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This Is the Time to Make Connections

Thoughts about local radio advertising during this or any business crisis

Click on the graphic for a larger version.
A Nielsen study done as the coronavirus crisis was escalating in March found that 83% of consumers said they were listening to as much or more radio as they were before 
the pandemic.
Credit: The Nielsen Co.

Should brands stop advertising during a pandemic? Can they afford not to?

One thing I’ve been wondering is how consumers have been feeling about advertising nowadays, with so many folks out of work, anxious about the future and suspicious or judgmental about a retailer’s motives.

I headed to one of my go-to sources for marketing trends, eMarketer. For the uninitiated, eMarketer is a subscription-based service that aggregates research studies and presents its own take concerning trends.

In this case, eMarketer concluded that consumers didn’t feel that brands should stop advertising during the pandemic. It stated that while “consumers don’t expect brands to abandon advertising, brands should rethink their strategies. Campaigns that were planned pre-pandemic may no longer be appropriate as consumers clamor for information about how the crisis is being handled and how they can stay safe. That includes information about how brands are responding to COVID-19.”

It doesn’t take a research project to know that more people than ever were spending time watching television this spring; just look at Netflix’s growth numbers. But what about listening to radio?

Radio is at its best when there’s trouble, supplying vital information and entertainment.
— Radio Advertising Bureau

According to Nielsen, which researched the question in late March, eight in 10 people said they were spending the same or more time listening to radio as a result of circumstances surrounding the pandemic. “Sixty percent of American adults 18 and older hold radio in high regard and trust it to deliver timely information about the current COVID-19 outbreak.”

Or, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau, “Radio is at its best when there’s trouble, supplying vital information and entertainment.”

Mindset of Support
Practically speaking, where does this leave local radio, for this crisis or the next one? The glass is most definitely half-full.

Listenership is healthy. Radio advertising still produces results and radio can make all the difference in delivering important local information and entertainment.

While there is no question that advertising will be soft until normalization, there are things to be done now that will benefit both your station and your business community.

Begin with the mindset of supporting your loyal clients and consider approaching the challenge differently than ever before.

During the Great Depression, my grandmother, who operated a clothing store in a small industrial Pennsylvania town, gave her customers credit when times were hard. Now, as opportunities to open retail expand, many businesses will be struggling to regain footing or even to survive. Your willingness to offer advertising credit for a few months could make a significant difference in generating revenue for local retail.

Perhaps you could take one or two days of the week on which you air advertising “on credit” — say, a Sunday/Monday. First, as can be typical, some of the spots would be bonus ads for your best clients. Then, you would air a limited number of units-on-credit — in effect maximizing inventory on your bonus/credit days — for clients who will defer payment for 60 days. You can rotate these clients weekly for equitable distribution.

Could you consider scheduling a limited number of “on credit” remote broadcasts? Perhaps the retailer could compensate the talent with goods/trade, or the “remote” could simply be a phoner with one of your DJs interviewing that business owner about what’s going on with their store or chain. Or you might creatively put several businesses together in a 30-second commercial that focuses on a campaign strategy, such as “Minneapolis Strong: We’re In This Together.”

Another approach might be to shift your attention more toward clients in the service and other industries, who are not reliant on foot traffic. Could you get set up to text coupons or special offers that are promoted on-air? Is there anything you can do to feature businesses that are reopening by using your social platforms or websites?

Naturally, the content of the advertising must reflect the current situation, so you must ensure that copy suitably addresses such topics as social distancing, safety, delivery, special hours of operation and other directives that are unique to the client.

Who Had Their Back?
Working from my dining room table, it’s easy for me to suggest a shift in sales strategy and to be generous with your advertising units. I’m aware that owners and groups will be concerned about setting precedents. However, this time will pass and when that happens, strong relationships will surely drive success.

These are unprecedented times. Perhaps your team developed better ideas than my suggestions. I highly encourage serious discussion about how your station can help stimulate the local economy without destroying your own business, now or in the next business crisis. Letting staff go and totally automating is certainly the most direct approach in cutting expenses, but it does nothing to set stations up for the future. It breaks my heart that some will have no choice.

I will say that my grandmother’s customers never forgot her generosity. Even when larger, name-brand stores with lower prices opened to compete against her, she never lost her loyal customer base. She made a solid community connection, the goal of radio stations everywhere. Especially nowadays.

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