The Industry Answers: How is Your Business Being Affected by the Coronavirus Outbreak?


Fears around the global spread of COVID-19 have grown rapidly in recent weeks, with the World Health Organisation yesterday officially declaring the outbreak to be a pandemic. Alongside the tragic human impact of the virus, the need for preventative measures is set to have a big impact on business, as companies take measures to help prevent the spread of the disease.

Many in the industry seem to be adapting to the change in good spirits, posting on social media about the joys and difficulties of working from home and video conferencing. But how is coronavirus affecting day-to-day operations? VAN asked senior industry figures how their businesses are adapting to the outbreak.

Liz Duff, Head of Media and Investment, Total Media

For us as the ‘behavioural planning agency’, the way people are responding to the coronavirus is indicative of the ingrained human behaviours that we regularly talk to our clients about in the context of how to influence behaviour through marketing. The media and advertisers have a responsibility not to exacerbate these natural behaviours in a negative manner, and instead use them to encourage positive actions and calm the situations we’re seeing occur such as panic buying.

It’s human instinct to conform when threatened, and to be influenced by social norms,.i.e. the behaviours of others. Taking this into account, the media and government need to show people adopting the type of behaviours we need them to embrace, e.g. regular handwashing, rather than ones which are unnecessary e.g. stock piling toilet paper and medicine to the detriment of others.

Brian Wieser, Global President of Business Intelligence, GroupM

The widening spread of Coronavirus is, first and foremost, a human tragedy given the lives that have been and likely will be lost. Secondarily, it’s a potentially pivotal societal matter, given the changes in behaviour that are following, and brings with it tangible economic consequences for every marketer and media owner to consider.

Because of the degree to which we help best practices to steward client budgets in countries around the world, the impact of the outbreak on our business primarily relates to the enhanced importance of the advice we offer. While actions vary widely around the world, depending on the degree to which a country has been impacted so far, how its government is responding and how its economy is likely to fare, the intersection of those matters tie closely together for global media agencies.

Marketers need to be mindful of long-term horizons during crises and make decisions on this basis. We emphasise that marketers should continually assess the relevance of a given medium for a given marketing strategy and creative message. We recommend they continually look for ways to add value to the consumers they service, the media owners they buy from and the societies in which they operate. A crisis such as this one will have many unfortunate consequences, but the changes in behaviours that will follow from it could create new opportunities for marketers to engage with all relevant stakeholders. If the choices they make resonate while the world works through the current environment, they and the world will hopefully come through it better positioned to thrive in the future.

Joanna Burton, Chief Strategy Officer, ID5

On Wednesday, the AOP hosted a seminar on ‘the turning point’ in digital advertising caused by reduced access to addressable media. It was well-attended but with a feeling that it might be the last industry gathering for a while. I was set to speak at Ad Week Europe, the Connected TV World Summit and d3con in Hamburg but all of these have been postponed until later in the year.

Whilst I’m sad to see many conferences affected, with fewer opportunities to see customers face-to-face, many of us working in digital advertising are lucky that we can work from home fairly easily. In the past few days, most meetings with UK publishers have moved to become conference calls, as many commercial teams are asked to avoid the office or decline visitors. As well as saving on travelling time, this actually makes it easier to work in multiple time zones. It’s not so easy for the post-room, printers, cleaners, security – the real workers. It’s harder for our engineers who need more robust equipment, but it’s no surprise to see share price hikes for conference calling software and increased sales of laptops – as well as a rise in Deliveroo and home-shopping orders (multi-pack of loo roll, anyone!?). I expect this will have a permanent impact on work culture with more hot-desking and portfolio careers becoming the norm, new innovations and possibly less business travel in the future.

Publishers already catering to a growing thirst for news and information, are likely to see this increase as more people are mandated to stay indoors. Some of the video publishers we work with were reporting a 20 per cent increase in video views earlier in the week and preparing for a more ‘captive audience’. Esports, gaming apps, day-trading and TV streaming are all up. No one is gloating though, as printed products, already impacted by fewer commuters, could become more difficult to produce, as well as harder to buy if we see shops being closed. And for every advertiser increasing their budget, there’s a cruise ship or airline pausing spend.

Michael NevinsMichael Nevins, CMO, Smart AdServer

We’re focused on employee health and safety first, but that also supports business continuity. As a global company, we’ve long supported remote work flexibility and deployed tools to enable the company to thrive as a distributed team of 250. One or two transit strikes are all you need to learn how to do this!

In terms of sales we see slower revenue growth in certain geographies in travel/leisure spending, yet strong increases in e-commerce and gaming. We are still growing globally and beating our targets. Our business is subject to many variables, and while we consider Coronavirus in these cases, we can’t be sure at this stage. Our new business and pipeline numbers are still very strong key metrics for us.

When it comes to planning, ad tech is like a fast-moving 3D chess game. We’re accustomed to thinking several moves ahead with a variety of contingency plans. We prepare for the worst, but hope for the best.

Léon Siotis, President of Europe, SpotX

“Our top priority is ensuring the safety of our staff and customers, so given the current climate, we’ve paused all business travel and we won’t be sending our employees to any conferences.

Regarding the impact on our business, we’re seeing a slight softening in the travel vertical as airlines and tourism companies are pausing or pushing back campaign start dates until the dust settles. The advertising industry is quite resilient, however, and we anticipate things to bounce back to normal as this issue runs its course.”


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