The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting every industry. For the media sector, coronavirus creates both opportunities and challenges.

On the one hand, social distancing has led to a spike in at-home media consumption, and growing numbers are turning to news providers for timely and trusted information on the crisis.

At the same time, some of the most valuable broadcast content – such as live sports – is continuously being postponed or cancelled, leading to spending reallocations by advertisers and a subsequent drop in income for media companies.

The threat posed to media businesses globally by the coronavirus is existential.

From the health dangers facing journalists covering events to the decimation of the events industry and the decision by brands not to place advertising next to stories on the virus.

Many media enterprises have failed to survive in times past under such difficult situations as we are experiencing, and a few more may do so in the future.What has stayed constant is the indispensable role that media play in society. Media don’t just help us pass the time; they keep us informed.

Increasingly, media create shared cultural moments and reflect who we are as people.

The industry needs financial models that work to be able to keep fulfilling these functions, which appear ever-more important during these times of COVID-19 and probably beyond.

These bring to the fore what has been my concern as I monitor how media owners, managers and parctitioners in Ghana has been what I deem a disturbing silent as the effects of this panademic is gradually being unleashed on this industry.

I have in my short life hovering around this industry seen many hopeless, jobless young men and women gotten a living working in the media industry, my fear is that if the anticipated effects on the global economy is not avert many will become hopeless and jobless again if media owners, managers and practioners do not start devicing new ways to raise the needed revenue and also start the required agitations to get government to have a plan in place to save the industry and the inherent job losses.

I don’t want to get pollyannaish about what is next because in my previous article I highlighted some of the challenges that the global economy is facing and its ramifications for the media industry. Hotels and airlines have already followed the entertainment and restaurant industries in pulling ads. A host of other businesses will feel the pain and cocoon soon.

Events, whether the suspended seasons of sports teams or the more modest offerings of news organizations themselves, will probably not be back nearly as soon as the best-case scenarios now being floated might suggest.

And let’s not linger on how difficult it may be for financially stretched newspapers and other media outlets to pay their loans, rent and employees.

As I ended my last article on the COVID-19 and advertising spend ……. “Beyond this, the industry is in uncharted waters”.

Combating the negative effects

At times like these, it is understandable that media business owners, managers and practitioners feel powerless at the destruction of the economic foundations their outlets are built on.

But while we can’t force brands to advertise when they don’t want to or replace every live event with a webinar, there are steps media business owners can take to limit the losses they are facing and to give direction to their business decisions and I have tried to offer a few in this article to help save Ghana’s media industry;

Cut Costs; Hoard Cash

In this critical times, media owners and managers should build and manage cash reserve in order to navigate the crisis that will dislocate your business model and financial projections.

Schedule and conduct standing meetings with your core management team in order to assist with rigorous cash flow management.

Reforecast your business with various downside scenarios. Reduce your revenue projections (intervals of 10% up to 50% reduction) and extend the impact on your core business (intervals of 3-months up to 18-months). Aggressive downside scenario is a 50% revenue reduction over 18-months; however, potentially not a worst-case scenario.

Accelerate revenues through packages, incentives, discounts and/or prepayments.

Manage accounts receivables, collect as much as possible from outstanding customers through strict collection policies and/or incentives and discounts.

Execute on cost-reduction strategies that allow the business to maintain productivity while matching the demand of your product, audience and customers. Reducing operating costs in order to conserve cash is critical to the survival of your business.

To the extent possible, negotiate the cost of inputs (supplies, raw materials, labour, etc.) and pre-buy materials at a discount when possible.

Postpone all hiring and when possible reduce staff (this may be an opportunity for some staff to work part time as they care for children at home). Consider across-the-board temporary salary cuts as an alternative to cutting staff at this difficult time.

Design and implement an internal crisis workflow for your staff and coverage for your audience. Measure and seek opportunities that will allow for your company to fulfil the current needs of your audience.

Maintain accurate and updated financial and accounting records so that you have a complete and accurate picture when you need to make hard decisions fast.

Content Still Remains King

This is the time for media houses to focus and grow your core audience, when they are most in need of reliable information. Delivering news and providing service to the community you serve is hard work; it takes tremendous discipline and focus to do so every day, but it is critical at this time.

Stay ahead of what your audience wants and needs to know about the pandemic as daily life adapts to mass quarantines.

Prepare for dramatically heavier on-line use by your audience. Ensuring your systems and bandwidth is adequate to handle the pressure of audience traffic, highly recommended for online media.

Internal efficiency as well as content delivery and critical care with SEO and engagement will assure that waste is limited.

Consider and evaluate partnerships that provide strength and security of your core assets – this is the perfect time to become a true partner with some of your best clients.

Your Team is Not Immune

Plan ahead for how the pandemic and it’s after effect will impact your team.

Immediately require all at-risk staff (over 50, immune-deficient, pre-existing conditions, etc.) to work from home and shelter in place. Your senior management team and most seasoned journalists may be the most at risk.

It is likely media houses will lose staff to quarantine or worse, so you need to build redundancy with your existing team. Train journalists and other staff to handle essential technical roles as best they can.

Consider rotating staff between on-site and working from home. If one person on-site is diagnosed, everyone there may be required to quarantine, so have a team at home ready to come in and take over after the worksite is disinfected.

If I was to on top of my head offer one technical advice for the survival of Ghana’s media industry, the most critical thing right now is to focus on cash collections to build a buffer as best you can and to start working on plans for contraction as revenue streams such as advertising dip and others, such as events, come to a complete standstill.

Stimulus and Furlough

Suddenly, these two words have been ringing around the world in every solution political leaders have been offering their citizens and businesses. While in most advanced countries both words keep playing around, the less developed nations are sticking to one – STIMULUS!

I have over the weeks seen how the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has been having all manner of interaction with the people that matter during this pandemic period to offer them incentives and packages to help them support the fight against COVID-19 and the economy, to mention a few as I can recollect; Chamber of Pharmaceutical Industries, Association of Ghana Industries, Trade Union Congress, Ghana Medical Association and the allied health workers organizations, political party leader etc. however, I am yet to either hear, read and see the various media association being invited to the presence of His Excellency, the President or perhaps the role of this critical industry is not recognized as an essential services provider in the dissemination of the critical information to the population during these uncertain times and as such government need to consider engaging owners, managers and practitioners on how to support them financially in the form of stimulus or furlough to save businesses, jobs and livelohoods.

May be as I indicated in my intruduction, owners, managers and practitioners have not also found it necessary to engage the powers that be to save this industry.

Kofi Asante

(Communication Channels Strategist)

Managing Director

Green Space Solutions