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Advertising budgets may have caught a cold during the lockdown, but some companies have built immunity and are already poised to make a recovery

By its very definition, a pandemic is a global event of monumental significance, and it would be an act of folly and insensitivity to downplay or underestimate its effects in any context.

Saltwater Stone’s Media Buying Account Manager, Izzi Birchall, comments: “Corporate organisations have had a great deal to mull over in recent months, not least the burden of rethinking their advertising strategies to address the radically different circumstances which were an inevitable consequence of global lockdown measures. Not unexpectedly, the initial contractions were swift and stern: weforum.org reported that ad expenditure throughout Europe was down by an average of 9%.”

For advertising sales executives in the maritime press, one faint hope was the savings generated by the cancellation of exhibitions and trade fairs would mean that companies would have cash to spare. However, in a global economic downturn where the severity of belt-tightening decisions saw organisations everywhere taking on the wasp-waisted profile one would associate with punitive Victorian corsetry, this supposition was unrealistic at best.

Nevertheless, to paraphrase the time-honoured words of Danish economist Ester Boserup, necessity proved to be the mother of (re)invention on all sides of this scenario.

Rationality and resourcefulness
Employers and employees on maritime trade journals which had the financial rug pulled out from under them didn’t have the luxury of giving in to delayed shock; and it’s a measure of their rationality and resourcefulness that so many were able to quickly adapt and respond as a successful means of remaining in contention.

During lockdown, with scarcely any retail outlets available, the magazine industry reacted in a number of intelligent and helpful ways. With the coronavirus outbreak cueing an expedient acceleration of a general trend, some periodicals (such as All at Sea) migrated from print to a digital platform, enabling readers to have their monthly read delivered straight into their inboxes. Many publications offered free access to their digital archives; a welcome service for furloughed workers who suddenly had time on their hands, with the fortuitous by-product of driving traffic to magazines’ online portals.

Logical expansion
These moves have been accompanied by a welcome and entirely logical expansion of maritime companies’ digital advertising and e-commerce strategies; a no-brainer in a reordered world where a captive global audience is compelled, for now, to be online more than ever.

Cheeringly, those companies which have chosen to invest in this area are seeing commensurately encouraging rises in digital ad revenues. An associated business boost relates to the potential for organisations to leverage the behavioural data they derive from digital ad analytics which provide an invaluable insight into consumers’ buying preferences and habits.

For maritime companies, particularly those which might have been mid-campaign when lockdown intervened, continuing to advertise makes sound commercial sense in the light of the aforementioned cancellation of exhibitions and trade shows. Without the option of face-to-face networking at cross-sector forums, advertising is more fundamental than ever for keeping brands at the forefront of the industry. It is a means of displaying that your firm is proactive and open to transformative ideas, with the not-insignificant subtext of being perceived as a strong, dependable presence at a time of great uncertainty.

“We’re pleased to report that media-buying activity is continuing apace,” adds Saltwater Stone’s Izzi Birchall. “Some clients have kept advertising throughout the crisis; and robust ad plans for the upcoming quarters of 2020 and beyond confirm that certain firms have a very definite and positive grasp of the way they’d like their brand and their product/service portfolios to be perceived in both the long and short term.”

History attests to the fact that boom traditionally follows bust: and even though the details of the coronavirus all-clear may still be too far away to discern from this remove, it seems fair to cautiously suggest that fortune is already smiling on those companies which are steadfastly ensuring that they remain visible: those which have not only confronted change, but have turned it to their advantage.