As we all navigate COVID-19 in our personal and professional lives, it's not difficult to pick up on how the pandemic has changed us – how we see each other and our communities.
While the political divide has sharpened during this challenging time, another unintended consequence of this global menace has been the ways in which we view the companies and brands we interact with. Some have stepped up – big time – behaving admirably throughout the days, weeks, and months of COVID-19.
It's not just about how they treat their employees and even their customers. It's about how companies have altered the way in which they do business in order to be more mindful of all of us, our community, and our world.
The racial tensions that have also become part of the story have also motivated brands to step up at this incredible time – and take a stand.
And the many companies that are now pushing back against Facebook and other online advertising platforms about hate speech represent yet another way in which brands are taking a position – and in the process, having a direct impact on their customers' perceptions.
For consumers, it's still about price point, convenience, and other practical concerns, but more and more, people are developing a heightened awareness about the brands they do business with – or in a growing number of cases, the ones they no longer choose to patronize.
Yesterday's post included a Campaign Monitor study of how email open rates have markedly improved since the onset of COVID-19. And this explanation by the report's authors jumped out at me:
“While open rates are up year over year in general, the 16% change in opens from February to March indicates audience interest in what businesses have to say. They want to know how the brands they follow are changing their business plans or responding to the crisis…”
That represents a sea change in how consumers think about the brands they interact with.
And it took me back to the famous Coleman Insights Pyramid we've discussed in the past. It's the tool developed decades ago by Jon Coleman to illustrate the importance of building powerful radio station brands.
Of course, a solid music (or talk) position is at the bottom of the pyramid, followed by personalities – the two most important building blocks for all radio stations.
Secondary and tertiary priorities included special programming, contests, marketing, and news.
And then notice what's sitting on the top of the pyramid – essentially, the least important of all the content priorities:
Community, charity, giving.
This is no knock on Coleman. Their visual tool has served the radio industry well, helping to focus programmers and managers on the most important priorities. And when this guide was developed, “community” was an afterthought for many stations – essentially what you did after you've done everything else. It made sense.
But in the harsh light of 2020 – a year we've come to realize is the ultimate game-changer – we're seeing our world a bit differently.
Consumers are expecting more from the brands they do business with, and that's reflected in the demonstrable ways in which they support their local communities, worthy organizations, and causes that matter. The term “activism” has been dusted off – something broadcast radio has not confronted since the late 1960's.
We're seeing these signs throughout the entertainment community, in which broadcast radio plays an important role.
Take Propeller, for example. A recent Billboard story by Tatiana Cirisano, “Instant Karma: Propeller Raises Millions By Converting Music Fans Into Activists” – lays out a unique business model.
Musician/activist Brandon Deroche (pictured left) has created an organization that does more than ask for fan donations to support a band's pet cause. Instead, Propeller asks bands to come up with “rewards” – concert tickets, meet-and-greets, and other perks by collecting points for sharing an article about sustainability or watching a video about the foundation's goals.”
Artists that include Alabama Shakes, Duff McKagan (Guns N' Roses), Incubus, Kacey Musgraves, and Childish Gambino have all integrated rewards with social consciousness – in other words, music activism.
And then there's the importance of the local market. Most of broadcast radio's new competition for time, attention, and revenue – SiriusXM, Spotify, Google, Facebook, as well as podcasts – are national or even global in nature.
But broadcasters are connected to their hometowns – and that's been the common thread throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Consumers have different worries, priorities, and sensibilities in New York City than they do in Houston, Miami, or Rapid City. Especially right now. The concept of community is not a one-size-fits-all proposition – it differs greatly from town to town.
And that's where local radio can play a most important role. As a former program director and in the last many years, a consultant, we've worked with hundreds of stations on their public service activities and local charity events.
More often than not, the challenge is getting proper credit for the good deeds a station does. Back to Coleman, it is disheartening when a radio station is intensely involved in many good causes, but fails to win that all-important image association with community and charity.
In the past – as depicted by the pyramid – this attribute mattered, but may not have been a top priority. Today, it's a whole different deal.
One way stations can better prioritize their charitable activities is by aligning with a strong local entity, and focusing much of its fundraising efforts in big, attention-getting events – rather than engaging in scores of charitable activities throughout the course of the year.
That focus has become clearer to me in our work with Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. This is an interesting organization in that they establish partnerships with local radio stations and/or clusters and local hospitals.
More often than not, this fundraising activity comes in the form of radiothons which have always served CMNH, radio, and local hospitals very well. Back in February, Entercom's Denver cluster (spearheaded by Alice 105.9) raised $1.4 million for Children's Hospital Colorado during their two-day radiothon – an impressive feat.
But thanks to COVID-19 and its impacts, organizations like CMNH will be tasked with rethinking and reimagining their fundraising efforts. And part of that calculus is the changing sensibilities among different audience groups that may dictate different forms of providing financial support for local children's hospitals.
As we know, hospital systems throughout the U.S. are being stretched to the max because of the pandemic – along with their decreased ability to be able to perform elective surgeries. So, when you think about where this leaves children's hospitals, it puts a finer point on why effective fundraising is so important now.
Radio has been a great partner for local charities and causes, but the need to attract sponsorships, as well as credit for its efforts has never been greater. As staffs are hard-pressed to fulfill their “normal” job duties, fundraising and activism need to show a return.
And that's where JacoBLOG is headed tomorrow – a fascinating new set of metrics now being used by local sports franchises to quantify their charitable and sustainability efforts. We think there's a way in which radio broadcasters can derive value in looking at charity, community, and sustainability through a different lens.
We are truly living in interesting times. Audiences increasingly care about how their favorite brands behave and give back. And local charities, organizations, and advertisers are all potential partners in the way broadcasters plan and execute their good works.
Paying it forward – being a responsible local brand – has never been more important.
But it requires innovation and strategy to make it work for everyone in 2020.