COVID-19 and b2b publication staff sizes

On March 11, 2020, a global pandemic was declared and the B2B industry was set to change forever. From gathering information in spite of industry events being canceled to reporting and delivering content, the behind the scenes lives of media professionals have been far from conventional.

With COVID-19 social distancing laws being put into effect, many publications were forced to evacuate offices and switch to remote work. Although it may have been easy for editors and writers to make that transition (and many already were in home offices), it still raises questions about the jobs that aren’t able to be completed remotely, as well as the effect of declining advertising revenues on staff sizes.

TABPI conducted a recent survey in regards to how the pandemic has affected the overall staff size of b2b publications across the world, and the results were unexpectedly lopsided. Given COVID-19’s decimation of many industries, it would be logical to think that editorial/design staff sizes would decline. But that wasn’t the case at all. 

In all, 65% of publications answered that their staff size remained the same throughout the transition period. And a surprising 12% of publications that responded said that their staff sizes actually have increased since the pandemic began. A mere 23% of publications lost staff members due to layoffs. Bob Trebilcock, Editorial Director of Supply Management talked about working remotely before COVID-19 and watching other staff members make the transition. 

“I have worked virtually since 1983, and my key editorial staff similarly worked remotely prior to COVID. The only team members who worked in the corporate office prior to COVID were the art director and our social media/digital team members. So, other than a period last spring when everyone worked remotely, nothing really changed. From that standpoint, COVID had no impact on location,” he said. “The real impact was on staff members with school-age children who had been working from home, but now also had to juggle childcare and homeschooling duties. Flexibility around when work got done was crucial here — some work that would’ve been done during normal hours got done very early in the morning, in the evening after dinner and homework duties, or on weekends. That said, we never missed a deadline.”

One editor, who was a part of the 23% of publications that lost staff members, found herself surprised about the attitudes of working remotely from some team members during the transition.

“Many more people are uncomfortable with the arrangement than I would have thought,” she said. “I have been working remotely for many years, so the biggest change, at least in this regard, was having everyone working on the same playing field.”

It has become increasingly common over the past decade for B2B editors and designers to work remotely, so the change from office to remote did not affect many of the respondents. Tina Filipski, Director of PBB Publications, explained how smooth the transition has been for her publication.

“We have been able to produce all of our publications, a daily at twice weekly and monthly, without missing a beat. Plus we added podcasts this year,” she said.

Although a good amount of publications have been able to secure their staff sizes, there is still a significant amount that has been affected by downsizing. While 23% may not seem like a consequential number, that represents a huge staffing change in the span of less than one year — in an industry that can be hard hit by any sort of economic downturn.

Communications Manager & Editor of Senior Living Executive magazine, Sara Wildberger, was concerned about the struggles of using virtual platforms. 

“Everyone needs better integration and alignment among platforms, internally and externally,” she said. “Eventually, there will be a few dominant players and boutique platforms, I figure, but for now, for instance, I might use up to six different meeting platforms in a single day. “

Every publication’s foundation is its editorial staff, so downsizing can mean a drop in quality and quantity of news reported and trend analysis made. As a result, the whole publication can suffer. It is safe to say that even though some publications didn’t suffer the loss of staff members, in some shape or form every media outlet was affected by this pandemic.

“I’m grateful to still have a job in the current climate, with an employer that worked hard to support all staff and find novel ways to keep generating income,” said Lauren Davis, Editor of Lab+Life Scientist in Australia.

Similarly, Beverly Sellers, Editor of NZ Plumber, was thankful that her publication is able to be run by a part-time editor, part-time designer, and part-time advertising manager. 

“We managed to bring each edition out on time and advertising revenues close to budget — a great team effort with excellent support from the whole Master Plumbers team,” she said. “We’re all thankful to have kept our jobs and to have been able to support our members with practical business help during the pandemic.”