By Josh Ranum
Digital Media Manager
As media professionals, our job is to identify positive and negative trends. And when it comes to COVID-19, it’s easy to see the negative. Read any news source and you’ll find what you are looking for. However, this situation has also led to positive outcomes for our team as we adapted to work within this unprecedented situation.
When this crisis hit pandemic proportions, we scrambled to figure out how we could keep campaigns live: emailing vendors to try and get guidance on how COVID-19 is impacting their platforms, reviewing campaign results over a 2-3 day window to identify trends, speaking with clients about how COVID-19 will impact their buys. Times were hectic, but how could our team adapt to this crisis and stay productive? It prompted us to make changes that improved the function of our team and our workflows.
As one of the technical arms of an agency, the media department relies on our tech partners to help make our strategy and creative teams’ vision come to light. That requires various relationships with various tech capabilities — all of which require a different level of skill. As the chaos ensued, I realized quickly that we had pain points in our partner/platform workflow — pain points that could be solved with increased education and documentation.
We used COVID-19 to re-evaluate our tech partners. We didn’t squeeze them for better deals, but instead looked to see if we were using them correctly. Was there an easier way to complete a buy or upload a creative asset to our ad server? Could we cut 30 minutes off of a 2 hour project? Was this technology still relevant? We used our partners to answer these questions and were able to push along new partner workflows to make buying easier, two of which are still in the works that will be game changers for Decode.
We didn’t just take this approach with tech partners. We looked at our team to identify pain points and areas that needed further education. We tested out new ways to pass off information from planner to buyer. We began setting up 15-minute meetings instead of relying entirely on our project management tool for communication. The lack of documentation was identified as both a pain point and a possibility for advancing education. How could we expect everyone to follow best practices if we didn’t have any in place?
The net result of this investigation was that our team became smarter, more efficient, and most importantly, less frustrated. COVID-19 forced us to take a step back and analyze how to make our media department better.
COVID-19 restructured consumer media usage. People were forced to stay home. Forced to interact only with their families or pets. Forced to find new ways of staying productive or lazy.
During this time, we saw an increase in social media usage, connected TV usage, and mobile device usage (didn’t think it was possible). The question we asked internally and the question our client asked was: Is our current media meeting these new behaviors? The answer: yes and no.
We decided to stop proactively prospecting for potential customers using direct response campaigns. We identified that during this time people would be less receptive to a message that was about weight loss programs or going to see an orthopedic surgeon, especially if they weren’t interested in getting that sort of information. As a result, we paused the majority of awareness-based channels.
However, we kept search tactics live for the majority of our direct response campaigns. If your campaigns are set up correctly, your ads only show up when users are in the correct mindset — a conversion mindset. We identified that users searching for “Orthopedic Doctors Near Me” were still showing the same search intent that we initially planned for. And as long as someone on our client’s end was still responding to phone calls or form submissions, we kept the campaigns live.
To adapt, we began recommending channels that correspond with these changes in consumer behavior. When requests came through to develop new campaigns for virtual visits or branding campaigns, we focused our recommendations on CTV, Facebook, mobile and native, mixing and matching channels with the different messaging for each campaign. For branding, we took advantage of the increased usage of Connected TV. We showed our creative message to views of “comfort” or comedy shows while individuals looked to wind down from a long day. We used social media retargeting to let consumers know that virtual visits were now a possibility.
COVID-19 forced the team to get outside of their normal comfort zone when it came to media. It forced us to be fluid and adapt with the changes going around us, which has made us better media professionals.
Did we have arguments about the best way to communicate? Yes. I still think Gchat is better than Slack. Did we work late nights to put new proposals together and last-second reports? Yes. Did we look at virtual happy hours as forced fun? Yes… at least until they started delivering beverages to our house. While it is easy to identify the bad, and the bad outweighs the good during COVID-19, I’m happy to share a few bright spots from the media department.