e4m & Taboola Talks Series: ‘Be agile & flexible to make the right decisions’

As part of a panel discussion, industry experts shared insights on the impact of Covid-19 on publishers and their key learnings from the pandemic

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Nov 25, 2020 8:14 AM

The exchange4media group, in collaboration with Taboola, organised a webinar on Tuesday on the topic - ‘Stronger Together: Publisher Executives Reflect on 2020’. The esteemed panel shared insights on the impact of Covid-19 on the publishers and their key learnings from the pandemic.

The panel also explored how the consumption of content has changed with audiences looking for credible news sources.

On the panel were Salil Kumar, CEO, Digital, India Today Group; Rohit Chadda, CEO Digital Publishing at Zee Group, Zee Digital; Sanjay Sindhwani, CEO, Indian Express Online Media; Arijit Chatterjee, Chief Strategy Officer, NDTV; Ran Buck, Chief Revenue Officer, Taboola, and the session was chaired by Ruhail Amin, Sr Editor, exchange4media Group.

Sharing the key takeaways and what kept him ‘strong’ during the last nine months, Chatterjee said, “I think strong is too strong a word. It's been a tumultuous time, the last nine months, we've never felt or experienced before, getting away from friends, family, parents in some cases. So it's been a tough year, firstly I’m thankful and grateful to be healthy and my friends and family being okay. I know that this too shall pass. So I think that's been something that's kept us strong.

Also, the fact that we saw a real surge in consumption, for us it's broadcast and digital and we pretty much saw a tonic shift of consumption patterns, etc and moving towards digital which we had always believed in as a force driver. From a work perspective personally, just working for a brand that people trust and believe in its credibility. I think it keeps me going and wants me to go to work again, so that's what's really been the takeaway from the last nine months.”

According to Sindhwani fear is a very strong emotion and sometimes brings out the best in people. He shared, “Fear is a very strong emotion and when the pandemic hit, everybody was fearful of what's going to happen, and everybody feared for the worst. I think that kind of drives your survival instincts and brings out some of the best in people. Initially, our response was to ensure the safety of our people - to give them that comfort that the organisation will do whatever it takes to keep them safe, keep them productive and enable them to cope up with this crisis.

Having done that, what we saw was that the teams really bounced back in a way we haven't seen in a long time. Also, it's been a good year for us, we've seen rapid recovery and rapid growth and consumption has been on top levels. With the help of partners like Taboola and Google, we've been following up on the revenue side too.”

Buck urges everyone to wait a little while there is still uncertainty about COVID-19 and its vaccines. He said, “People talk optimistically about the COVID-19 vaccine. I still don't see it in the near future even though a lot of people are talking about it. We need to wait and see what happens. We need to be optimistic but also need to wait a little bit as there is still uncertainty. But the fact that we are still strong together in making sure that the business will stay sustainable that's the most important thing.”

Chadda says that COVID-19 has changed the way the world behaves. He said, “This is a life changing event, it has changed the way people behave. It's very difficult to change user behaviour, but fortunately or unfortunately, just in the past four to five years, we've had two life changing events at least where India is concerned, first was Demonetization which changed the way we started using digital payments. And the second one is COVID and it's actually affecting the entire world. So times like this also present a lot of opportunities.”

Explaining more on how Zee capitalised on the changing consumer behaviour and launched new apps on OTT, Chaddha shared, “For us, we saw that consumer behaviour was changing and wanted to capitalise on that fact. We ended up launching a couple of apps on OTT for our largest broadcast brand. And I think the way we started working was more like a tech startup, where we started focusing on speed and agility.

And what we started doing was breaking down larger projects into very small micro projects. So that instead of investing a lot of resources in one project or in a large project, we actually keep reiterating and basically followed an iterative process to actually see what was the result of the micro project and then whether we want to invest more in that same direction or not. So that was the change that we did in terms of the process that has helped us adapt in this difficult environment.”

Elaborating on how the pandemic has changed the work culture, Kumar said, “I think one of the first things was how connectivity mattered, suddenly the internet became the backbone of all what you were doing. I think the internet, the connectivity and how you work within the family. And then this concept has moved a little ahead and now people are working from anywhere. There are some staff of ours who have gone down to Goa or some hill stations and they've managed to secure good connectivity. So what's happened is, as long as you've been able to be productive and are able to contribute, life becomes much easier for all of us.

With that said, suddenly what's happened to the commercial space. There are hundreds and hundreds of square feet of offices that are empty. I'm sure organisations have already started thinking about it that what percentage of their staff can actually work from home. And how productive this job can be done comfortably from home, and the employee now may actually get a choice when he's being interviewed to permanently work from home.”

Kumar further added, “Planning well and executing is something that will be very important and team management morale is the key. The other thing we did was make sure that we stuck with our partners and continued to build and stay connected in terms of what is happening, how things are, what is the way forward and what are the new signs and signals are they catching, how can you be nimble and innovative and also make sure that you could change your strategy instantly and say okay this is how we function and this is what it is. So, it's still learning, we are still picking up the new habits, and I'm sure as we move along. It'll be a new work culture that's gonna emerge out of this.”

Buck said that we need to be agile and flexible to be able to cope up with any crisis, “We all learned to be very agile and we need to keep flexibility. Otherwise, you're not going to be able to stand with what's going on. So you need to be agile and not just in business, even with our families, our parents and kids, they are facing a lot of changes too and we need to help them to make the right decisions.”

Speaking about how Taboola helped publishers and advertisers, Buck said, “In terms of publishers and advertisers, I think that agility for them - One is to help them be creative and for a publisher is to find the right monetization, but to keep the values of your organisation at the same level as it was before COVID-19. For example, touching the issue of fake news, who is providing the right information has become very important. A lot of publishers and the way they kept their values meant a lot to them, that's for the publisher side.

And for the advertiser side, we found out that a lot of advertisers didn't have any way of doing or creating the right content for themselves. In order to become agile for them, we actually opened a creative studio and helped them for free to run and create content that they will be able to advertise and sell their products. Now, I'm not promoting anything because it's for free, but I think this is the agility of what you're expecting from partners that you're working with. You need them to help and support you and they need to do it in a way that they listen to your needs and create solutions for you. And this is the agility I think if you're looking from all of our partners. And the last thing I strongly believe in is to be agile to your employees. You need to accommodate their needs, not all of them are the same, not all of them are suffering the same concerns or challenges, so you need to listen to them.”

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