March 9, 2020
I was on the road last week, mostly in Los Angeles. While I was there, news of the outbreak became very public, prompting governmental authorities to proclaim a state of emergency. It didn’t take long before every grocery, market, and pharmacy ran out of toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer, and bottled water. You may very well be experiencing a similar situation in your local market or area.
While direction from Washington, D.C. may be contradicting at times, many local and state governments and hospitals are in full preparation stage. Radio stations and their companies should be preparing, too. Of course, we hope for the best, but urge you to prepare for the worst.
We are seeing conferences being cancelled, as well as major companies telling their thousands of employees to put their travel plans “on hold.” In many companies, employees are being encouraged to work out of their homes, if possible. We instituted a similar policy for jācapps – our mobile development company – last week. And our consultants are now working out of their homes as well.
(Of course, we are still doing market visits until you tell us you don’t want us to come in.)
Running radio stations is a very different animal, and because each company has its own policies, we will leave operational matters to them. Of course, if anyone on the corporate level wishes to discuss planning and logistics, we are here to help.
This advisory is more focused on your communications with your audience, your advertisers, and your communities.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize there may be periods – perhaps even lengthy ones – where listeners may be homebound, schools and businesses closed, and other “normal” services suspended. It is not hard to imagine they will be limiting their travel, errands, and other unnecessary trips locally.
Few of us take very well to being cooped up at home. We’re mobile in every sense of the word. But necessity may dictate increased hours at home, leaving many people looking for something to do to entertain and inform themselves.
Logic dictates that video streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) will be very busy as consumers look to watch movies, documentaries, and stream series that perhaps they hadn’t gotten around to watching because of time constraints. But that may change now, and we may see people binging even more often on streaming video content.
Radio has an important role to play in this crisis. If you have been a Techsurvey stakeholder in the past, you've no doubt heard me talk about the “emotional” reasons why consumers listen to our stations – companionship, mood elevation, escape, comfort. They may gravitate to radio for all these reasons – above and beyond hearing their favorite personalities and great music.
Given how much broadcast radio listening now takes place in the car – rather than at home or in the workplace – many radio stations should consider a series of promos, website messages, social posts, and videos that clearly explain how to easily access the station’s stream – where, when, and on which devices.
A growing percentage of core broadcast radio listeners do not have a working AM and/or FM radio in their homes (or ones they use). Some of these people utilize station streams, but many others now confine most of their radio listening to the car. So, if a growing percentage of your audience is staying at home, quarantined, or waiting for their workplaces to normalize, a strategy to continue to engage them where they live (and work) just makes sense.
Our new Techsurvey (which we’re delivering to stakeholders two weeks from tomorrow) will reveal that one-third of core radio listeners own a smart speaker of one kind or another – a nice increase from last year. Of course, this varies by listener – age, gender, and format all come into play. As we have long posited, these devices provide the equivalent of having a radio at home. And instead of having to get up, walk across the room, and tune in a station, a simple “Hey, Google” or “Alexa” command works for most radio stations.
Yet, our research also shows that many owners of these devices are unaware they have the ability to stream your radio station. Chances are, they use their Alexa or Google Home to access the weather and their music playlist service. But many don’t know they can seamlessly listen to broadcast radio.
Similarly, we find that even stations that purchased mobile apps or use their company’s “umbrella app” haven’t always clearly communicated their existence, availability, and functions.
To improve your “location listening,” especially if people will be home a lot more in the coming days, weeks, or months, we recommend the following:
1. Test drive your stream.
Work with your IT/engineering staff to make sure it’s working as well as possible. I monitor a ton of station streams, and I can tell you many are simply sub-standard – especially around breaks. They clip, cut off songs, commercials, or breaks. And then there are the breaks – often loaded with annoying filler (repetitive PSAs, lame content, dead air) because there’s so much unsold inventory. People cannot listen to your stream for long – no matter how much they love your morning show or play your contests. It is time to address streaming issues, and fix them.
2. Consider TLR reporting until this coronavirus situation settles down or passes.
A simulcast will ensure a consistent sound with your broadcast product. And you might see your ratings bump up, too. And you can always break your channels apart when the situation calms down.
3. Make sure your app is working properly, its functionality, its ads, etc.
Consumers are increasingly picky about apps on their phones. They either work or they don’t. And in the latter, they’ll stop using the app or delete it altogether if it doesn’t function up to expectations. If your company makes use of an aggregated app, make sure your audience knows how to find your station and lock it in.
4. Have you done your Alexa and Google Home homework?
As noted above, these devices are rapidly making their way into homes. Techsurvey 2020 has a new series of questions about which rooms in the home people place these gadgets, along with other data that can help you and your staff better understand how consumers can discover and consume your station with a seamless shout to either Alexa or Google. But make sure you know which commands work and on which devices. Some of you have developed “skills.” Others rely on consumers using your call letters. You need to determine use protocols on each platform, and inform your audience accordingly.
NPR, in particular, now reports significant portions of stream users are accessing public radio stations via these devices. As regular radios disappear from homes, apartments, condos, dorm rooms, and military headquarters, smart speakers are a great solution – if stations do their due diligence and ensure their streams are easily discoverable.
5. Set aside one day a week to monitor your station’s stream on all devices and platforms – the website, the app, smart speakers, etc.
Assign other staffers to do the same. If you are not providing a quality streaming experience on all these different channels, you could be severely hurt by changing usage patterns a crisis of this magnitude can create.
6. Teach the audience how to discover and access your station.
Produce short videos with your talent with less focus on creativity and humor, and a greater emphasis on utility and comprehension. You want consumers to be able to watch short tutorial videos, and immediately put these instructions into practice. This includes a tutorial that covers all your channels, as well as short primers for each digital channel.
7. Consider regular updates.
Depending on whether there are local market issues involving COVID-19, you might consider hourly updates (:60 or less), locked down to a specific time per hour (19 past makes sense and would be memorable). If there’s a news station in the building, it likely makes sense to coordinate with them. Otherwise, consider partnering with a local TV station, a newspaper, a local hospital – or all of these.
8. There are ways to talk about the coronavirus that isn’t all serious and dire.
Our Mike Stern came up with an interesting twist. The CDC, WHO, and other health care organizations recommend the :20 hand wash. They suggest singing “Happy Birthday” twice to represent that time span. But even “Happy Birthday” burns out after a while. Mike recommends finding format-compatible songs with familiar :20 bridges or choruses your audience can sub in. You might also challenge listeners to think of other songs that fit the bill on social media. Here are two links you may find helpful:
- The Los Angeles Times: “Sick of singing ‘Happy Birthday’ while washing hands to fight coronavirus? Try these pop hits instead”
- The Guardian: “Cleaning up: the best 20-second songs to wash your hands to”
And our research director, Jason Hollins, came across this special “hand washing generator.”
I gave it a trial run with some Lynyrd Skynyrd (what else?), and it worked like a charm:
What else? We will update this webpage as necessary.
Let us know how we can help you, your station(s), and your company.
President, Jacobs Media Strategies
P.S.: In the past week, we have blogged twice about issues relating to the coronavirus:
- March 2: “Radio and the Corona Virus”
- March 6: “What's Your Prediction About Radio?”
- March 12: “How Radio Can Best Deal With A Global Pandemic: Live And Local, Of Course”
- March 16: “What's Your (COVID-19) Digital Strategy?”
- March 17: “How Techsurvey 2020 Can Help Your Station Navigate The Coronavirus Crisis”
Responding To The Challenge Of COVID-19
March 17, 2019
Without question, advertising revenue is going to take a hit as businesses shut down and people are staying home. While we all hope this is going to be a short-term situation, the fact is our lives and business are going to be challenged. But there are things we can do to lessen the impact.
I’ve heard from many clients over the past few days with reports of a stream of cancellations, and tough forecasts. But past experience (9/11, the Great Recession) tells us the stations, sales staffs, and clients who rise to the occasion survive the storm and have the potential to emerge stronger when things return to normal.
Yesterday, I saw this article in “Ad Age,” and want to bring it to your attention. It’s the story of how Ford is continuing to advertise, but they’ve altered their message to be in-line with the current mood of their customers. They realize they aren’t going to sell many cars in the near future, but they can stay connected with their customers, put out a positive message, and be there when shoppers return to showrooms. The new campaign talks about how the company is responding to the coronavirus, and they’ve change the themes from “Built Ford Proud” to “Built to Lend a Hand” and “Built for Right Now.”
So here are some thoughts on ways sales departments can re-focus their efforts to take advantage of a rapidly changing environment.
- There are many “institutional” clients in your market, and they might want to consider campaigns similar to what Ford is undertaking – put out a positive message for the community and position the company as willing to help out in any way possible.
- It’s about branding now, not the President’s Day sale. That means direct response, Facebook ads, and Google AdWords don’t mean a whole lot if people aren’t going out. This is the time when brands can communicate their concerns for the community. And where a live read from one of your trusted personalities can truly resonate.
- In many states (including Michigan), bars and restaurants have closed, but remain open for carry-out. They need to get that message out.
- And in every downturn there are businesses that will benefit. Amazon is now hiring 100,000 people to handle the upsurge in online shopping. Any local business that has an e-commerce strategy should be marketing right now. Same with companies that have a delivery platform. Concurrently, grocery stores, drug stores and other essential businesses remain open – and are experiencing record sales. Many are changing hours so they have time to re-stock shelves – they need to get that message out.
- Create informational minutes with hourly updates with local information about closings, health alerts, etc. that are available for sponsorship. These can also be posted on your website and mobile apps.
- Hospitals are going through a lot of stress, but they also have messages to get out – capacity, the need for additional employees, testing, etc.
- Make sure your clients have your contact information – mobile phone number, etc. Things are moving quickly and being accessible is more important than ever. Important contact information for salespeople, sales management, the traffic department, etc. should be sent out as an email blast – “We’re here to help”.
- Your program director has a lot on his/her plate. Monitor your sales activity, and get out in front of problems as well as things that do not belong on the station.
One last point: unlike television, changing and re-cutting copy take minutes – not hours. The flexibility of radio was made for times like these. Sales departments that are local and agile have a distinct advantage.
Stay healthy, and stay in touch.,
Vice-President, Jacobs Media Strategies
More Resources for Broadcasters:
- Wisconsin Broadcasters Association's Resources for COVID-19
- Inside Radio: 12 Tips For Creating A Safer Radio Studio In A Coronavirus Reality (3/13/20)
- Digital Tools to Help Your Staff Work From Home
How Other Stations Are Addressing the Pandemic:
- Beasley Boston's Operation: Gift Card (3/16/20)
- WCSX, Detroit on Supporting Local Businesses
- Download a Cancelled/Not Cancelled Template to make a meme for your radio station
Ways to Support Your Community:
- 10 Ways Radio Stations Can Help Their Communities During the Coronavirus Pandemic
- Rolling Stone: Here’s How You Should Support Independent Musicians Right Now
Entertaining the Audience During the Pandemic: