Content production has shifted rapidly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effect is being felt across both owned and paid content channels. We’ve been closely tracking the changes in owned COVID-19 content production over the past few weeks, but in this report we’re going to focus on the paid content side of things.

When we say “paid content,” we mean content a brand pays to have appear on third-party websites, such as a news outlet. By distributing paid content, brands can reach a wider audience and drive brand awareness by aligning themselves with an organization readers already know and trust.

Following the latest trends in paid content production and themes can help your brand better approach their own paid content strategy and maximize ROI. For this report, we evaluated over 200 pieces of COVID-19 content created by 104 different brands and published by 28 different outlets during the month of April, as well as overall paid content production month-over-month. 

Here’s what we found.

Paid Content Production is Decreasing, But Paid COVID-19 Content is Skyrocketing

paid covid content

Once the pandemic became widespread in late February and early March, brands felt tone deaf talking about anything other than COVID-19. That’s why there’s been a 2000% increase in paid COVID-19 content while paid content production has decreased 36% overall.

The steepest drop off occurred between March and April, where there was a 22% reduction in paid content being published on third-party sites. While we expect to see a continued gradual increase in paid COVID-19 content throughout the rest of Q2, we expect that it will start to taper off at the beginning of Q3, as readers tire of reading about COVID-19.

We also expect overall paid content production to begin increasing again in the second half of 2020.

While Most Industries Decreased Paid Content Production, Tech Ramped Up

paid covid content

Tech is the only sector in which brands increased their paid content production from March to April. Every other sector either produced less paid content month-over-month, or remained the same.

So, why did tech increase output (from 329 pieces of paid content to 354)? We believe that, unlike other sectors, tech businesses had good reason to try and get their content in front of new audiences. 

There’s been a surge in tech utilization since the onset of this crisis, as companies move to operating remotely full-time and digital collaboration tools like Zoom, Slack, and DocuSign become vital for business continuity.

In response, technology businesses have been increasing sponsored content production to attract audiences who formerly didn’t have a need for their products or services. 

On the flipside, the retail and travel sectors sharply declined their paid content production. Travel, in particular, saw an 88% decrease in paid content production month-over-month. 

The reason seems obvious: COVID-19 has made travel nearly impossible. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to invest marketing dollars when travelers are not in a buying cycle.

Finance & Tech Are Producing the Most COVID-19 Paid Content

paid covid content

Our evaluation of 208 pieces of paid COVID-19 content published in April showed that brands in the Consulting/Finance/Tax sector and brands in the Tech sector produced the most paid content related to COVID-19.

We already touched on why tech is incentivized to create paid content during the pandemic. Consulting/Finance/Tax businesses have actually decreased paid content production overall, while still putting out a significant amount of paid COVID-19 content.

The reason, we believe, is that these types of businesses have important insight into how COVID-19 is impacting the country from an economic perspective. By sharing these insights via paid content, they can still effectively build their brand during a time when customers are looking for advice on what to do with their finances.

“As a bank, people are eager to hear from us because they’re worried about their money,” said Kristin Lemkau, CEO of US Wealth Management at JPMorgan Chase, during a recent Knotch webinar. “So content is very important for us to be able to talk to our customers, let them know what we think, and provide advice.” 

Business & Finance Publishers Put Out the Most Paid Content

Business Journals, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal published the most paid COVID-19 content over the month of April. There’s an obvious correlation here: Consulting/Finance/Tax businesses are producing content about COVID-19’s impact on the economy. Publications that focus on business and finance topics are an appropriate place to publish this type of content.

However, many business publications were exempt from this trend. Business Insider, CNBC, Global Finance, and Wealth Management were just some of the business-focused publications that put out barely any paid COVID-19 content. 

General news outlets like AL.com, AZ Central, NJ.com, the NY Daily News, the New York Times, Reuters, the Seattle Times, and the Washington Post also featured minimal paid COVID-19 content.

A Majority of Paid COVID-19 Content Was “Informational/Educational”

Here's a breakdown of the different COVID-19 content themes:

  • News & Updates: Crisis news related to the activities of the business.
  • Crisis Management: The steps the business is taking to manage the crisis internally and externally.
  • Community / Collaboration: Information on how the business and individuals can work together to overcome the crisis.
  • Impact Assessment: Assessing the impact the crisis has had on the industry the business operates in.
  • Philanthropy / Support: What the business is doing to aid in relief efforts.
  • Informational / Educational: General educational content about the crisis.
  • Operational Impact: How the crisis has impacted day-to-day operations.
  • Public Health & Safety: Information on how to protect your health and what the organization is doing to protect their customers’ health.
  • Employee Relations: Content directed at employees to help them navigate and understand how the organization is responding to the crisis.
  • Leadership: Guidance on how to lead during a time of crisis.

Informational/Educational content was the most prominent theme across all the paid COVID-19 content for the month of April. This is expected considering the content needs to be of use to a wide audience. Informational/Educational content has also been a popular theme for owned COVID-19 content.

However, brands are also producing a significant amount of paid COVID-19 content on Public Health & Safety. This is interesting, considering most brands aren’t talking about Public Health & Safety on their owned content channels.

This type of content is, appropriately, being produced by brands in the Pharmaceutical/Healthcare sector. Similar to Consulting/Finance/Tax brands, it makes sense for these businesses to create paid content, as they have important insights to share. You could go so far as to say Pharmaceutical/Healthcare brands have a responsibility to produce this type of content, so it’s good to see them rising to the occasion.

Deloitte Has Led the Paid COVID-19 Content Charge

paid covid content

Of the 18 brands that produced more than two pieces of paid COVID-19 content during the month of April, Deloitte had the largest share of voice (SOV), having published 19% of all paid COVID-19 content over that time span.

This aligns with our previous finding that Consulting/Finance/Tax brands are producing an exorbitant amount of paid COVID-19 content because they have unique insights to share.

Interestingly, food manufacturer Sabra had the second largest share of voice for paid COVID-19 content in April. They went in a unique direction with their paid content strategy, using the pandemic as an opportunity to promote content around recipes to try during quarantine.

This goes to show that even brands that don’t have proprietary information to share about COVID-19 can find creative ways to grow their audience during the crisis.

Spotlight: Deloitte

As previously mentioned, professional services firm Deloitte produced an outsized amount of paid COVID-19 content during the month of April. Deloitte published paid COVID-19 content in a variety of publications, including Business Journals, Harvard Business Review, and the Wall Street Journal, with the goal of attracting C-suite executives who read those publications.

In their content, Deloitte sought to provide advice to business leaders on what they need to do to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their business. They also put out future-state content about how COVID-19 will change the world over the next few years. 

Deloitte’s paid content strategy mirrors their owned content strategy, where they’re also producing a ton of content around crisis management, impact assessment, and future of work.

Taken together, Deloitte is using content to further establish itself as an authority during a time when consumers need leadership.

“As a thought leader in professional services, we think it is important to provide meaningful insights to help communities and business executives respond to, recover from, and thrive following this unprecedented business and societal disruption,” says John Keller, a managing director at Deloitte.

Key Takeaways

What can marketers learn from paid COVID-19 content produced during April? Here are our key takeaways:

  • If brands invest in producing paid content, they will primarily focus on topics related to COVID-19. We see this trend continuing throughout Q2.
  • Brands are only producing paid COVID-19 content if they feel they have unique insights or good advice pertaining to the crisis. Creating paid COVID-19 content when you don’t have timely information to share could be perceived as tone deaf or opportunistic.
  • A lot of paid COVID-19 content is coming from brands in the tech and finance sectors. Because of this, publishers who cover those industries are putting out the most paid COVID-19 content.
  • Informational/Educational content and Public Health & Safety content are popular topics to focus on for paid COVID-19 content because they appeal to a broad audience.

Click here to download the full report.