COVID’s Brutal Impact on Advertising


On Tuesday Borrell and Associates unveiled a plethora of new data about local advertising revenue. Overall, the research firm is now projecting total 2020 local advertising revenue will come in at $111.2 billion, down 13% from 2019. Borrell had originally projected a 1.3% increase for 2020 ($129.1 billion). That was pre-COVID.

When Borrell breaks out digital from traditional sources, here are the numbers. In 2019 traditional media sources delivered $54.4 billion dollars in 2019. Borrell originally projected a 2020 pre-COVID decline of 3.5% to $52.6 billion. That number has been revised to $42.1 billion, a drop of 22.7%.

On the digital side, 2019 came in at $73.6 billion with a pre-COVID projection of $77.1 billion (+4.9%). That number has been revised to $69.1 billion, a drop of 6.1%.

There was a little good news for radio. According to Borrell, radio faired very well when compared to other traditional media in one category. As this chart points out, when advertisers were asked if they were going to increase their spend or try something new, during the pandemic, radio finished 6th overall and was the number one traditional media being considered by local advertisers.
Post COVID, according to Borrell, 22% of small businesses will spend more money with radio and 4% will start spending for the first time on the radio.

When Borrell interviewed local sales managers, the turnaround in how they’ve projected revenue on a local level, due to COVID-19 is astounding.

The research firm also projects the local advertising revenue recovery will be slow with 2021 down 1.3% and 2020 up only 1.5%.


  1. It’s the old ‘rock and a hard place’ for some stations and companies. Prior to COVID, the slow and steady erosion of a station’s inability or unwillingness to engage listeners with strong local content coupled with dramatically increased competition for the market dollar was even then a formidable combo to deal with.

    Now that the marketplace has undergone such a dramatic shift, not just economically, but psychologically, it may well be time to consider a different approach.

    For those stations who are in a position to do so, one advisable course of action would be to develop long term proposals with lower rates and make 52 week commitments a priority. Create affordable packages (as perceived by the prospect), allow for negotiation where it makes sense, and service, service, service.

    Businesses and listeners have one thing in common. They are both customers of the station. If they cannot get satisfaction at one place, they’ll shop elsewhere.

    Refocusing on local would seem to be a needed emphasis more than ever. The huge buys from national and regional agencies can provide a nice spike but in many cases don’t provide enough of a consistent income base for broadcasters saddled with high debt service.

    The days of big monthly direct spends have been few and far between for quite awhile. Maybe go back to the basics and do it old school. IF you can afford to. Some would ask, how can you afford not to?

  2. It will take a different approach, a different attitude to right this ship.

    Radio stations who sold ratings or merely changed copy without attempting to constantly upsell prior to the virus, may not recover.

    Account lists need to be drastically revised and trimmed. Drop bars and clubs from calls for the time being. Many will fold, many others will be slow pays. Skip them for now.

    Concentrate on businesses that are surviving or increasing their volume. If you don’t know of any, you’re focusing on the wrong people and hanging around the wrong businesses.
    Check the stock market gainers for 2 weeks daily and learn. Why do you think the market is not doing all that bad? Many businesses are having good times or are poised for an upswing.. Find them.

    Many wealthy people have said for years that lots of money is made in hard times. Nothing new here.

  3. Let’s hope Borrell’s projections are
    accurate, but they look like a pipe dream right now. Like many, we are down 45% right now. And to try and project post Covid right now, that is just guesses. A lot of local businesses are closing.

  4. We’ve definitely taken a Covid 19 revenue hit here in Atlanta. Of course it didn’t help that ratings for our Cumulus cluster have fallen 45% during my tenure.


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