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. The following is part three of our five-part series.
Mechanical-Hub is an online industry resource for today’s plumbing, heating and mechanical contractors. Founded in 2012, its mission is to provide updated industry news and information to the trade contractor and to partner with industry leaders in media, contracting and manufacturing.
We spoke with John Mesenbrink, president of Mechanical-Hub, who oversees its one-of-a-kind website and digital ecosystem. Today’s busy contractors looking for information to help them perform their jobs more efficiently turn to the site for highlights of the latest industry news, originally written features, videos, new products and tools, weekly guest blogs and contractor resources. The “Hub” also features social media engagement on its social channels and is a cornucopia of unique and original information for contractors and a great place to connect with other professionals in the industry.
“We started almost 10 years ago as a digital-only resource,” said Mesenbrink. “In these unfortunate circumstances of the pandemic, we feel that we are in a good position to be flexible and to help our clients and their companies get their messages out. We can be the vehicle to help promote a brand.”
Online After-Hours Training
Many of Mechanical-Hub sponsors rely heavily on in-person training and trade shows to educate their customers. With these types of events canceled because of COVID-19, Mechanical-Hub felt that it had an opportunity to help companies by facilitating casual online training sessions.
A few companies expressed interest, and Mechanical-Hub has been conducting two online webinars each week, scheduled eight weeks out. Free to attendees, all of the informal educational webinars are recorded and archived on Mechanical-Hub’s YouTube channel for reference. There is a minimal fee for the brands to participate to defer the administration and promotional efforts.
With many of Mechanical-Hub’s audience considered essential workers and on the jobsite during the day, the consensus was determined that holding the sessions in the evening would be the most convenient for attendees. That timing proved successful.
“Our first webinar had 270 people in attendance and the numbers continue to trend,” said Mesenbrink. “The webinars that we have conducted are interactive and engaging. We have a metric that measures webinar audience attentiveness, and we are pleased to see that we have been ranking on the high end of the attentiveness range.
“We have one company that has webinars scheduled out through the rest of the year. Interestingly, another sponsor said that it had been considering online training for some time; this situation just triggered it. One thing is certain—the thirst for knowledge is there!”
Balancing COVID-19 Content
Mesenbrink struggles with overwhelming his audience with too much COVID-19 information. He conducted an informal Facebook group survey early into the pandemic and queried members about that content balance. Were they getting tired of seeing all the coronavirus coverage? Should they keep it coming? Should they provide a mixture of both? Overwhelmingly, the respondents said they were tired of it, although a few said to keep it coming or requested a mixture of both.
“I feel like we are getting COVID-19 fatigue—I could keep posting about it, but I think our audience is getting bombarded with COVID info from television and radio,” said Mesenbrink. “At Mechanical-Hub, our audience is first. We are going to prioritize what our audience wants, and then we will sprinkle in the COVID content that is critical to our industry. We just don’t want to overdo it—or take advantage of the situation.”
Unique Challenges for Innovation
At the beginning of the year, Mechanical-Hub launched its “On the Road” series, where it would visit a manufacturer’s plant and get unique, behind-the-scenes insights as to how a particular product or tool is made. The series initially received positive feedback, but with the current pandemic situation, Mechanical-Hub hasn’t been able to carry it on.
“We’re working on ideas—and we are open to innovative thoughts from the manufacturers as to how we can accomplish things in different ways,” said Mesenbrink. “I find myself even busier in recent days, trying to think of creative alternatives.”
“It’s a different time for all of us,” he added. “This pandemic presents unique challenges for us to come up with creative ideas and to be flexible for our sponsors and our audience. Even if this pandemic wasn’t going on, we should always be striving for unique solutions. If we stop doing that, we lose our edge!”
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: