A Letter From Our CEO to Our Community: How We’re Weathering COVID-19 Storm

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It’s been four months since it started.

So much is going on in the world, so much is going on in our world.

Today, I’m going to write about three things⁠—how our people are doing, how our industry and business are doing, and what we’re doing to weather the COVID-19 storm and support those who’ve been affected.

30-minute meetings, being invited to our clients’ homes and a whole new data-driven approach to running our business

We are very fortunate that very few people at Taboola got sick with COVID-19. Those that did were in our thoughts at all times, and we supported them in any way we could while they were unwell.

Almost overnight, we transitioned 1,500 employees in 18 countries around the globe to a work-from-home environment. Much like many others reading this post, this means taking calls with a kid on your lap, cooking at home for every meal, hopping from one video call to another, blending home with work like never before, and being virtually invited to all of your clients’ homes for meetings for the first time.

We quickly embraced work-life flexibility, implemented new team routines, adjusted our work hours for those that needed it, and learned to stay connected from behind the screen.

We’ve also been creative with how we use our time. For example, we pivotted our office managers and recruitment teams to support efforts related to our partner’s success and generate leads as we rolled back hiring and closed our offices.

We used data to navigate our business through the initial uncertainty, and are still continuing to do so. We created daily reports in each market to keep our fingers on the pulse of how advertiser spend is changing. We are looking for vulnerabilities around categories that thrive now, but may not thrive after the global pandemic has ended. As pageviews and readership changed so much, some content drove higher revenue and some drove lower revenue. From it all, we came up with a new metric that calculates the “true revenue performance” of our company across the web.

We measured productivity, and learned a lot about ourselves. For example, we can’t travel, but we can arrange meetings with people around the world much more easily, and at a higher frequency.

We’ve also noticed that while it was hard to take meetings with some people on video before COVID-19, when everyone is on video, it works.

We developed a whole new data-driven way of operating our business during these times to allow us to act fast as things change fast. Here is an example how we measured our productivity before and after

You Know You’re In An Advertising Recession When—Rates Are Down

There are many ways to explain what COVID-19 did to various industries, but in the advertising industry, it all comes down to rates categorically going down.

Brand advertising rates decreased dramatically, whereas performance advertising rates decreased less, and overall average rates went down. That is the proxy—the trends around global rates and market rates show us whether or not we’re still in a recession, if we are trending out of it, or if it’s getting worse.

On March 15th, we saw an immediate decrease in global rates of 17.5% which was the sharpest change we’ve ever seen in running Taboola over a decade. Some of the big banks modeled five quarters of rates projected to be below pre-Covid-19 rates (recession), and a five quarter recovery.

At first, we also saw web traffic increase by 20%—people were home, people were curious and wanted to learn as much as possible about the situation. That has regressed and was back to normal by April.

We saw public companies withdrawing guidance, nobody knew what was going on, and being public during these times means sharing this uncertainty with the investor community.

Steps We’ve Taken to Ensure Our Business Pushes Through

All of us at Taboola, no matter where we are in the world, have our sights squarely focused on the success of our partners. Our goal is to come out of this recession as a thriving, client-focused and supportive partner to all who work with us.

To do so, we’ve made some decisions to adapt quickly and effectively:

  • Internal cost saving. Like many companies, we’ve had to freeze all non-business-critical hiring, ground employees, close our offices, slash discretionary spending of almost all types (such as discretionary bonuses) and roll back marketing spend.
  • Adapting publisher partnerships. We’ve had to ask our publisher partners to work with us through these challenging times by temporarily switching from a revenue guarantee to shared revenue.

We’re not just playing defense, we’re playing offense, and doing everything in our power to make sure our partners are successful.

  • We’re using data to surface present and future opportunities for our advertisers. We’re regularly sharing data with advertisers that shows what people are interested in, and pinpointing new opportunities “born” from COVID-19. I also wrote about it on CNBC.

  • Creative shop. We’re providing free creative services to our advertisers who are looking for assistance with images, headlines and videos.
  • Taboola Trends. Trends.taboola.com exists to bring free insights to advertisers in real-time, so they’re never behind the times.
  • Discounts. For managed service clients, we’re providing a 30% discount on any video campaign with a corporate socially responsible message through the end of this month.

This is just the beginning—we will continue to find new ways to help all of our partners to be successful.

How We Give Back To The Community

In addition to those business-driven initiatives, we’ve done what we can to give back to our community.

  • COVID-19 news feed. In partnership with some of the world’s top OEMs and carriers, we’ve aggregated COVID-19-related news from the world’s premium publishers, bringing information from trusted sources to the fingertips of device users.
  • COVID-19 news trends. We’ve opened readership trends related to COVID-19 to the public, so publishers, advertisers and readers alike can see the trends shaping the news in their respective countries.
  • Outsourced engineering resources. We committed some of our engineer’s time to the production of a new app called The Shield, or HaMagen, in partnership with Israel’s Ministry of Health. This new app currently in use in Israel can instantly tell users if they have crossed paths with someone known to have been infected with the coronavirus.
  • Publisher Partner Coalition. We’re participating in Digiday’s initiative to support publishers who have seen their business models upended by the coronavirus.

On a Personal Note

While the world feels emotionally exhausting, I also think there are silver linings. How often do we all really get to not only work from home (WFH), but just “be home,” and get so much quality time with our family?

When I reflect on this, I ask myself, “what can I do now that I could not have done before?” and I feel even more appreciative of the little things—like learning how to cook new meals for my family, having coffee and walk breaks with my wife every day, taking breaks to build LEGO sets with my son, Ozzy, or being able to to give my newborn, Ellie a bath after we ‘play’ the piano a bit 🙂 and put her to bed every night.

The world will eventually come back to its norm, and while this period is weird and challenging, I will miss many of these moments.

What the Future Holds

These are weird times, and every day feels unexpected with new hurdles around every bend. But I’m optimistic, the team is optimistic, and we feel productive.

It’s up to us to take steps not only to ensure we survive, but come out of this a stronger partner tomorrow than we were yesterday.

I can tell you, we’re even more excited about the potential to become one with Outbrain, as in times like these, we think we’d be an even stronger partner together for our community, supporting journalism, the open web and advertisers of all sizes.

I spoke about our win-win approach and culture when I reflected on 2019, and I’m convinced it’s a huge part of what makes us different. We only grow as a company if our partners grow. Our partnerships are forever woven into our fabric, and as we work to support our employees and their families, our partners and our clients, we believe we will come out of this recession stronger than ever, ready to pursue our mission of supporting journalism and becoming a great advertising alternative to Google, Facebook and Amazon.

Stay well all, take care of yourselves and families—this will eventually end.

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