Like many others, I have had vivid flashbacks to this time last year as the UK recalls the first anniversary of Boris Johnson’s announcement on 23 March 2020 that the country was going into lockdown.
Campaign and our owner, Haymarket, suffered because our fortunes are tied closely to those of our audience and advertising spend went off a cliff.
In the first few days after 23 March, I remember being stunned to hear from agency chiefs and media owners about the speed and depth of the slump but Campaign felt confident – and responsible – when we reported on 30 March that the market was facing a 50% plunge in April.
Our company joined many others in taking emergency measures immediately and we furloughed six out of 19 of the Campaign editorial team at the start of April, as well as introducing temporary salary reductions for higher-earning staff and stopping printing the monthly magazine.
It was brutal and shocking. The salary cuts lasted three months, we ended up producing digital versions of the magazine for four issues before resuming printing, and the team shrank when the company made redundancies in July.
But I had worked through the 2008-9 financial crisis and I tried to reassure the team by telling them the market would recover and, one day, we would hire again and, importantly, a crisis was a momentous time for us as journalists to make sense of the drama. Indeed, our audience expected us to keep them connected.
I am proud of how the Campaign UK team responded, especially during those first, bewildering weeks of lockdown when we switched to a daily, editorial group video call at 12 noon (and they had to put up with my struggles with technology).
We launched a daily liveblog on 9 March that ran for six months, we suspended Turkey of the Week (the worst ad of the week) on 17 March and we temporarily increased the number of free articles per month on 30 March in recognition of how many readers were being furloughed or had seen freelance work stop.
We introduced features such as Leadership in Lockdown, where industry leaders talked about how they were coping, and later, Reimagining the Office, where companies explained how they planned to return to the office (summer was a false dawn as lockdown returned in the autumn).
We broke many stories and kept our audience up to date with online surveys of our readership that showed how temporary salary cuts were the main way companies were looking to save money and that most people did not want to return to the office full-time.
We also put on many virtual events, including all of our awards and a new, two-day conference, Campaign Connect, with our journalists in the UK, US and Asia collaborating and the sessions following the sun from East to West during each day.
So, what did we learn in the last 12 months?
- Kindness and collaboration matter. A crisis brings a team closer and encourages collaboration, including between the editorial and commercial teams of Campaign. More widely, the advertising and media industry rallied and defied lockdown to keep making work and got creative by using animation and illustration.
- It is hard to keep delivering when staff numbers have been cut but our audience appreciated it. I was surprised how many industry people told me they found it “reassuring” to continue receiving Campaign’s coverage, from our daily news emails to our weekly podcast, because it kept them in touch and connected.
- It is possible to produce a monthly, award-winning magazine entirely remotely each month without any members of the team meeting face to face – something I could never have imagined before lockdown.
- A crisis is no reason to stop innovation – in fact, it’s a good time to try new things: from a vertical, scrolling digital version of the monthly magazine (we tried it in June and July) to the launch of The Knowledge, our new, premium subscription service with in-depth forecasts about advertising trends and columns, and Advertising Intelligence, a data tracker for agency new business performance.
- Campaign’s awards mattered to brands, agencies and media owners even more because they celebrated excellence, boosted morale and were a good marketing tool for these winning companies and their staff.
- Virtual events have some major benefits. I can’t believe it took lockdown for Campaign’s network of journalists around the world to come together to create a live event with fantastic speakers from different time zones on one agenda.
- Anything is possible with sheer determination. I am still in awe of Gemma Charles, deputy editor, who conceived, wrote and produced a Black Lives Matter Adland Audit of more than 30 agencies and published it online on the same afternoon that we sent the September issue to the printers.
What an extraordinary time it has been – “not normal” as we called it in our Annual issue in December looking back on 2020.
One final measure of this last, weird 12 months. I have not seen a single member of the Campaign editorial or commercial team face to face since the start of that first lockdown.
It is exciting to think what all of us can achieve when we meet again.
Gideon Spanier became UK editor-in-chief of Campaign on 4 March 2020