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CRS 2021: What Has The Pandemic Added To Radio’s Playbook?

The past year has forced radio, advertisers and audiences alike to adapt drastically and quickly — and the pace of change doesn’t appear to be slowing any time soon. On Wednesday, Daniel Anstandig, founder and CEO of audience-engagement software provider Futuri, led a “PPP: Post Pandemic Playbook” panel on lessons learned during the pandemic that are worth keeping, focusing on areas of content, audience and revenue.

Joining Anstandig on the “PPP” panel were Townsquare Media Senior VP Todd Lawley; Cox Media Group Houston Director of Operations Johnny Chiang; Big Machine Label Group Director – Digital Partnerships and Streaming Dave Kelly; Elevate Marketing Research Founder Nicole Bergen; and Entercom COO Susan Larkin.

Anstandig began with six points that outline radio’s new reality.

  • More audio competition, including podcast growth and people spending more time on connected devices.

  • Most successful content creators will be discoverable on every platform.

  • Audience tastes are changing faster than ever.

  • The ability to speak to current trends will become a strong differentiator.

  • Programmatic and transactional business is not enough to meet budgets.

  • Establishing direct relationships with clients is more critical than ever for growth.

Then, he asked each panelist to share an important lesson they’d learned over the past year.

“It was important to empower our leaders,” Larkin said. “It wasn’t just about delegating things; it was about how to instill the confidence to make decisions, move fast and solve problems quickly.”

For Hawley, the ability to pivot became more important than ever, noting how Townsquare and other businesses adopted video as a way of meeting. “We learned you can be so effective by using video. We re-invented ourselves, and it led us to go on and have what I would say was a successful year, given everything that was thrown at us.”

Dave Kelly noted that BMLG had assembled a streaming team weeks before the company sent everyone home. In a situation like that, he said, “You have to trust your team. You have to have that communication, establish a great way to communicate with them, and then trust them to actually get the job done.”

When it came to dealing with the virus and people’s reaction to it, Chiang’s new takeaway was an old mantra: “You can treat everyone fairly, but you can’t treat them equally.” With teammate reactions to the virus ranging from dread to considering it a hoax, empathetic listening became more important for a manager. “You have to deal with them individually, with extra sensitivity, whether you agree with them or not and whether or not their feelings ran in line with the company policy of how we were going to operate under pandemic conditions,” he said.

As far as consumers and their behaviors, all bets are off, according to Bergen. “Consumer mindset is changing and evolving continuously,” she said. “This pandemic has rocked the country. People are re-establishing how they’re approaching purchases.”

The pandemic has reshaped how both the radio and the recording industries are approaching content. For Larkin and Entercom, it has made them more willing to employ talent outside local markets, as long as they know and understand the places they’re being heard. “If you can deliver that local or targeted audience at scale, then it’s meaningful,” she said.

Almost unilaterally, the panelists believed a surge in spending – and, by extension, advertising — will accompany the re-opening of communities. “Once [consumers] feel confident in the vaccination and the economy, there’s going to be a ton of spending,” Bergen said.

According to Kelly, artists and labels have found new revenue streams during the pandemic, though none have fully replaced what they’ve lost, especially when it comes to support industries. “I don’t think there’s been any magic bullet that has come in and saved that,” he said. However, he does feel new and emerging platforms have introduced supplemental income streams. “Potentially, that will continue moving forward.”

Lawley said he saw “surging categories” of advertisers – for instance, healthcare and home repair – during the initial stages of the pandemic, with more restaurants advertising as they re-opened and had hours extended. Also, he said: “Local advertisers are only working with about three and a half media vendors now; they used to work with seven, eight, 10. They’re looking for trusted partners that can help them provide not only a great solution but also the attribution.”

Advertisers ultimately want two things, Bergen said: information and ideas. “If you lead with those and you put yourself in their shoes, you’re a step ahead of everyone else.”

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