What’s Your Plan?

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(By Deborah Parenti) Thoughts of summer begin to fade as September starts to rise on the horizon.

And shortly after the pool has been closed for the season, so, too, third quarter ends. In what seems like the blink of an eye, the first nine months of 2019 will soon be wrapped up and in the history books. And we start to move on to the final three months of the year.

There’s something about the fourth quarter that brings about a high-charged rush, adrenaline pumping amid the scurry of activity as wrapping up one year melds into planning the next. It’s a time of both assessment and forward thinking — one eye peering behind at sights past and the other focused on the visions beginning to emerge over the crest of the hill on the road ahead.

And it’s a crowded road, full of aggressive, competitive media drivers poised to pass us up if we dawdle too long adjusting that rearview mirror, or run out of gas before we make it to the next stop — the roaring 2020s.

That’s why looking ahead and not running in place become increasingly important. You can’t plan tomorrow if your calendar is stuck on today’s page.

Radio has been consistent, if not growing, over the past several years. Some might see that as a victory compared to other “traditional” media, namely television and newspapers, which have suffered steady declines over the past few years. The impact of digital platforms on advertising revenues has most certainly been significant. And we don’t want to be like television or newspapers. We don’t want flat to turn to red on our road.

Incessant worry about making 2019 at this point, however, won’t move the needle and might even stall progressive efforts or, worse, program them to fail.

Rather, it’s time to prepare for 2020, starting with anticipated political spending, estimated by WPP PLC’s ad-buying unit GroupM to rise to a whopping $9.9 billion, up $3.6 billion compared to the 2016 presidential election and well more than double spending in 2012.

Political spending in 2018 was “shockingly high,” said Brian Wieser, global president of business intelligence at GroupM. “There’s just generally more activity in a presidential year than a nonpresidential year, so whatever the 2018 number was, 2020 was going to be bigger.”

Of the total 2020 estimated political advertising, $2.8 billion is projected to go to digital, representing 2.2 percent of that medium’s total revenue.

That’s an enormous amount, and at some point, saturation will be reached. Radio needs to be ready to rescue those excess dollars.

That means being top-of-mind before the specs are plopped down on the buyers’ desks. What’s your game plan? Are you getting ready to prep your reps with metrics and attention-getting materials? (It’s just one topic that will be tackled at Forecast 2020 on November 20 at the Harvard Club in New York City, by the way.)

Meanwhile, more than half of U.S. households will have a smart speaker by 2022, according to Juniper Research. That’s a huge opportunity for brands to discover the magic of audio’s first “theater of the mind.” Focused efforts by radio execs calling on Madison Avenue execs can make a big difference. Perceived value won’t happen at the buying level. It’s too late then. Radio needs to be in front of the real decisionmakers first. Do you have a plan for that?

The same holds for the automotive dash. The momentum and the relationship-building need to be ongoing. I come from Dayton, birthplace of aviation, along with the cash register and other great innovations. No one thought Dayton would ever lose NCR, but it happened. Reasons can be debated as to why, but bottom line, you can never be too proactive.

Millennial consumers, 18 to 35 years old, have entered into a major spending time of life as they pursue careers, buy homes, and start families. They are now the largest living generation, spending collectively $600 billion a year. And they are digital natives. If you aren’t taking steps to attract and encourage their loyalty now, your chances of success in the coming decade could be greatly diminished. Add to your “must do” list lunches or chats with millennials on your staff. Seek their input — get their perspective —on how to make your station more competitive, not only with listeners, but in marketing to advertisers as well as prospective new hires.

Fourth quarter. Some see it as the end. It’s not. It’s more like the beginning of the beginning.

Deborah Parenti is Publisher of Radio Ink. She can be reached at parenti@aol.com.

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