How the Trade Media is Adjusting to the “New Normal” of COVID-19: A Conversation with Babcox 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 adapting to this new environment. Following is part two of our five-part series.

Babcox Media is a business-to-business media and information services company serving the auto dealer, auto care, tire, performance, commercial trucking, powersports and enthusiast markets. Its 100-year heritage is built upon its commitment to connecting audiences with quality content and providing clients with results-oriented campaigns. It delivers content through various assets across all channels and platforms to engage its audience.

We spoke with Sean Donohue, group publisher/vice president of sales at Babcox Media, where he oversees several brands, including AutoSuccess, Dealer Service, Motorcycle and Powersports News, BodyShop Business, Engine Builder, TechShop and Professional Car Washing and Detailing.

Betting on Video … Even Before COVID-19

“Over the last 18 months, we’ve been making big bets on video, which is proving to be a good strategy,” said Donohue. “Eighty percent of content viewed online is video in today’s world.”

As tools get more complicated—and cars get more intricate, technicians are using video as a key training resource to conduct their jobs. Video allows technicians to learn a lot more, a lot quicker.

Since COVID-19, the demand for video has not slowed down at all, and, in fact, the video segment of its business has actually increased for Babcox Media.

“Everybody’s at home and there is a desire to want more content, to learn, to see what’s new, to see what’s next, and to be able to do that quickly in a video format,” added Donohue. “We’ve seen increased digital engagement in the last few months across our entire portfolio.”

Garage Studio Videos Soar

Noticing the video trend many months ago, Babcox Media recently completed its 5,000-square-foot Babcox Garage Studio in its headquarters’ bottom level parking garage, complete with three working bays, cars, lifts, tools and all the latest equipment from the leading manufacturers and suppliers in the industry. The studio provides the perfect backdrop to bring video content to life–whether it is a 2-minute how-to video on repair best practices or a 30-minute training video featuring a technical service advisor. ASE-certified technicians are on staff as writers that help facilitate the video content.

“We shoot video regularly, often as many as 30 videos a day,” said Donohue. “We were doing it before the COVID-19 pandemic and have continued production while abiding by all the necessary safety regulations. In most cases, we have a cameraman, production assistant and on-air talent, and all can easily be six feet away from each other. We also abide by all sanitizing standards, immediately cleaning after the video crew leaves.”

Virtual Learning Becomes a Necessity

While video is clearly an emerging favorite way to consume content, one thing is certain: virtual learning is an absolute necessity in the new COVID-19 normal. With automotive and automotive repair considered essential businesses, technicians are turning to online learning to educate themselves about the latest automotive parts, procedures and technologies.

Babcox Media’s, Tomorrow’s Technician, delivers technical information for servicing today’s vehicles to automotive students enrolled in technical and vocational schools across the country. The brand assists more than 1,100 instructors by providing content to supplement classroom curriculum.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, these students are no longer physically in school, and are looking for ways to learn virtually. Since Tomorrow’s Technician is normally published to coincide with the students’ classroom schedules and delivered via the instructors directly to the classrooms, Babcox Media made the decision to not produce a May issue in print. Daily e-newsletters, video content and webinars were deemed to be more valuable to students looking for learning vehicles from the safety of their homes.

“We’ve had a healthy webinar business, even before the COVID pandemic,” said Donohue. “But given that all the students were studying at home, it made sense to really turn to digital options for this audience.”

“Based on our research, 98 percent of students want to start their own shop—which is great because we are in dire need of individuals like that. And we think this audience is going to engage digitally on a whole different level—be it video, podcasts, webinars or sponsored facility targeting.”

Balancing COVID-19 Content

Balancing content between COVID-19 and other topics, whether it is video, online or print, has been a challenge for Babcox Media during this time.

“We don’t want to be the media outlet where every piece of content is COVID slanted and we don’t want to start every video with, ‘During this pandemic’,” explained Donohue. “You want to have balance.”

For Babcox Media, it is a fine balance between what the audience is asking for or concerned about during this time and, secondarily, what information the advertisers are trying to get out about product or technology to the readers.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we had editors that interviewed shop owners, asking, ‘How are you doing with this?’ and ‘What are you seeing happening?’” said Donohue. “Those features gained a lot of reader interest.”

Babcox Media’s AMN (aftermarketNews) launched a special section titled, “AMN People: You Are Essential,” to recognize and shine a light on those aftermarket professionals who are working hard to keep first responders, health care workers, grocery store employees and, well, all of us, safe on the roads right now.

But at the same time, the media outlets are attempting to provide a balance of content that ultimately serves and engages their audiences and assists them in their success. The balance of content is working.

“Since the pandemic we have noticed spikes in the open rates of our e-newsletters, in some cases, doubling,” said Donohue. “All in all, traffic has increased. Everyone’s at home.”

#OurSharedStory

Recognizing the need for employees, their families, friends, colleagues and companies to come together in this time of adapting to working from home, schooling at home and keeping safe, Babcox Media created an outlet, #OurSharedStory to post those stories.

“About a week into the pandemic, we recognized an opportunity to provide a place for our readers, advertisers and employees to share,” said Donohue. “They can be any kind of stories, not necessarily automotive related, ordinary everyday challenges and those of unsung heroes.”

One particularly popular post was a parody produced and performed (observing social distancing, of course) by members of the Babcox Media editorial staff, titled, “Lockdown Girl.”

“We need balance, but at the same time, you can’t deny what our world is going through, and you’ve got to try to embrace it the best that you can,” said Donohue. “We’re all in this together.”

Stay tuned for future blog posts 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:

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

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

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

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