How lockdown led to affiliates revenue and audiences usually only seen during Black Friday and Christmas thanks to UK shopping habits changing

Online shopping became the norm for many during lockdown as consumers embraced delivery methods

When Boris Johnson announced UK lockdown on 23 March the financial strains on the journalism industry were stark, writes Reach’s head of affiliates (regionals) Stephen Hurrell.

Newsbrands were expecting to lose up to £50m in revenue as advertisers blocked spend on coronavirus content, according to the Back Don’t Block campaign.

Shortly after lockdown national and regional publishers including News UK, The Guardian, Reach Plc and JPI Media issued a statement asking for support from marketers.

It said: “All we ask is that when you launch your next campaign you check you’re not unknowingly blocking trusted newsbrands from your plans.

“Readers are relying on us right now, and we are relying on advertising to help ensure the public receive information and advice from the very best sources.”

The irony for many on the commercial side of newsroom operations was that the public’s interest in spending online was hitting levels usually reserved for Black Friday and pre-Christmas shopping.

As more people spent time at home consumer journalism was on the rise. Supermarket delivery slots were selling out in seconds — thanks to a very public endorsement from the PM in one of his nationwide TV addresses — and readers were desperate for information on how to order online, the social distancing regulations of those stores that remained open, and stock levels of essentials.

Read more: Facebook prepares to pay for news in the UK

Our regional network of sites rose to the challenge. From takeaways to queues at DIY stores, our sites kept readers informed of all the latest news, updates and regulations — with clearly sign-posted labelling of any content which contained affiliate links in line with the Advertising Standards Agency guidelines.

A major UK supermarket chain saw over £100,000 of sales from readers who had read regional news articles. Another saw 156,000 clicks on its website directly from coverage from Reach titles as readers turned to us for important news and updates in such unusual circumstances.

While mainly traditional advertising campaigns were paused, affiliate revenue on Reach’s regional titles from consumer content in April was at its highest since the peak shopping month of November — helping to ensure local journalism at some of the UK’s largest and most-trusted regional brands can be maintained.

The figures suggest backing local titles for marketing campaigns would have seen an astronomical return on spend when it came to consumer issues. More importantly, socially responsible coverage meant that brands that did back local journalism had aligned themselves with brands that had a trusted, engaged audience.

For three months regional and national newsrooms helped the nation stay fed, healthy and entertained.

Read more: Yorkshire Post editor urges readers to donate £5 if they want to keep ‘proper journalism’

We asked the marketing industry to Back Don’t Block when coronovirus lockdown began. It was not a call for charity from retailers to support local journalism. It was a call for a mutually beneficial arrangement that supported the amazing coverage of our journalists, helped brands reach the people they needed and as consumer issues rose to the top of the national consciousness, it informed and supported our readers in a time of crisis.

The last few months have shown that local journalism is more resolute than ever. Advertisers and brand affiliate partners now know they can trust journalists to find new audiences under challenging conditions.

While our newsrooms continue to provide an essential service to an audience of engaged readers, we have also shown that local journalism is the best place to drive revenue for brands in the midst of a crisis.

Read more: 100 newsrooms to get Google funding to keep going during the coronavirus pandemic



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