During the past two decades, business leadership evolved to concentrate on agility when presented with uncertainty. Particularly in the media industry. Image Credit: Supplied

During the past two decades, business leadership evolved to concentrate on agility when presented with uncertainty.

Particularly in the media industry, digital disruption has emphasized the importance of doing so to every media segment – whether it be newspapers, magazines, radio, or television. Focusing on agility has already been practiced in previous problematic periods, namely the financial crisis of 2008-09, which accelerated the substantial impact of digital disruption and economic strain on troubled parts of the sector. Undoubtedly, the time has come to do so again in light of the latest crisis.

The detrimental consequences of the pandemic on communities continue to change rapidly, with businesses prioritizing three immediate steps in response to the outbreak – safeguarding the health and well-being of employees, ensuring business continuity, being transparent with customers and partners.

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Navigate through The Middle East is no exception, and actions to address these steps have occurred. Yet despite the unpredictable nature of the disease and rate at which it has spread to all continents, most companies should be able to navigate through the early period of the crisis with precise planning, operationally oriented management teams, and experience in operating in smaller disasters.

Already, media businesses with news and information operations have been making the correct decision concerning their COVID-19 coverage:

Harnessing all available resources to provide detailed information; Dispelling rumors that emerged; Providing a platform for analysis from qualified experts; and Making sure the public is continuously updated regarding the evolving situation.

But what about the weeks, and potential months, ahead? And what measures can media companies consider taking to best position themselves post-pandemic?

Time it well

Media companies should consider benefitting consumers through expanded access to news and entertainment subscription services. In terms of communication, the level of coverage in recent weeks has been unprecedented, with many organizations making their coverage freely available outside any existing paywalls. Despite this, they can still do more.

In the current circumstances, segments that typically garner less attention have the unique opportunity to drive trial usage and illustrate goodwill. Removing all news product barriers aside from registration could instigate a future influx of subscriptions from appreciative customers.

Goodwill won’t be forgotten

Widespread social distancing also means many people are spending time alone, and media companies have the power to make life easier. The provision of subscription video on demand (SVOD) services presents an opportunity to win new customers while offering a gesture of goodwill.

And creating a short-term price moratorium for all new and existing customers to help them in their time of need will be remembered and appreciated. The future of loyalty can be earned through present generosity. At the same time, companies should consider using the remnant inventory for goodwill - television, digital, and print advertising inventory may now be more readily available than in any other preceding period. They could use this inventory to drive progress in their respective areas of social responsibility, or return some to readers and viewers in the form of additional content or programming, rather than ad units. And thus developing community goodwill in the process.

Create consolidation

Building advertising scale through mergers and acquisitions (M&A) would also be prudent. The current increased pressure on the business cycle will negatively impact advertising in the near term, and cultivating distinctive advertising products and an audience of unique scale and composition may be the only shield for digital advertisers. Valuations will inevitably become further compressed for pure-play digital businesses, and now may well be the time to gain scale and acquire audiences and new brands through M&A activities. We were already witnessing a movement in this direction in the broadcast station and local newspaper segments before COVID-19, and the outbreak means consolidating digital audiences should be a priority. There is an array of productive avenues for media companies to pursue in the coming weeks and months to position themselves as best they can post-COVID-19. By no means are organizations limited to the above, but even if not pursued, they will at least broaden horizons concerning recognizing the possibilities that lay ahead.

- David Panhans is Managing Director and Partner at BCG.