How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with BNP Media

By Matt Sonnhalter, Vision Architect

As we are all challenged with navigating our businesses through the realities of COVID-19, we’ve noticed that a number of the trade media have been nimble in responding to the “new normal.”

We had the opportunity to speak with several publishers in our B2T (business-to-trades) industry to learn how they were changing their tactics to adapt to this new environment. Following is part one of our five-part series.

As print readership has been declining over the past several years, many publications have been gradually making the move to offering digital issue options for readers who would prefer to receive their industry news on their laptop, tablet or smartphone.

One publisher doing exactly that is BNP Media. In business for more than 90 years, BNP Media is one of the largest B2B publishers, publishing nearly 60 titles that serve the architecture, engineering & construction, food, beverage & packaging, gaming & hospitality, manufacturing, mechanical systems (including plumbing), security and services markets.

We spoke with Dan Ashenden, group publisher of the Mechanical/Plumbing Group at BNP Media, on his organization’s reaction. The Mechanical/Plumbing Group publications include Plumbing & Mechanical, which targets contractors, Supply House Times, which targets wholesale distributors and PM Engineer which targets plumbing/mechanical engineers.

Digital-First Format

“Moving to an all-digital platform was part of BNP’s long-term strategy, said Ashenden. “The unfortunate pandemic we find ourselves in was simply a happenstance and motivation for BNP to say, ‘Why go slow with this plan?’ We’d already done the groundwork—we had been getting all our users registered and had started creating products that were trackable. And, our customers were demanding more digital options.”

On March 31, 2020, BNP co-CEO Taggert Henderson made an official video announcement that beginning with the April 2020 issues, BNP controlled subscription publications were moving to 100 percent digital-first format.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, roughly 30 percent of the controlled subscription preferred to receive their issues digitally. Over the next few months, BNP is transitioning all controlled subscriptions to a digital format.

“This was a trend that was already in existence,” explained Ashenden. “We’re very proud that BNP Media made the investments early on, continuing to build the audience and to foster online engagement. We will continue to create and produce magazines—just digitally.”

There will be a few exceptions. For paid subscribers that prefer to receive their magazines in print, BNP will continue to print them. For controlled subscriptions, BNP will also print occasional issues throughout the year, for keepsakes or leave-behinds at key events and industry trade shows.

“More and more of our readers and advertisers want to engage with content on a digital platform, and it is the safest, quickest, cleanest way to deliver our magazines and content,” added Ashenden.

Safe and Clean

With COVID-19, many people are working from home and are unable to get the print issues that are being mailed out to their work locations. Combine that with the safety factor, where sharing a copy of the latest issue is a potential cause for spraying the issue with Lysol®, it is logical for publishers to shift to all digital at this time.

In a recent survey that BNP conducted regarding COVID-19, the publisher learned that 77 percent of people are concerned about safety when handling mail or other deliveries and 70 percent of people reported similar concerns when reading a delivered print magazine.

During this time when people are working from their homes, advertisers want to make sure their media investment is actually getting in front of the customer and readers want their content so that they can stay informed on what’s happening in their industry.

Speed and Flexibility

The added benefit of going digital-first is the speed of getting issues into the hands of the readers. With information on COVID-19 and its effects on the industry changing at a rapid fire pace, publishers are able to get the most up-to-date information to their readers much more quickly by removing the time constraints associated with printing and mailing out a physical issue.

The digital format will also allow BNP the flexibility to publish additional digital issues, if needed, based on the amount of content editors have.

Insights and Engagement

Another benefit of the digital-first decision is that it gives editors and advertisers more insights into the kinds of content that readers are engaging with.

“As we approach July, we will have a revised publisher statement to reflect our conversion to digital,” said Ashenden. “We hope that this transformation provides the opportunity to reach even more subscribers with each of our brands beyond the current circulation—the sky is the limit, when we are not constrained by printed copies.”

While BNP’s digital editions will follow the same format as the magazine, these editions will allow interaction with content and advertisers’ messaging in ways that print copies simply cannot. For an example, Ashenden says subscribers can expect video overlays, digital messaging, links and even audio reading of content.

Engagement can be very powerful and trackable. Ashenden gives the example of when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, BNP editors first posted an original article about the White House identifying plumbers as ‘essential critical infrastructure workers’. Within four days, the article had received over 50,000 pageviews, and nearly 7,000 readers shared the link in social media.

What the Future Holds?

“In this current pandemic situation we find ourselves in, we at BNP Media want to make sure our original content and our advertisers’ messaging is being seen by the audiences each of our brands is targeting—contractors, engineers and wholesale distributors,” said Ashenden. “We look forward to sharing more updates on our new expanded use of digital editions and lead-generating digital opportunities.”

“This is clearly the way business media is going and we at the Plumbing/Mechanical Group are very excited to more fully transition into our digital platform and continue to deliver the content that our readers need to succeed in their businesses.”

“Bottomline, I don’t think media will ever be the same after COVID-19 ends.”

Stay tuned for future blog posts in our five-part series to learn more about how the trade media is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic. Read more about the effects of COVID-19 in the B2T industry, here:

Throughout COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, Professional Tradesmen are Essential as Ever

Even During a Pandemic, Influencers in the Trades Build On: Part One

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