How Local Will Lead the Way Out of the Crisis

May 27, 2020

By Steve Lanzano


Life as we know it has been upended in ways we didn’t see coming at the beginning of 2020. The COVID-19 crisis and subsequent need for most Americans to shelter in place has shattered hopes of a year of strong economic growth for almost all companies. Though the pandemic is global in nature, its affect is 100 percent local. Not all markets are feeling the same impact, however, even if we are all looking forward to getting back to business as usual. The reopening of economies in New York, Connecticut, or New Jersey will likely unfold very differently from Wyoming, Georgia, or Alabama.

One thing is for sure: Businesses of all types and sizes are struggling to get back on their feet as a result of COVID’s gut punch, from local restaurants, car dealerships, and retailers to national travel and hospitality chains. The instinct to pull back on marketing spend usually kicks in right around this time.

But this is possibly the worst time to go quiet, especially with local or regional advertising. Borrell & Associates research shows 36 percent of small and medium sized businesses plan to spend about the same on advertising as they did during the past six months — up from 20 percent in late March. Some 39 percent plan to spend less on advertising, down from 54 percent in late March. Nielsen’s “Marketing in the Time of COVID” research predicts that brands that go completely dark in 2020 stand to lose up to 11 percent of revenue in 2021.

I believe local markets will be where businesses spark back to life again — and local television will be the best conduit to get there. There are a few reasons for this.

One, given the uncertainty over when markets will open up, regionalizing or localizing an ad buy where there is business potential makes for more efficient use of marketing dollars. Nielsen’s report shows that, for every 10 percent share of voice marketers secure, they can gain 1.4 percent market share.

For another, local TV’s power in shaping consumer sentiment has been very clearly catalogued: according to a Dynata study conducted in April, local TV news ranks highest among all media in trust, topping out at 83 percent of survey respondents, and beating out network TV news (78 percent), government websites and local newspapers (76 percent each), cable news channels (71 percent), national newspapers and all web-based news (59 percent).

Also, local TV audiences, especially young adults who were believed to have largely stopped watching TV, have grown dramatically — in some cases by 200 percent. And the reach of advertising on local TV dwarfs other media. TVB research conducted just last month showed that among adults 18-plus, broadcast TV reached 81 percent of survey respondents; the next highest, social media, reached just over half that, at 48 percent, while all other media fell below.

Finally, there’s the role TV stations play in their communities that goes far beyond reporting news, sports and weather — they get actively involved in ways no other media can match; the pandemic just happens to be the latest way in which they showcase how much they care. According to a GfK study conducted earlier this year, nearly 45 percent of survey respondents cited local TV news as the most involved in their community —followed by local newspapers at just under 20 percent.

To wit, across the country, we’ve already seen dozens of TV stations — rivals in the best of times — come together to support and help their local citizens and businesses, while the cable news networks, with no local connection, offer up seemingly unending partisan political attacks on the other side.

In Kansas City, for example, TV stations banded together as One KC to raise more than $1 million for a COVID Response and Relief Fund, every dollar of which was promised to be spent locally. New York NBC flagship WNBC produced a star-studded fundraiser for New Jersey featuring Garden State legends like Jon Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen — which all New York and some Philadelphia stations picked up. Talk about local wattage.

Fundraising is just one part of TV stations’ community involvement:

  • Graham Media stations in Detroit and Jacksonville, Fla., organized food deliveries for front-line workers that connected community supporters to local restaurants — creating a virtuous triangle that benefitted local businesses while serving a vital need.
  • ABC’s owned stations have even launched a multiplatform effort dubbed #BeLocalish to tell local businesses’ stories as they do their part to reinvigorate economies and communities.
  • Scripps stations rolled out #TakeOutTuesday on their stations, and invited the industry to join a PSA campaign encouraging viewers to support local restaurants with takeout orders.
  • Central Florida postings like WFTV in Orlando have launched new on-air programs devoted to combating mental health issues.

Marketers, as you assess media strategies and ad spend at this difficult time, remember that community by community, market by market and region by region, local TV can deliver impact and keep you top of mind as our national economy gets back on its feet.

Steve Lanzano is president and CEO of TVB.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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