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

by | Aug 3, 2020

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 five of our five-part series.

CFE Media and Technology has provided engineers in manufacturing, commercial and industrial buildings and manufacturing control systems with the knowledge they need to improve their operational efficiency for the past 10 years. The company’s publishing brands include Consulting-Specifying Engineer, Control Engineering, Plant Engineering and Oil and Gas Engineering.

We spoke with Matt Waddell, vice president of sales at CFE Media and Technology, who oversees the entire sales organization and ensures CFE provides its marketing partners with direct access to targeted engineers, market intelligence and best practices to accomplish their marketing goals.

When the COVID-19 pandemic initially hit, CFE immediately realized that its subscribers were, for the most part, working from home. Reaching multiple engineer marketplaces—plant engineering and manufacturing, control engineering, oil and gas engineering and consulting specifying engineering—its subscribers had an easier transition than many other industry segments.

“They either travel a lot and are used to working remotely, or they’ve been able to transfer computer capabilities and bandwidth to a home office,” said Waddell. “Other engineers within our subscriber base are considered essential workers that are represented by key markets like food and beverage-, pharma- and healthcare-related markets.”

Lend a Helping Hand

“We know that our engineering audience will remember those that have helped them during this difficult time, whether it was creating education or providing a free service,” said Waddell. “And, when companies find a way to help out, they definitely endear themselves to our audience.”

For an example, one of CFE’s partners, Bentley, created its, “We’ve Got Your Back Initiative,” to help its customers meet work-from-home challenges by making its software accessible and waiving its fees until the end of September 2020.

“Sophisticated marketers know that now is a bad time to disappear,” said Waddell. “We’ve talked to a lot of manufacturers that are interested in working with us to create content for the engineers to educate the market during this time.”

To address the changes that have occurred in the marketplace, not only with its subscribers, but also with its advertiser partners, CFE made several changes and created several new digital and virtual communication products.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic started, CFE launched a weekly e-newsletter titled, “COVID-19 Engineering Alert.” The e-newsletter was created in four versions, targeted with specific content to CFE’s four engineering markets, consulting specifying, control, plant and oil and gas. The newsletter provides engineers with up-to-date information about how this global pandemic is impacting the engineering community.

“We’ve noticed that our open rates and click-thru rates have been very impressive across all brands,” said Waddell. “Likely, because many engineers have more time working from home.”

No Show, No Problem

As more and more industry trade shows are cancelled or postponed, CFE found additional ways to keep its engineering audience up-to-date and allow its clients the opportunity to showcase their products. CFE brands typically attend the international Hannover Messe, International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), Pack Expo International, and National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). CFE also hosts the Global Manufacturing and Automation Summit (GMA) in connection with IMTS.

CFE created its Virtual Booth Visit as a way for manufacturers to showcase their products to targeted engineering audiences, despite the cancellations of these trade shows and other events. The Virtual Booth Visit is hosted online and is available for engineers to access on demand. It includes a 15-minute product overview presentation, a 5-minute demonstration video for the product and options for the viewers to download spec sheets or contact the product manager directly.

“If you were planning on launching new products or product updates at a show, we’ve got a virtual event platform solution,” said Waddell. “Our partners aren’t going to shows, so they likely have some budget to work with to find alternate methods to get the word out to their audiences without having the big party and the booth expo.”

At certain trade shows, for an example NFPA, the association uses the conference as a platform for fire and safety engineers to review, update and vote on codes and standards to ensure the safety of buildings and fire protection practices. These codes and standards must be followed by the AHJs (authorities having jurisdiction), municipalities and other government agencies for design purposes.

“As we come out of the COVID-19 era, we know there are going to be a lot of dramatic changes,” suggested Waddell. “Not only are the codes and standards going to change, but as a result, there is going to be a demand for creating new products and solutions. It’s actually a great opportunity for both the engineers and manufacturers to be very involved in these updates.”

Regarding live events, CFE holds its annual Marketing to Engineers® educational seminar for its marketing partners. The seminar features industry experts presenting tips for successful integrated marketing campaigns and the latest marketing trends relevant to the engineering community.

“In the past, we’ve always held our Marketing to Engineers event live and in person,” said Waddell. “Unfortunately, this year we had to change it to a virtual live event. Now, more than ever, this event is extremely important because there are limited ways to communicate with engineers.”

CFE marketing partners had the option to access the same great content that they would have experienced in-person and they have the option to view it on-demand on any computer or smart device.

CFE also recently launched CFE Edu to provide continuing education to engineering professionals. Whether enrolled students need a refresher course on a particular topic or need to know the latest issues going on in the engineering industry, CFE Edu offers courses that touch on various topics. CFE’s new Virtual Training Week, which will be held October 5-9, 2020, is an additional way to further educate engineer subscribers and offer CEU and PDH accreditation at the same time.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in registrations for all of our products,” said Waddell, “Keep in mind that this is a small amount of data, but we have to assume that with our engineer subscribers stuck at home, they have more time to actually consume information.”

CFE believes that the ability for the engineer to consume highly educational content at their pace is resonating. And, the opportunity to earn professional development hours (PDH) or continuing education units (CEU) is also valuable.

In spite of the unique and difficult situation of COVID-19, CFE continues to roll out new products and look for unique ways to proactively get valuable information out to its engineer subscribers.

“We’re not letting COVID stop us,” declared Waddell. “We remain positive. And, we continue to keep the ideas coming, we keep learning how engineers are consuming content and we keep putting out the best vehicles to proactively help engineers during this time.”

To read more of the series about how the trade media is adjusting to the COVID-19 pandemic and more about the effects of COVID-19 in the B2T industry:

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

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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