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Advertisers Reflect On Radio’s Role In The Recovery.

A trio of advertising experts from three of radio’s largest categories shared how they’re weathering the coronavirus pandemic and the role radio is playing in their ongoing recovery. While the story is different for retail, automotive and restaurants, there are commonalities that span the industries, such as the need for media partners to be flexible, understanding and patient as the economy ever so slowly begins to bounce back.

For Macy’s, March 17 was an ominous day as the retailer temporarily shuttered all its brick and mortar stores. Despite the loss of business, the chain seized on the opportunity to focus on continuing to grow its online business and pivoted its messaging accordingly. Instead of cancelling advertising, radio’s seventh largest advertiser of 2019 shifted it, Kristy Carruba, Director of Audio Planning and Strategy, said Monday during the latest Business Unusual live video series from the Radio Advertising Bureau. That put it in a better position for April, she explained. Macy’s began to open its retail stores on a regional basis May 4 and 57 more locations are set to reopen this week. “We will continue to roll out as the country sees fit, just playing each region by ear,” she said.

Carruba gave high marks to Macy’s audio partners for their flexibility and offers to help develop new creative and provide added value. “We couldn’t get our creative done quickly enough and a lot of our partners offered up some help with that,” she said. “It’s nice to know that we are in this together and you guys all want to help and understand the challenge” of improving sales and building revenue “in order to keep our doors open in every way,” Carruba continued. “I thought everyone came together very well. It’s been a positive experience, even though it’s been a negative experience.”

Despite the challenges, Macy’s Annual 4th of July Fireworks show will remain a benchmark marketing event next month – in some form. “Holidays are the most important times for Macy’s but this year it’s going to be so much more important, not just for Macy’s,” said Carruba. “I have an optimistic view. I think it’s going to go better than we think.”

As co-host of the nationwide “CarPRO USA Radio Show,” Jerry Reynolds works as both a media seller and a buyer on behalf of auto dealership clients in the Dallas market. With COVID-19 shutting most showrooms after six consecutive years of “phenomenal growth” in the auto industry, dealers had to quickly scramble to offer online sales. And those that figured out how to sell cars however their customers wanted to buy them – online, email, in-person – prospered, he said. Some dealers registered year-over-year sales increases in April in a market that was down by 50%. By the time May rolled around and showrooms began to reopen, albeit with safety restrictions, “it turned out to be a really good month” due to pent-up consumer demand and hefty manufacturer incentives. “People were flocking into dealerships,” Reynolds said. “Some had record months, including a Chevy dealer in Dallas that heavied up its radio and TV schedule. “Their share of voice was so much greater than ever before because just a handful of dealerships stayed on the air.”

Now there’s a new problem. Strong May sales have depleted inventory for the most popular vehicle types – pickups and SUVs – after months of assembly line closures.

Moving ahead, Reynolds hopes media sellers realize a lot of their business can be done without face to face meetings with the ad buyer. “I want the reps to ask me how I want to communicate,” he said in the video session moderated by RAB President and CEO Erica Farber. “You don’t have to be two feet in front of me to close me.”

Chris Robinson, owner of a pair of pizzerias in Kentucky’s Pulaski County, wrote up an “emergency declaration” of how his Eubank Pizza could survive the storm during the early days of the outbreak. Describing the adjustments as “difficult, tenuous and frightening,” he concluded that “the community would still be there for us as long as we were doing our part.” That meant offering curbside pickup, hiring pizza delivery drivers and quickly getting the message out to customers.While business was slow for the first few weeks, Eubank Pizza stayed on the air and partnered with radio stations on social media marketing. “We had to make shifts in how we operate but maintained a good steady flow of business,” Robinson said. “We are now able to reach more customers. Unlike many who closed, we benefitted because we got the message out early.”The pizzeria has yet to reopen its dining rooms and Robinson says he might stick with the new business model. “We’ll continue on the path we’ve set on until we need to shift.”

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