As the holidays approach, this odd year is reaching a crescendo. Many experts thought we might be out of the woods by now. Instead, the scientists are proving to be correct – the nasty “second wave” is crueler than what we endured last spring. And its timing is extraordinarily bad – as we hurl headlong into the holiday season.
Normally, this is the time of year when we take off all those vacation days, do some traveling, spend time with family and others we don't get to see during the year, and unwind a bit.
As we now know, 2020, is a whole other thing – an anomaly.
We're about to see whether the CDC's ill-timed recent warning not to travel this week will resonate. Our most recent COVID survey wave, conducted last month, indicates the majority of Americans won't be on the road over the holidays. And of those who will venture out, many of these journeys will be closer to home – by car, in fact.
We blogged about this new travel phenomenon earlier this month in a post called “Road Trip (Radio's Changing Holiday Season).” While I expect the airports will still be busy as Americans venture out in spite of the warnings, this season's travel will pale in comparison to what we're accustomed to seeing this time of year.
And consequently, many of us will spend Thanksgiving (and the December holidays) out of our usual comfort zones. The usual groupings will be disrupted. Worse, many will “celebrate” the holidays alone.
The holidays are always a hyper-emotional time every year. But 2020 will put all of the usual feelings into hyper-drive.
This year, it is less about whether you're playing the best-testing holiday songs or how your patchwork vacation schedule comes together. It will be more about the way your station connects with an increasingly tired, dejected, and depressed audience.
There are things local radio stations can do to ease the pain, and more importantly, bring joy into the lives of listeners. But it will require looking at the holidays through a different lens this year.
I'm fortunate – I've talked to more than 100 “real people” during Zoom focus groups I've conducted all over the country during the past several months.
Yes, tracking their Nielsen data is of value. But actually listening to how their lives – and their families' – have been disrupted by the year that seemingly won't end gives you a greater sense of empathy and understanding.
Emotions are running hot. People are hurting. It will likely intensify the closer we get to the end of the year.
Sometimes the simplest of messages – even in a push notification – can make all the difference in how someone feels today – and throughout this season.
These holidays will indeed have a very different feel than any other season we've experienced in our entire lives. How can your station and your personalities be there for them when they need it most? What can your station contribute to your audience they simply cannot get anywhere else?
1. What are they missing most? This one's not rocket science. Depending on your audience, chances are good you know the answers.
Many music fans will tell you they miss going to concerts and shows. Sports fans may enjoying talking about the games, but most would rather be tailgating and in the grandstands and arenas enjoying a cold one and cheering their hometown teams to victory.
Others miss travel, and even the simple pleasures of going to restaurants and coffee shops. And of course, many miss being with others – friends, children, parents – you name it.
Your station can't fix things, but it can help fill in the blanks. A concert weekend or even one of those “faux festivals” we've talked about these past several months is one tactic.
And depending on your contacts, you might be able to arrange for an artist to do a Zoom “meet & greet” with your audience. Or pull off a similar event a favorite sports personality, standup comics, or local celebrities, many of whom will be thrilled to connect with real people.
No, it's the not the same as the real thing. But the fact you're trying to meet their needs during this challenging time of the year will be appreciated.
2. Talk to them. Better yet, listen to them. You're going to be broadcasting to many dispirited people, and more than a few who will be alone for much of the holidays. Venting on social media only gets you so far. This is when radio's role as a companion comes into play. Those studio lines may be more important than ever.
Your emotional intelligence is more important than ever. Give out the phone number, welcome calls, and play back short segments that reflect the emotion of the moment. Your audience won't get this kind of “eye contact” on Spotify, SiriusXM, their favorite podcasts, or anywhere else.
3. Partner with a crisis line. On that same note, there are local organizations that specialize in talking to those who need help and counseling. The remaining weeks of the year are the perfect time to connect with one of these groups to help your audience during a time when they need it most.
4. Support a local food bank. It's hard to decide which lines are longer: those for COVID testing or those waiting for their next meal. With support from D.C. very questionable, there may not be any meaningful assistance for the needy in the near future. Local food banks provide an even more important service this year and they need support.
Decades ago when I was programming WRIF in Detroit, we created a “Cans For Jams” promotion with the Capuchin Soup Kitchen and Father Lloyd Thiel, formed during the Great Depression in 1929. In exchange for canned food, we gave away discount coupons for record albums from a local music chain.
I continue to support the Capuchins every year, and urge you to get behind the food banks in your local community. They send the right message this holiday season about helping the most vulnerable in your community.
5. Help hometown businesses. These types of initiatives got off to a great start during the early weeks of the lockdown, but most have languished over the months. Initially, many radio stations were especially supportive of local restaurants, concert venues, and other businesses in need.
Nothing's changed. In fact for many local enterprises, the hurt is more acute with another round of PPP assistance nowhere in sight.
The third wave of our COVID study conducted last month showed a strong intention to support local businesses this year. This coming weekend, it's American Express' “Small Business Saturday.” Their slogan? “Share Joy – Shop Small.”
Your team can also provide your own level of support to local companies. Our app company, jacapps, also has solutions that can be implemented in advance of the holidays.
6. Use your personalities. If they are part of your brand architecture, this is the time of year to make sure they're exuding the right sentiments, and making those memorable connections.
Greetings from the airstaff that communicate a sense of empathy and community will be especially important throughout the remaining weeks of the year, as we move from Thanksgiving to the shopping season, the December holidays, and of course, the New Year.
The right tone will be essential. Kim Kardashian has been trashed lately on Twitter for posting photos of a lavish island getaway with family and friends celebrating her 40th birthday. While she professed to be humble and thankful, the photos suggested otherwise, eliciting a social backlash.
It's essential that if any members of your staff are planning on big celebrations, travel, and/or expensive gifts, make sure they shy away from discussing that on the air.
7. Contesting should be on-message. The venerable Christmas Wish still resonates. And “Pay It Forward” and/or “Random Acts of Kindness” initiatives will likely strike a responsive chord or two this season.
There's a tendency to lean on cash through the “holiday bonus” or “pay your bills” lens. This year figures to be a little different, and your contests and promotions should reflect that.
The ways in which your giveaways communicate the spirit of the season have never been more important. Spend time crafting messages that connect with the emotions of your audience this time of year.
8. Home decoration promises to be epic. Especially with travel being diminished and free time to spare, many people will continue to turn inward toward their “safe spots” – their homes, apartments, and condos.
In our latest COVID study, seven in ten respondents told us they're planning on seasonally decorating their homes this year. A look around my neighborhood suggests people started early.
There is great potential for drive-by contests, web videos, and other ways to celebrate elaborate home decorations.
9. Promote your apps and smart speakers. One thing that will be a constant once again this year is the glut of smartphones and smart speakers that will end up under many trees and bushes.
Every year, we see lots of action for downloading apps and experimenting with Alexa or Google commands. On-air promotion that reflects your presence on these devices will help your station capture this moment.
10. Find the joy. Don't forget about your team. They've been through a lot this year. And the on-air folks are tasked with the burden of putting a happy face on a challenging situation, especially this time of year. Just like everyone else, many of them are personally or professionally going through trying times when the mic's not on. They've served the industry especially well these past many months. And they deserve a holiday celebration and a break as well.
This season has sadly become even more stressful for many in radio, thanks in no small part to layoffs and staff reductions that now coincide with these emotional holidays. It may sound hopelessly “old school,” but there was a day when these sad events simply did not happen at this time of year.
They are radio's “essential workers” – the folks who have kept stations on the air from Day One of the pandemic, often broadcasting from home under less-than-optimal circumstances. Chances are, they haven't had a paid sales appearance in months, and some have taken temporary salary cuts due to a lack of sales and revenue at the station or company level.
Perhaps this season, broadcasters will find a way to reduce – or eliminate – those tough HR meetings and “sorry” phone calls that have become all too common in November and December each year.
All of us at Jacobs Media wish you a peaceful, happy holiday weekend and a wonderful Thanksgiving. Thanks for reading our blog.