No one has been sure of anything since 2019. That uncertainty looks to continue into the new year as publishers prepare to navigate a host of unpredictable variables, from the state of the economy to when in-person events can return.
Some of these unknowns stem from technological advances, while others are rooted in the shifting realities of the pandemic. A few are news media classics: figuring out how to best serve readers remains an ever-evolving puzzle.
Adweek spoke with executives from nine premium publishers, in roles related to advertising, subscriptions, growth and marketing. Here are the questions on their minds in the new year.
Will the economy—and advertisers’ businesses—remain stable?
For the top quartile of publishers, last year heralded an unexpected boom in digital advertising revenue. But companies’ willingness to spend on marketing ties directly to the health of the economy, which has remained an ongoing question as the pandemic nears the two-year mark.
The pandemic has also thrown kinks into the supply chain, creating challenges for product delivery. These challenges have forced publishers into a state of permanent contortion as they try to accommodate advertisers’ shifting inventory.
“The big question is the health of our advertisers’ business and the health of the advertising business,” said Sebastian Tomich, global head of advertising at The New York Times. “Heading into this year, all eyes are on the supply chain and the economy.”
How much longer will the great resignation continue?
Workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers, a labor problem to which the publishing industry is not immune. Several executives cited the high rate of turnover in the labor market as a key challenge in the coming year, as the lack of stability can affect morale and derail expectations.
Talent attrition affected a number of key initiatives at Quartz, said CRO Natalie Diamond, a sentiment echoed by others. The plus side?
“Working remotely has allowed us to seed our talent from new pools––not just in terms of demographics, but experience,” Diamond said. “We are very open to looking at candidates that might not have what you would think of as a traditional media pedigree, which I find exciting.”
What role will cryptomedia play in publishing?
Last year the web was abuzz with the hype of crypto, as publishers experimented with NFTs, toyed with AR and paid lip service to the metaverse. But for most, the blockchain remained little more than a curiosity.
This year, depending on their adjacency to the world of cryptomedia, more publishers could embrace the technology. Some, like Leaf Group, Decrypt and Time, have leaned into non-fungible tokens. Others, like Gannett, see the blue-sky medium as an opportunity to own a potentially explosive new space.
“We want to move beyond the testing phase with NFTs,” said Gannett CRO Kevin Gentze. “Across the board, publishers are looking for deeper partnerships with businesses from emerging industries.”
When will in-person gatherings––events, office spaces––return?
Publishers continue to delay their return-to-office dates, and the uncertainty surrounding large events has led many media companies to stick to virtual and hybrid models. But executives are concerned about flagging camaraderie, especially amongst sales teams, and keeping fatigue at bay has become a top priority for talent managers.
“We have to focus as much internally this year as we do externally,” said Scott Havens, the new CEO of Bloomberg Media. “The future of work is real, and that is where I want to spend a lot of my 2022.”
As news consumption ebbs, how else will publishers drive subscriptions?
News consumption dropped last year, which presented challenges to publishers without differentiated content offerings. The New York Times, which has invested in its lifestyle offerings, saw those products keep its subscription numbers trending upwards.
“Compared to our competitors, we have the biggest foothold in the lifestyle space, with products like Cooking and Wirecutter,” The Times’ Tomich said.
Others, like the politically-oriented Washington Post, struggled to boost their circulation as reader interest in politics waned, according to reporting from The Journal. For publishers with content strategies built around hard news, their growth plan for quiet years remains an open question.
How will commerce efforts evolve?
Publishers made substantial strides in their efforts to marry commerce and content last year, with titles like BuzzFeed and BDG incorporating features like on-site shopping and deferred payment. But as retail media continues its rise, publishers will face increasing pressure to demonstrate their ability to turn readers into shoppers.
What will those efforts look like? While the specifics are uncertain, they will almost certainly revolve around performance, said BDG president and CRO Jason Wagenheim.
“Marketers are going fewer, bigger and better,” Wagenheim said. “The ones that are driving performance and conversion will win the year.”