6 recession-proof strategies media companies and their advertisers need

By Mark Challinor


London, United Kingdom


Greetings from London as usual.

In this newsletter, I am focusing on a subject which INMA members keep asking me about — advertising in a recession.

As many countries face difficult times as far as their economies are concerned, we have seen many adverse factors coming into play, e.g. cost of living crises, inflationary pressures, downturns in spending, etc.

But what about advertising?

In this newsletter in the past, I have covered off various reports, articles, and the like written by global experts who have basically said that whilst we can expect a downturn in advertising this year, it remains a really important revenue source for nearly all media companies. Such experts say there is plenty of ad money still on the table, providing we can approach our advertisers in the right way and, by doing so, put ourselves in a position to secure a decent share of the advertising pie. 

So today I will talk on two areas within the above topic:

Firstly, how can we still grow our ad sales in tough times and what messaging should we be putting out there to advertisers who might be saying, “Why advertise in a recession?”

And this argument: “Surely, I should keep my ad spend until better times?”

Spoiler alert: The answers of course are, “Yes, keep advertising” and “No, you shouldn’t not spend on advertising.” But why? What can we say to advertisers feeling this way?

But first …

Recessionary times: 6 advertising strategies to grow your media business

With talks of recessions, cost of living crises, etc., in 2023, we need ways to protect our media business from the current market conditions, which is a global phenomenon. Here are some thoughts on how you do that for your ad clients while also ensuring your advertising business arm is set for growth in the long term in spite of any downturns in ad revenue as a whole.

Its really essential to have a plan for these difficult times. Fortunately, there are a number of “recession-proof” advertising strategies we can take advantage of. See my top six below.

These advertising ideas, I think, will help your media business continue to be successful in ad sales, even during a recession. All part of understanding our agencies’/advertisers’ world and how we sell to them, consultatively.

1. Focus on UX — the all-important user experience.

Many of today’s global marketplaces have shifted towards values, authenticity, and top-quality customer service. Indeed, around 65% (source: Statusphere) of Millennials, for example, are happy to pay more for a good user experience.

Advertisers can win over more news audiences with a stellar user experience.
Advertisers can win over more news audiences with a stellar user experience.

Generally speaking, the best advertisers understand that happy/satisfied customers will give good reviews and then become brand ambassadors by spreading the word (and quickly). It’s far easier to advertise your brand when customers have already marked it mentally as one of their favourites.

Indeed, word-of-mouth “advertising” is a crucial factor in 74% of purchase decisions (source: review42.com). It drives trillions of dollars of spending every year.

So, by focusing on the user experience, there are also a number of ways we can continuously improve that.                                         

If your advertisers are providing the best possible service, they ensure their service is always completed swiftly and efficiently and satisfactorily for the customer.

Many advertisers, I feel, still fail to deliver on an expected level of customer service. And whilst they’ll never make everyone happy, delivering excellent customer service can compensate for other areas — even product deficiencies. Show your clients as being honest, reliable, friendly, quick, and efficient. It leads to greater ad spend with us. Sometimes the best customer service is all about just listening. It’s then about building up a two-way partnership with them.

We should always be looking for ways to improve the campaign and brand promise for the client. As a media business, we should constantly find new ways to suggest improvements while the client still provides a continuous high-quality service — e.g. can the price of the client product be reduced? Can they reduce delivery wait time?

This is the time to go above and beyond to impress the target market. Let them know that ultimately, your client is different/better than their competitors.

2. Improve client conversion rates with automated e-mails.

All businesses can improve conversion rates. It is important to ensure your ad client is sending out (automated) e-mails to their customers.

By promoting client content through e-mail marketing, we can ensure that were reaching each one of the client customers and getting them excited about the products.

3Analyse the competition.

Analysing our client competitors for them is one of the smartest strategies we can use. By analysing competitor content and their back-end search engine optimisation (SEO), we can capitalise on what the competitors are failing to do. Again, this can lead to greater ad spend with us.

4. Utilise social media to engage.

Social media can be a great way to get your clients in front of larger audiences. By having a solid social media presence and a robust accompanying strategy, we can drive interested/appropriate customers to, say, an online store. Maybe there are e-commerce opportunities on the back of it for us? (Check this space on Thursday for a report on e-commerce opportunities for news publishers.)

By interacting with customers on social media and positioning our client brand as the authority in the channel or niche, we can guarantee the best possible sales and reviews that can be obtained.

Its also vital to build a strong social media presence through exclusive content. Its not enough to simply post content online. We all need to ensure its only available to the ad client customers on our social media sites. This will encourage a strong relationship between customers and the client brand, which, in turn, will drive up conversion rates by encouraging content sharing with their friends and family.

5. Use content marketing to attract new users.

As we all know, content marketing allows us to attract new customers for our client brands by providing those potential customers with interesting and valuable content, which perhaps they might not have seen if just presented as “traditional” advertising.

There are a couple of things we might consider if going down this path:

  • Create a blog and regularly update it. It is a great way to share knowledge and information with customers (and a revenue diversification opportunity). Via a blog, the client brand can be seen that to be always “on the money” and up to date with the marketplace. Blogs are also a fabulous way to build back-links to an advertiser’s Web site, helping influence search engine ranking.
  • Publish content that influences customer engagement. This is an effective way to improve conversion rates. You can create a strategy by creating content that suggests customers share experiences of the relevant product. Building this strategy for the client is another new revenue source.

6. Track progress.

Finally, you will need to see if your client’s ad strategies are working. By using back-end analytics tools such as Google analytics, or by using Facebook ads for example, you can confirm that youre seeing ROI/growth. This then allows you to tell if the ad strategies are really working.

There are many advertising strategies out in the “ether.” By using the right one(s), we can ensure our client ad campaigns that we have put out to our clients are indeed recession-proof.

The above should help your salespeople do just that.

But why continue to advertise in recessionary times?

Some advertisers think that in recessionary times, it’s probably a good idea to reign in spend and wait for the market to recover. No! We can influence that thinking with a “wise-words” approach.

News publishers must make the case to advertisers about how to do business in recessionary times.
News publishers must make the case to advertisers about how to do business in recessionary times.

This is what we should be telling our advertisers: In 2023, advertising continues to play a crucial role and is important for several reasons.

  • Advertising helps, of course, brands reach their target audience and promote their products or services effectively. We have the right channels to do this. By creating awareness and generating interest, advertising still drives customer engagement and sales, and this matters whether in recessionary times or otherwise. Don’t lose any momentum built up previously!
  • Advertising garners competition and true innovation in the market, especially in today’s complex but creative world. When brands compete to capture consumers’ attention, they are motivated to develop better products, improve customer experiences, and offer competitive prices. This benefits consumers by providing them with a wider range of choices and higher quality products. Don’t deny them this wonderful chance to sample/use/even fall in love with the brand — now, more than ever. 
  • Advertising facilitates economic growth by driving — not reducing — consumer spending, even in tough times. Truly effective advertising campaigns create desire and influence purchasing decisions, which, in turn, stimulates demand and contributes to the overall health of the economy. Dont you want to be seen to be doing that now, so that post downturn, people remember you as a champion brand?
  • Advertising can serve as a means of educating consumers. It enables businesses to convey information about their products or services, their features, benefits, and how they address specific needs or problems. Specifically now, it can showcase how the brand is perhaps “putting something back” into communities, reducing carbon footprints/reducing costs, passing on savings to customers etc. You can be a hero brand in the long term. It empowers consumers to then make informed decisions based on their preferences and values.
  • Advertising has evolved with tech advancements, allowing advertiser brands to utilise targeted and personalised approaches. Through digital advertising platforms, advertisers can now tailor their messages to specific demographics, interests, or maybe geographic locations. This precision targeting and personalisation enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of advertising efforts, maximising their impact. It maybe recessionary times but with tech advances, there’s never been a better time to advertise.

With us?

Overall, advertising remains hugely significant in 2023 as it drives growth, fuels innovation, empowers consumers, and contributes to the vitality of the economy.

Good luck with your efforts. Think creatively, believe revenue. It’s all possible, even in the worst of times.

Further reading

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Mark Challinor, based in London and lead for the INMA Advertising Initiative. Mark will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media advertising. Sign up for the newsletter here.

This newsletter is a public face of the Advertising Initiative by INMA, outlined here.

E-mail Mark at Inma.mark@gmail.com with thoughts, suggestions, and questions or follow him on Twitter (@challinor).

About Mark Challinor

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