What we’ve learnt in 2020: 5 minutes with… Lucy Howard

What a year it’s been, with lots of challenges, but also opportunities. Ahead of next week’s Campaign Publishing Summit, we grab five minutes with Lucy Howard, head of marketing at Haymarket, to discuss the key takeaways from this year.

By Lucy Howard

What we’ve learnt in 2020: 5 minutes with… Lucy Howard
Photograph: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash.

Q: How do you think the publishing sector has coped with Covid-19?

A: I think the sector has coped very well and shown remarkable resilience.

Even with the challenges of moving our operations to homes and with our employees also coping with such significant changes in all aspects of their lives, publishers have managed to pivot, innovate and monetise at an astonishing rate.

Q: The events sector has had to make fundamental changes – do you see any of those changes surviving post-Covid?

A: Absolutely. Digital events have filled some of the revenue gap from the cancellation of our live events but we have also re-evaluated it as a delivery channel for paid content – one which can complement our live events as well as our subscription revenue.

In addition, the digital event format has allowed us to launch events which we would not have even considered as a live proposition and having that as an option – where we can branch into new, niche areas of connected markets without significant financial risk – is very appealing and will remain a feature in our overall event strategy going forward.

Live events will come back, but I do think the formats will change – certainly in the short term. I can’t imagine all our event delegates rushing back to packed conference rooms and exhibition halls as soon as the current restrictions are lifted. Rather, I think there will be a gradual return with digital continuing to grow as an independent revenue stream based on how our audience needs develop over the coming months. Hybrid events are already being considered and the longer term plans for a strategy around digital events which will work with our calendar of live events are starting to take shape.

Digital events are here to stay – we just need to work out the right model for our business.

Q: How is the revenue mix evolving for publishers?

A: Subscription revenue has proven to be more resilient than other revenue streams so I think publishers will be focused on delivering a revenue mix which has a solid, wide subscription base at the core. Even with other revenues from display, recruitment and live events recovering at some stage next year, that subscription base will be the holy grail for all publishers.

Q: What do think are the main challenges facing publishers in 2021?

A: Getting into a position where businesses can react quickly when restrictions begin to lift is a challenge. We don't want to introduce unnecessary risk, and as we don't yet know if our audiences will want to go back to packed conference rooms, away from home for two days at a time, it's difficult to plan. However, we need to consider how various scenarios might play out so contingency planning – and trying to cover all possible eventualities – will be a challenge.

The challenge in subscription businesses will be growing yield, volumes and managing churn. Yield increases need support from product development and innovation and we have strong plans in that area for 2021 and beyond. I feel our main challenge is being really clear on our objectives – there’s such a lot of data noise and working out which KPIs have the most direct impact on either volume or yield is crucial – and will take a steady hand and a clear head.

Q: Why do you think publishing has a positive future?

A: The role of publishing is key – in both business and consumer. There is a mind boggling amount of information available for us all to consume in every area and the realisation that we need considered, authentic editorial teams working on our behalf, is growing day-by-day. Providing publishers keep investing in editorial, having clear value propositions for their audiences, and setting themselves apart from the 'noise', they will continue to prove their worth to their audiences, and as reputable platforms for advertisers.

Q: What do you expect to be the main buzzwords coming out of the upcoming Campaign Publishing Summit?

A: Engagement, employee wellbeing, trust. And even if we would rather not: pandemic, covid and The New Normal…

The Campaign Publishing Summit takes place on 9 December 2020 as an online event.