Lou Barrett: ‘The toughest economic conditions I’ve seen’

Mariam Cheik-Hussein
By Mariam Cheik-Hussein | 29 March 2020
Lou Barrett

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown advertising into one of its most challenging times but News Corp’s Lou Barrett is confident it will bounce back.

The pandemic has slowed or effectively shut entire industries, placing further pressure on brands’ media spend.

Barrett, News Corp’s managing director for national sales, says there are pockets of opportunities for the publisher but the overall impact has been significant.

“This is definitely the toughest economic conditions that I've seen in my 35 year career in the business and I'm sure many people have seen in their lifetime,” Barrett told AdNews.

“But I think the really important thing is to be here for our clients over this period of time and also from users’ point of view, be there for communities when times are tough.

“There are so many things at the moment that we can't control and so many questions that we can't even answer. The best thing for News Corp is that whatever the challenge, we continue to be a trusted partner for our clients and readers.”

Media spend for some sectors, such as food, finance, government, and certain retail businesses, particularly office suppliers, have been performing well. However, sport, entertainment and travel have been hit, with Barrett saying it’s the first time she’s seen entire industries unable to advertise.

“The brands that have spent money - such as the supermarkets and the Harvey Normans of the world - they will be top of mind when the tide turns,” she says.

“But there are some industries that just can’t actually advertise because they don’t have anything to sell right now. There is nothing for the travel industry to sell at this point in time. People can’t book holidays because they don't know when the borders are going to be open again.”

Social distancing has also disrupted the TV industry, making it more difficult for commercials to be filmed, and the out-of-home (OOH) sector, as people are house-bound. But Barrett says print and digital are in a position to accommodate for brands needing to quickly shift their creative, with some already taking OOH and cinema spend and using it in publishing.

The uncertainty around restrictions placed to slow the spread of the virus means media businesses have been unable to predict the long-term impact it will have to their advertising business, with some withdrawing their earning guidance.

The impact it’s had on News Corp Australia has been swift, with the company cutting staff and executive pay last week to withstand the length of the pandemic.

“I'm really confident that News can come through the other side,” Barrett says.

“We have a product that people turn to in times of need. We've seen significant increases in our paper sales, we're seeing significant traffic increases.

“Last week our total audience grew by 48% across all metro and regional titles, and The Australian and our subscriptions were up 21% compared to the same week in the previous year. We've also seen a massive surge in supermarket sales and home delivery of papers.”

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