||Handy Advice When Disaster Strikes
What Media People Can Expect When Markets Are Disrupted
If there's one thing that defines this spring across America, it's what seems to be an unending series of natural disasters, from floods to tornadoes to most recently fires.
And for media people, all those natural disasters come with the territory, so to speak. As their hearts are going out to families whose lives are being uprooted, they're also working to adjust schedules and advise clients when the disaster strikes a market where those clients are active.
And as Michelle Abdow recently learned, there's always an element of surprise no matter how prepared you might be.
Abdow is president of Market Mentors of West Springfield, Mass., where a tornado ripped through on June 1, killing three people in its path of destruction.
Tornadoes are as rare in Springfield as ice storms in Miami, if not more so.
"It was completely unexpected," Abdow says. "We keep a radio on at the firm and the Emergency Broadcast System warning kept going off, but no one took it seriously."
But there are some things media people can count on in cases of natural disasters.
The first is that in most cases natural disasters typically only affect a small portion of a market. The widespread damage to New Orleans at the hands of Hurricane Katrina, or for that matter the recent devastation of Joplin, Mo., are the exception.
While certain neighborhoods may be devastated, business will go on as usual for everyone else in the market, including advertisers.
"While our area was definitely hit, the devastation spans about 25 miles," Abdow says. "There are still a lot of people, really the majority, who are unscathed and continuing their lives. Our clients still want to market to that audience."
Few if any advertisers will be inclined to pull their radio spots. The rare case would be spots for, say, a movie about a disaster, such as "Twister."
Rather than pull spots, advertisers will be more inclined to change their messages. It may be simply to let people know they have escaped harm and are still open for business.
But advertisers may also want to dedicate their spots to helping with recovery, whether directing listeners to disaster services or offering to donate resources to those left homeless. It's a chance to contribute to the community in an hour of need.
"We looked at each client from a social responsibility perspective and considered what we could do to get them involved in supporting the community," Abdow says.
The payout comes in good will. "In survey after survey you see how businesses that support their community have a higher perceived value to consumers," says Abdow.
Another thing media buyers can count on in the wake of a disaster is tight ad inventory.
Buyers coming into the market looking for bargain-basement prices will be sorely disappointed.
In addition to regular advertisers, there will be an influx of recovery-related advertisers who need to get their message out quickly, like power companies, insurance agents, home repair services and medical centers.
Coming in late, those advertisers will pay a premium for the chance to get on the air immediately.
"In this case the premium isn't necessarily because we have to bump other advertisers," says Adam Masiano, the SVP and director of sales at Curtis Media Group in Raleigh, N.C. "It's because our personnel have to work extra hours and go above and beyond to make sure those clients' spots get on and run properly."
Those higher rates could be in place for several weeks, depending on the demand from new advertisers.
So, what can media people do to be prepared for a natural disaster?
Start by reviewing your client roster and considering what would be the most prudent action for each advertiser in the event of a severe storm.
"We looked at who would need a buy placed, whose schedule would need to be adjusted and whose copy should be changed," says Abdow.
Consider negotiating rates ahead of time for clients who will need to get on the air immediately.
Masiano updates his station's emergency rates twice a year. "That way it's set ahead of time. It doesn't come across as, here's a higher rate because now you need us," he says.
Of course that only helps if you can find someone to talk to.
Storms don't always hit at convenient times, and power outages can leave key people in the dark. So be sure you have a list of options for contacting radio stations.
"Our advertisers have a list of five different people from the SVP to the traffic manager, so when bad weather hits on a Saturday afternoon, everyone is available to them," says Masiano.
Finally, Abdow suggests making sure the agency does its part for the community.
She has taken up a collection for the Salvation Army and is allowing staff members to take time off to help distribute food to emergency workers and people who are affected.
"We even placed an ad ourselves to thank the businesses that have supported the community. We don't want the Salvation Army to spend money doing that."
(Source: Media Life, 06/13/11)
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