show up in a range of ways inside brand publishing initiatives, but broadly speaking lets these initiatives dial expenditures down and up quickly, on a monthly or even weekly basis.
Flexibility is hard to come by in a publishing endeavor, since it’s by definition not a discipline that lends itself to quick changes. Brand publishing often relies on robust and thoughtful staffing, and often only pays dividends a few months, or even years, after a strategy is first launched or put into the market.
That reality is forcing brand publishers to take more malleable approaches to what they do. “At the end of the day, I work for a marketing organization,” said one editorial director recently. “So if they’re asking me to find ways to cut cost and the wider operation remains, I am ready to.”
According to Brian Wieser, principal at Madison and Wall, a consultancy that advises marketers, economic downturns typically lead companies to rethink expenditures that are considered an “act of choice.” That often includes content, Wieser said, because it requires significant spending on staff. “There would be a reassessment, but its not necessarily that marketers doing it would stop, but they may demand flexibility from it.”
Wieser also pointed out that, per his analysis, there hasn’t actually been a broadbased economic downturn in the U.S., although marketers prepared for one. Although conditions may not be as painful as some expected, many brand publishing teams continue to feel the pinch, however.
That pinch is showing up in a few different ways. Some publishing teams are finding efficiencies by finding new ways to repackage existing content in new, valuable ways for audiences.
Natalie Zmuda, global head of content at Google, said on a (forthcoming) episode of the Toolkits Brand Publishing Show that the past few months have highlighted the need for publishing operations to be flexible. Many brands turned to content during the pandemic as an alternative to live events, but in a post-pandemic world content marketing and brand publishing are getting “dialled back.” “Focus on text, versus visual, for example, is the kind of fine-tuning I see happening,” she said. “[It’s] not going away but certainly everyone across the board is thinking how to nip and tuck a little.”
An example Zmuda gave from her own experience is a recent content package the team created to celebrate 10 years of Google’s brand publication, Think With Google. The group was able to remix older content and repackage it in new, compelling ways. The content package exceeded performance expectations, which Zmuda says is an example of doing more with less when needed.
Others, like Mercury bank editor-in-chief Meghna Rao, are thinking about how to nip and tuck in areas like art or design budgets, or publishing cadence. “Sometimes, brand publishers can get away with publishing more infrequently and focusing on impact; readers aren’t always looking to you on a weekly cadence, so if you can save a few dollars by adjusting cadence for higher impact, it’s worth the extra time spent strategizing,” she said when asked for her plans for the year.
Adam Kleinberg, founder of Traction, an agency that helps brands with strategic projects (including some content work) says that since content may be “more under the gun” than other types of spending, content teams have to figure out how to adjust.
What CMOs want, said Kleinberg, is the option to dial down spending easily. One way marketers are finding flexibility in publishing is outsourcing. Kleinberg says he expects more brands to get outside help for publishing, whether in the form of freelancers or an agency.
That’s a matter of choice: For other brand publishing executives, the reality is that in-house can often end up cheaper. Rao, for example has said she is focusing on trying to make the most out of her in-house staff. At another firm, editors are also being pulled onto billable client-facing projects, just “until this storm passes,” said an editor at this firm.
Ultimately, brand publishers remain in wait-and-see mode. As a relatively new discipline, they still have room to figure out how to make it work efficiently and with high impact. Most brands didn’t really get going on 2023 planning because there was a tendency to kick the can down the road until a clearer picture emerged. “Technically, it is possible to make the argument that brand publishing is a long-term investment in the brand and shouldn’t be cut,” said Kleinberg. “But net-net is people don’t want to make non-cancelable commitments.”