Digital Innovation Digital Publishing
5 mins read

How a niche B2B title navigated COVID-19 and hauled itself into the modern era

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For all publishers, 2020 has been a difficult year with more turns and twists than a Moto GP track. But for some publishers, this year’s COVID-19 pandemic has also directly impacted them in terms of their editorial specialty and focus.

Nowhere has this been more true than for B2B titles covering the care home industry, a sector facing an almost existential crisis due to the severity of the pandemic for its elderly care home residents.

Amidst this backdrop of widespread tragedy and profound disruption, it would be reasonable to expect many of the B2B titles serving this sector to be stretched and challenged to breaking point. That’s why it’s refreshing to see one B2B care home publisher not only survive the turmoil but also expand and thrive.

Indeed, Care Home Management, owned by S&A Publishing based in Kent, UK, has steadily increased its turnover not just this year but over the past three years – by 61% to be precise. How has it achieved this? To answer the question, it’s necessary to row back a few years.

Background and acquisition

Founded in the late-1990s by its previous owners, Review Magazines, Care Home Management magazine is the only UK industry title that goes solely to care home decision-makers, providing revenue advice to the owners, managers and directors of care homes.

Over the years, the bi-monthly title had achieved a comfortable market position but offered little in the way of ambition, growth, or revenue diversification. By the mid-2010s, the title was treading water with a new owner, JNJ Media, looking to pass the brand on to new owners.

In 2018, the title was acquired by S&A Publishing, who immediately set about resurrecting the magazine and transforming it into a modern media brand with production values to match.

Talking to WNIP, Steve Hemsley, Co-Founder of S&A Publishing, explains, “Our first task was a complete re-design and re-brand of both the magazine and its accompanying website, New features, columnists and a weekly editorial newsletter were introduced, and a key goal was to increase the synergy between the magazine and the website to create a single, joined-up media brand.”

Enhancing the digital footprint

The connection between the magazine and its website had always been its Achilles heel – like many magazine publishers the website was viewed as a necessary add-on but not a central tenet of the overall publishing strategy. When the title was acquired by S&A Publishing, digital accounted for less than 1% of revenue.

S&A immediately set about looking at how it could develop its digital strategy. A key part of this was a narrowing in on all the available data, including social media channels. Hemsley says, “We did research and data collection on who’s following us. We were asking ourselves: Who are these people? Are they potential advertisers? Are they care homes who aren’t getting the magazine? As an independent publisher, it’s all about integrated data.”

Cleansing and maintaining the database of care home contacts has been crucial to maximise revenue.

Steve Hemsley, Co-Founder, S&A Publishing

S&A quickly invested in the Care Home Management website, paying particular attention to posting industry news more regularly, increasing the focus on SEO, and selling more online advertising to care suppliers. The publisher also overhauled and expanded its use of social media, particularly Twitter and LinkedIn, to expand its reach and source new care homes for circulation.

S&A additionally launched an Online Supplier Directory as a low-cost entry point for the many companies that did not currently advertise with the magazine, a feature that generated additional revenue as well as exposing new clients to the brand.

Expanding revenue streams

The next step for the business was to monetize existing initiatives and expand revenue streams. In 2018, Care Home Management launched a podcast, hosted by Hemsley himself. Starting as purely editorial, the podcast discussed key issues in the industry, and a sponsor was soon found at the beginning of 2019 to cover the costs.

S&A now produces a regular series of podcasts, including sector-specific roundtable podcasts with experts on different issues affecting care homes. Suppliers pay to take part and share their expertise.

S&A Publishing also developed existing partnerships, such as with the Care Home Awards which celebrate excellence and innovation in the business of running care homes across the UK. Care Home Management magazine is now the official media partner, creating content and promoting the awards both online and in print further cementing its position in the sector.

Reader engagement

A central part of S&A Publishing’s strategy was to build its relationship with its readers and enhance its audience engagement strategy. In 2020, despite the pandemic, the publisher launched its own Readers’ Award. Carefully positioned not to overlap with the aforementioned Care Home Awards, readers were asked to highlight and praise exceptional supplier service in the industry.

Both the winners and runner-up received free advertising space within the magazine and, following the success of the awards, next year’s 2021 Readers’ Award will be sponsored by an industry supplier.

Looking to the future, Hemsley says that expanding reader revenue will become increasingly important, and one proposal is to create a training academy linked to established training providers but managed through the Care Home Management brand.

Switching to in-house sales

S&A also switched from an outsourced media sales agency to an in-house sales team, resulting in more control over who was selling the advertising. Hemsley says that this helped the publisher to strengthen existing relationships with advertisers and build new relationships with other suppliers.

Whilst COVID-19 was a difficult challenge editorially, it became a surprising opportunity to grow advertising reach – lockdown had prevented sales teams who cover the 20,000 UK care homes from physically being able to see care home managers. The magazine and website subsequently served as a bridge for suppliers and, with the UK now in a renewed lockdown, the title’s Nov/Dec issue recorded its highest revenue since S&A took over in 2018, with digital revenue now accounting for 48% of overall turnover.

Lessons learned

Whilst publishing has always been a challenge, if COVID-19 has taught independent publishers one thing, it’s to create market resilience. Hemsley agrees, “It’s fair to say that we had the right assets in place to respond to rapidly changing market demand: when COVID struck, our advertisers almost overnight had to switch from face to face to digital means of communication with our readers, and we had the products ready to respond to their changing needs.”

Ailsa Colquhoun, Hemsley’s colleague and Co-Founder of S&A Publishing adds, “We were fortunate to inherit a strong brand in the care home market but a lot of work has gone into the brand since its acquisition. The increase in revenues that we have seen over the past three years prove once again the value of two core business basics: you have to speculate to accumulate and that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.”

In difficult times, and within a hugely challenged sector, this is one independent niche publisher determined to continue growing.

Our thanks to Bethany Hemsley for her research, assistance, and help in producing this article.