I never thought we'd be in this position again. But in early 2020, here we are.
Long-time Jacobs Media clients may remember what our company did almost immediately after 9/11. But most have you won't. Everyone has a story about where they were when that tragic event occurred, so here's mine.
The morning of September 11, 2001, I flew to Buffalo, NY from Detroit, landing just after 8am. (That was my first lucky break.) We had Listener Advisory Groups booked that night. My plan was to get an early hotel check-in, and monitor my client for most of the day – 97Rock.
Then Paul called, told me to turn on the TV – and there was the fire at the World Trade Center. I was watching live when the second plane hit. And at that point, I knew there would be no LAB groups that night – and life as we knew it was about to change. After speaking with my wife to make sure our kids were OK, I called PD John Hager, and told him about my change of plans. I was able to rent one of the last cars in Buffalo (my second lucky break), and John drove me to the airport to pick it up.
John took me to a Radio Shack where I bought a car charger for my Nokia cell phone. And after a nervous wait for my car rental, I drove back home to Detroit through the U.S. rather than Canada (my third lucky break), speaking with clients along the way to discuss strategies, coverage, and plans.
What many people in radio don't remember about 9/11 was that it fell at the very start of the Fall rating book. That may sound trite or absurd now, but I can tell you that at that moment, many stations had billboard campaigns and TV commercials about to launch, contests and direct mail ready to break, and other promotions booked and set to go. The concern among our Rock, Classic Rock, and Alternative stations was how to respectfully handle this tragedy, and serve their listeners at the same time. What was appropriate post 9/11? Could the morning show be their normal selves? Could we schedule bar and club nights? Were giveaways OK?
I soon realized I had my opinions, but no answers. We simply had not experienced this type of cataclysmic disaster in our lifetimes. So, what to do?
Research, of course. I had been conducting web surveys – tapping into station email databases – for a couple of years, with much success. So, why not assemble a group of stations, serve the same questionnaire, and conduct an aggregated survey. We quickly assembled a group of about 40 stations, I quickly wrote a questionnaire, and in less than 10 days, we had a survey in the field. And thanks to the web platform, we had meaningful results in 36 hours.
And in case you hadn't figured it out, that's how Techsurvey was born. Based on the success of our emergency 9/11 study, we began to create more of these surveys, leveraging the collective participation of hundreds of stations. Techsurvey 2020 – which I'm presenting Thursday in partnership with AllAccess – was the cooperative effort of more than 500 radio stations.
So, here we are at the crossroads of the coronavirus crisis. And we're compelled to do this again, even though we fully realize that attitudes in late March may be very different in mid April, and the ensuring weeks and months. But we need a benchmark. We need direction. We need to know how our audiences are thinking, feeling, and consuming media. Are they at home? Are they infected? Are they worried or depressed? What gadgets are they using to inform and entertain themselves? What do they expect and want from your radio station?
And I'm sure we'll think of more questions.
That said, we need to keep this questionnaire short. And the turnaround will have to be very quick. It will go into the field the week of March 30. And we'll turn the results around in less than a week. It won't be easy, but we know how to do this. I'm proud to say we have the systems, the experience, and the staff to pull this off.
There will be separate surveys for commercial, public, and Christian stations. We cannot, however, accommodate Canada, and for that, I'm sincerely sorry.
Jacobs Media clients and those who paid to participate in our most recent Techsurveys get a free ride on this survey. Everyone else pays a small processing fee. Details are at the end of this post.
Way back when as a Masters student at Michigan State, my prof, Dr. John Abel, turned me onto this idea that programmers could become exponentially smarter and better at their craft with knowledge. And that's where the audience research light bulb went off for me. Nearly 50 years later, I can tell you that protocol has worked well for me – and many of you.
These times necessitate agility and action.
Aside from being reminded that external events impact radio listening, the ratings taken at this time will come out too late and won't put into context what your audience is thinking and doing.
So, this one's on us. And we're ready to go.
Be safe everyone, and thanks for making us all proud to be in radio.
Information on Jacobs Media's Coronavirus Survey is here.
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