Styling for Recovery: Bobit Business Media Brands Step Up to Support Salon Professionals
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many marketers gradually observed its impact on their industries, but others felt it the moment their businesses shut their doors to the public.
The latter is true for salon owners, hair stylists, and other professionals in the beauty industry whose livelihoods revolve around providing an in-person client experience. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders across the U.S. halted appointments and walk-in visits, leaving salon and beauty professionals scrambling to figure out how to handle the situation.
That’s where Bobit Business Media came into play. The media company, which has several publication divisions, is home to a Professional Salon Group, focused on beauty, health, and wellness coverage.
“Our audience members are key in the small- and mid-size business genre, so they’ve been affected just as much as restaurants and other service providers out there,” says Brian O’Rourke, president of the Beauty, Health & Wellness division at Bobit. “We knew that it was important that we got out as much information as we could to serve them.”
The media brands in O’Rourke’s division include MODERN Salon, Salon Today, and NAILS. MODERN Salon provides training for hairstylists, while Salon Today serves business and technology best practices to salon owners and managers. Digital-only brand NAILS is dedicated to nail technicians. With an audience universe of several million, O’Rourke and his editorial team knew their support during this time was crucial.
Recognizing how badly the beauty industry was going to be hit by COVID-19, each of these brand teams worked swiftly to compile resources, organize webinars, and produce content addressing their audiences’ emerging challenges. Not only did these actions keep Bobit top of mind as a trusted source for its audiences, but they allowed the media company to deepen its partnerships with brands and associations in the beauty industry.
COVID-19 Education, Virtual-Style
Most salon and beauty professionals attend a variety of in-person workshops and skill-sharing events over the course of the year. But with the pandemic, education had to shift to a virtual setting. O’Rourke says his teams immediately developed webinars to address the crisis for their audiences.
“We saw that business owners were going to be the first group affected by business closings, so we targeted the owner/management audience of Salon Today first,” explains O’Rourke. “We were able to plan, organize, and launch the first [webinar] on Mar.18.”
Titled, “Preparing Your Business to Weather the COVID-19 Crisis,” the team went from idea to launch in three days. Salon Today’s Director of Brand Content Strategy, Stacey Soble used her personal Rolodex to connect with those who wanted to help provide important information to Bobit’s audiences, and netted International Salon/Spa Business Network (ISBN) to participate in the first virtual event.
“For Salon Today, we wanted to get information out to the salon owners and managers for what to do in terms of helping their stylists if they had to furlough them or lay them off,” O’Rourke says. “There’s devastating stories about people having to lay off their entire staffs just so they can apply for unemployment and can feed themselves and their families during this time.”
Two days later, the MODERN Salon team launched its first webinar for the stylist/technician audience — many of whom would be facing furlough or unemployment. Titled “Stylists and COVID-19: How to Keep Informed, Focused, & Moving Forward,” the webinar attracted more than 4,000 registrants, not including on-demand registrants after the March 20 live date.
The content focused on similarly relevant information as the Salon Today program, but also highlighted mental wellbeing and how stylists could use their downtime to sharpen their skillset while they’re unable to engage with clients.
Just as the Salon Today team sought out a content partner for its webinar, the MODERN Salon team engaged the Professional Beauty Association (PBA) to support its event. Ulta Beauty, a retail and e-commerce beauty chain that has a number of in-store salons, signed on to underwrite the first MODERN Salon webinar, as well as many others that have followed.
“Ulta has been a wonderful client/partner of ours for years now,” states O’Rourke. “Their commitment to underwrite these webinars not only helped us call on more internal corporate resources to put on the webinars in a timely fashion, but they also provided us with welcome revenue when our own in-person events have been postponed and some clients have shifted their marketing spend to later in the year, when salons can legally reopen.”
And while the underwriting support has certainly helped, O’Rourke shares that Bobit would have worked on the webinar program regardless.
Following the success of the first two webinars, Bobit has been launching webinars almost weekly, covering topics ranging from sanitation to how salons can prepare to reopen business. Though the webinar portals do innately rely on registration, O’Rourke stresses that none of these initiatives are for the sake of lead or revenue generation.
“Because my editorial team is so close to the industry and because this industry is so familial and communal, we have not charged for attendance to any of these webinars,” he says. “We just want to make sure that the information is out there to the industry to support them because it’s critical. If these people’s businesses don’t survive, we lose audience members.”
Getting the Message Out
While O’Rourke’s teams worked quickly to launch the webinars in a matter of days, it was also crucial for them to drive awareness and message their audiences about these valuable e-learning tools.
“We marketed [the webinars] primarily through email to our audience members, as well as those of our association partners,” says O’Rourke. “In addition, we created brief video commercials for the first time, promoting registration links on Instagram stories and Facebook, where we have our biggest social media followings.”
Pre-pandemic, webinars may have attracted 500-800 registrations at most per virtual event; but these webinars saw registration increase between eight to 12 times that number. Why the massive jump? O’Rourke explains the two key reasons:
- Bobit Media ensured each webinar focused specifically on the most pressing industry issues; and
- Bobit’s audiences, and the beauty industry as a whole, were more readily available to take time out of their days for consuming webinar content, due to COVID-19 closures.
If you can’t be working directly with your client, be it at a hair or nail salon, there is definite value in investing your time in skillbuilding.
Creating a Hub for Critical Content
In addition to hosting webinars, Bobit’s salon media brands created COVID-19 resource centers on their websites, including governmental agency links and PDF documents.
“So an example for Salon Today: We launched a PDF sample letter to send to your landlord to try to ask for some type of forbearance or leeway on rent during times like this,” O’Rourke says. “Not just high-level content, but also some practical tools that they can use."
The teams then worked to make the content within those resource centers more interactive, as well as downloadable. Using the Ceros experiential content creation platform, O’Rourke’s team built a resource center hub with content that is cross-promoted across the three primary brands, using channels such as house display ads, social media posts, and emails to their audiences.
While download data is still forthcoming and April aggregate data is still being compiled, O’Rourke shares that the content on the hub has netted upwards of a 75% increase in page views on some of the days that were sampled. Just as the webinars have illustrated high levels of registration and attendance, the overall engagement with the resource centers and informational content has been high, and site traffic has increased.
The brands are also shifting editorial coverage to suit current needs. Salon Today adjusted its editorial strategy to produce more articles about marketing, financial planning, crisis management, and public relations – all topics that readers are actively seeking right now. Meanwhile, MODERN Salon is focusing heavily on educational content for beauty professionals.
“When you’ve got someone who is a salon owner or a hairstylist, they’re going crazy right now at home because they are hands-on people,” O’Rourke says. “We have people practicing on mannequins, on their family members, trying to stay active. When you don’t have the public to work with there’s not a lot you can do … so they’re looking at a lot of technique videos, articles, and things like that.”
To provide reassurance to readers — especially Millennials and Gen Z hairstylists going through their first major financial crisis — O’Rourke also recorded a video address to the beauty industry acknowledging MODERN Salon’s history and perseverance through tough times.
“Six years after the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic our brand was launched, and it’s weathered the Great Depression and World War II,” O’Rourke says. “You know, if our brand made it through things like that there’s no doubt we’re going to make it through something like this.”
Agility Pays Off
Like most marketers and publishers, O’Rourke says Bobit felt “a bit of squeeze” as the events side of the business took some of the biggest hits due to postponements once shelter-at-home orders began to spread across the country. But as of early May, he was happy to share that his group had recently inverted the revenue curve since the start of the pandemic.
“We (just as almost every media organization has) saw an initial squeeze with marketing spending pauses and postponements. But now my group is increasing revenue week after week as we create valuable content that our clients/partners want to underwrite, as well as going after new advertising categories that people are now paying more attention to,” states O’Rourke.
Regarding advertising within the brands, his division also has not experienced a dramatic drop. Overall, partners are sticking with the salon media brands and maintaining their messaging in the hopes that when salons reopen, they can resume selling products and services as usual.
“This year will definitely be a financial marathon vs. a sprint, and getting salons back open across the country — with people working in safe, healthy, and sanitary conditions as soon as possible — will be the key to recovery for the salon industry.
“As we all start to get back to our ‘new’ normal, I think the first two things that almost all of us want to do is get a haircut and go to a restaurant,” he says. “So, I am very optimistic that the salon industry is going to skyrocket back. While November and December are typically the busiest time for our industry, I foresee salons having to be open on additional days, and for extended hours, for the entire second half of the year in order to meet client demand, as well as make up for lost revenue from this crisis.”
Working Together to Recover and Rebuild
For now, as all industries continue to navigate the environment of COVID-19, O’Rourke believes it’s most important for his editorial teams — and any marketer — to serve their audiences with the information they need to get through this pandemic, both personally and professionally.
“Editors and B2B media brands are so trusted on a daily basis by their audiences that this is really an opportunity to step up,” he says. “I’ve been so proud to see other brands take down their paywalls during times like this for mission-critical information. This will be the true test of what brands come out of this with further affinity from their audiences based on how they handled it.”
As of early May, O’Rourke said Bobit will not only continue to roll out new content and product offerings for its audiences, but his division will take some of its own advice, as well, using this time to focus on self-improvement within the business: “Projects that may have once been sidelined have been moved up in priority and we’re more driven than ever before to come out of this better and stronger.”