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How Canada’s Globe and Mail handled distribution issues during COVID-19

2020-11-17. One of the main challenges for newspapers during the COVID-19 crisis was logistics and distribution. With travel restrictions in place and staff not turning up for work, the last mile delivery system of several dailies was affected. However, in no time, publishers rose to the situation and brought in place measures to address the challenges. Similar was the case at Globe and Mail, Canada.

by Elizabeth Shilpa elizabeth.shilpa@wan-ifra.org | November 17, 2020

The publisher faced access issues with buildings and condos to deliver the newspaper.  “There were hundreds of unique building locations with restrictions as a result of COVID-19. Of those unique buildings who restricted access there were approximately 1600 subscribers affected,” said Vito Petrucci, Manager, National distribution and logistics at Globe and Mail. He was speaking at the World Printers Summit 2020 by WAN-IFRA. “Corporate accounts, lounges, airports and retailers were severely impacted as a result of no travelling and working from home,” he added. 

However, newspapers being declared as an essential service by the government helped a great deal.

One of the main focus areas of the publisher was how to keep the staff, distributors, vendors, truckers, carriers and customers safe. Customers and carriers were allowed to alter delivery instructions for safety reasons, use of plastic bags to wrap newspapers was discouraged.

The daily enforced strict site protocols, encouraged physical distancing, use of protective gear and frequent handwashing. Any staff who experienced some sort of illness was advised to stay home and self isolate. Each vendor was asked to document key information about anyone who showed symptoms outlined by Health Canada and to report to the head office immediately. This helped tremendously with contact tracing. 

Contingency plans were in place and there were scenarios at the root level and district level. In most cases, neighbouring carriers or independent contracts came forward willing to help.

The fear factor

Another challenge during the period was misidentified cases. The publisher had to deal with a number of independent newspaper carriers who thought they had the disease because they had COVID like symptoms. There wasn’t much to be done during such instances other than to ask the carriers to isolate and monitor themselves. 

The newspaper carriers weren’t the only ones scared though. The company noticed an increase in the suspension of subscriptions specifically from multi-dwelling units and long term care homes. Despite the World Health Organisation (WHO) clearing the air and declaring that newspapers were not virus carriers, people continued to be scared to touch the physical product.

“We continue to inform customers regarding the steps taken to ensure that product is delivered safely as per the guidelines outlined by Health Canada and Public Health,” said Petrucci.

Silver Linings

However, it wasn’t all that bad. The lockdown did bring in some positive outcomes too. For instance, the company noticed that their home delivery subscriptions went up specifically on Saturdays. The subscribers not travelling due to the lockdown was the reason. 

“Down routes and routes without assigned (newspaper)carriers practically went away. Decrease in gas prices helped carriers with their net pay,” said Petrucci.

With activities related to sports, arts and travel coming to a grinding halt, it meant that newspaper sections which covered these too had to be halted. At Globe and Mail, the Saturday edition used to come with several sections on such lighter content. 

“Because of lockdown there was no sports, arts, entertainment or travel to write about on Saturdays which in turn led us to combine sections eliminating our pre-packs,” said Petrucci. Pre-packs are sections printed earlier in the week and assembled into the main section in the field by carriers. Now that pre-packs were gone, it eliminated approximately 30 minutes in preparation time per carrier depending on the route size. 

Another significant difference was the change in customer expectations. Many of them were now working from home and came across as more forgiving in the event of late deliveries or were willing to accept lobby drops instead of front door delivery. The end result was improved overall service levels, notes Petrucci.

He added, “We still continue to encourage physical distancing, mask-wearing, and frequent hand washing. We continue to listen to the experts and rely on Health Canada and Public Health guidelines. We continue to communicate with our partners frequently. And we continue to learn to live with COVID-19.”