BP pulled its deal but oil slump warned us early about Covid’s profound impact: Squiz founder Claire Kimball
One crucial phone call in February 2020 alerted Claire Kimball to Covid’s potentially shattering effects on revenue at women's indie publisher The Squiz. She says how they reacted then has only reinforced her sensibilities about becoming an ‘engagement company’, not a media business… and the potential for podcasts.
Last year reinforced to us that it’s the right thing for The Squiz to see itself as an engagement business, not a media company.
That phone call
The Squiz got a heads up on the disruption that was to rock early 2020 via an early February phone call with corporate affairs legend Richard Wise, BP’s head of communications and external relations. They were a new advertising partner of ours in the previous half, and their approvals process to double down with us in the coming half had been held up due to a slump in oil prices thanks to some geopolitical manoeuvring. And, he said, this new Sars virus coming out of China was a growing concern… By the end of February, the company’s global budgets for campaigns like the ones they were looking to run with The Squiz were largely frozen, leaving us with a revenue hole to fill.
It was just three weeks later that Aussies were sent home and new concepts like ‘social distancing’ and ‘flattening the curve’ became all too familiar. But that heads up from Richard was enough time for us to get around our partners and gauge their concerns about the emerging global health emergency and what it might mean for their campaign plans. Getting in well ahead of the flashpoint proved to be enough of an advantage for us to get through that period largely unscathed.
On the audience side, during the June quarter, we benefited from the spike other news providers reportedly experienced. We saw double-digit month-on-month new subscriber/listener growth on our core Squiz Today newsletter and podcast as many looked for help to make sense of the news. We also held the attention of our audience across the period with daily email opens heading well above 40% and podcast listens-throughs holding at close to 100%.
What was also exciting for us during 2020 was the surge of interest from brands in podcasting. The Squiz was the pioneer in Australia with a short-form morning news podcast, and that position in the market with an established and significant listenership meant we were well placed to ride that wave across the year and maintain it into 2021.
We saw double-digit month-on-month new subscriber/listener growth on our core Squiz Today newsletter and podcast as many looked for help to make sense of the news.
Brands are re-evaluating their spend
But it’s clear to us that advertisers have used the start of this year to collect their thoughts on where they’re at. The available reporting and metrics for podcasting make it difficult for agencies to put the case to their clients for significant investments behind podcasting in the same way they would for traditional print and broadcast budgets. When it comes to engaged audiences, it’s clear that podcasts work. And a medium that’s finding its feet, it will catch up on performance data front.
For our part, last year reinforced to us that it’s the right thing for The Squiz to see itself as an engagement business, not a media company. As the paid media conversation turns to focus on the engagement economy, we reckon we’re well placed to continue to carve out sustainable business. That’s because we can demonstrate true engagement with high value audiences via our email newsletters and podcasts – not necessarily as isolated products, but together as a Squiz ecosystem.
As for our biggest takeout from a Covid-ridden year – sticking to our long term growth plans and normalising as much of the ups and downs a year like the last one can bring as possible means we’ll be as prepared as we can be if there’s a significant ‘let’s just pause to have a think about this’ from advertisers this year. And 2020 reinforced that early and regular conversations to check in with partners outside of the sales pitch process are just so essential.
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