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Globally, advertising and marketing budgets have reduced significantly, impacting the businesses of agencies, content creators and publishers. The only focal point for these players is to try to sail through the bad times and hope for the economic scenario to get better. A lot depends on not just when the lockdown ends but when Covid comes under control.

A senior branded content professional from a big publishing company said, “We have seen a sharp dip in deals in branded content. That is true across the world. Initially, it was much worse. There is still a long way from being normal. After the lockdown, everything went for a toss.”

“There is pressure on pricing. Most players are now working on reduced prices because of the reality of the market. The demand overall has reduced and is expected to get better this month onwards. Several brands are not selling at all. Everything apart from the essential categories is largely having a tough time,” said another head of a branded content division at one of India’s major news publishing companies. 

More value in old price along with pro-active pitching

Another trend seen in these times is that even if at some places the deal values have not reduced, the branded content solution providers are offering more value at old prices. Also, content solution providers are on their toes all the time as a lot of proactive pitching is happening from their end. “Earlier, a lot of briefs used to come from the brands. Now, a lot of pitches are going from our end. The market has become far more competitive as branded content on the digital format is what is working for most of the players. There is much more competition,” said the head of branded content division at a large content company.

Some content companies are on a safer side

The worst affected are the ones that were heavily dependent on real estate, travel and hospitality, automobile and other non-essential categories. The ones with a balanced portfolio of brands across essential and non-essential categories can wade through the crisis.

Rajan Srinivasan

For Rajan Srinivasan, Founder and CEO, Spiral Content Solutions (Scatter), business has been quite steady even in such times. Other than a few minor brand dropouts, Scatter has managed to meet 95% of its pre-Covid targets because of the nature of the brands on board.

He said, “A lot depends on the kind of exposure you have from the kind of brands. For us, exposure to travel and retail was not very high. We had a large retail brand that used to work with us; obviously, they have applied the brakes. Some deals that were supposed to come from a mutual fund company and a real estate brand have been put on hold. But these are not our mainstay. Our mainstay is still a lot of finance and enterprise clients. Over there, we do not see any drop, but only a better conversation. The banks want to talk about monetarism being a responsible borrower and things like that. We have a balanced business. We are not getting scorched by this difficult time, nor even seeing revenues grow through the roof.”

Prashant Sinha

Niche platforms such as Momspresso that target mothers and mostly women are making most of the situation. As content marketing becomes need of the hour and most essential products continue with marketing activities, Prashant Sinha, Co-Founder and Managing Director, Momspresso, said the platform has already bagged a million-dollar deal in his pipeline between April and May.

Sinha said, “Work has gone up for us. We were managing more work in April than March. Fewer long-term deals are coming but our rate cards haven’t come down. We sustained the pricing and not increased it. Last month, we managed 40 concurrent branded content campaigns. This month, several brands came to us for Mother’s Day.”

He said the overall spends of brands have gone down significantly. In the absence of TV and print advertising, they are approaching digital platforms more for advertising. “For brands, they might have reduced their budgets on TV and print, but for us, the amount is significant. Secondly, most of our clients are from FMCG. The essential categories haven’t been impacted much. We have seen some impact on consumer durables for which we had around 20% exposure.”

Content marketing getting its due in marketing plan

Karthik Nagarajan

Like a silver lining in the cloud, many content marketers believe the Covid-19 lockdown has not been so bad for the content space. Content marketing is one of the industries that have grown in the crisis. Karthik Nagarajan, Chief Content Officer, Wavemaker, said, “The lockdown has increased the amount of activity in the branded content space. Brands are looking out to reach customers through innovative ways in these times. The good news is clients that were not aggressive on the content front in the past have become super aggressive about it. Although certain brands have global norms on not spending these days.”

Srinivasan added, “In the past, the brands were doing urgent (more of advertising) and not important (content). Now that the people are sitting back, they are doing the important. I am seeing a lot of clients walking up and saying we need to do more content.”

Darshan Bhatt

Darshan Bhatt, CEO, GoQuest Digital Studios, seconded, “Earlier content marketing used to be very brief and project-led work. That is significantly changing now. A lot of clients now want to work with content solution providers on a long-term retainer basis along with other agency partners and are becoming a part of the core communication strategy. Calendar invites are also going to content marketing agencies these days. This was missing until now.”

Brands are resorting to content marketing because they can’t directly advertise about products these days, and content marketing is the only medium through which they can continue their engagement with consumers. But once things start getting back in place, and business becomes normal, would brands move back their preferences to direct advertising and would content marketing again become secondary?

Srinivasan said, “It is like how digital did not get affected in the 2008 crisis; in fact, it got stronger. I think this is what will happen with content. It will get stronger. People are seeing the worth of content marketing and will invest even more in it.”

According to Nagarajan, it’s not that brands are trying to fill some sort of a gap. “Brands like Mondelez and Myntra have a well-thought content strategy. It’s unlikely of them to do a one of a thing, which is not a part of a medium or a long-term journey. I think when the lockdown gets over and shoots begin, brands will start spending more on content. I expect this to become bigger. The next quarters will be huge from the content perspective.”

Time for branded content providers to forge long-term deals

GoQuest’s Bhatt believes it’s the right time for brands and content companies to find a middle way out that works for both in the long-run than falling for expensive short-term projects. “We take pride in engaging with the clients at a larger level, rather than picking up a project at any price. One should ask the clients what the outlay they are comfortable with is. We all understand that the environment is not very conducive. Both parties should come together and figure out a middle way instead of picking up an expensive project, partner the client for long-term and show him value in your work. Once the year-end comes, he won’t cut you off.”