(By Loyd Ford) We all have become aware that trust in government is at an all-time low and trust in media is also at an all-time low. Right now you’ve certainly become tuned-up that we live in the age of COVID-19 and the remaining trust involved in both of government and media is being further destroyed.
As we watch the government and the media in our personal lives as broadcasters and people, we all watch them deal with informational issues, we hear from listeners and think for ourselves about how the handling of information is being perceived and interpreted by “the general public.” Last week the Wall Street Journal published a graph showing the acceleration of virus cases in the United States. According to the WSJ, cases rose to one million in 95 days. It took 43 days to double to two million and shot to three million in an additional 28 days. That’s an accelerator of fear to the reader, right? On the same graph they showed the daily death count is actually going down. How is that possible? That wasn’t addressed.
Every media outlet has different experts and different ways to present information and our different state governments have their individual spokespeople. There is so much information. Then you have the CDC and other federal agencies, advertisers and social media. Opinions and different interpretations are literally everywhere. How does this impact the general population (your listeners)? Simply put: Many don’t believe it. I am not debating how real COVID-19 is (I think it is real), but I am pointing out that inconsistencies in communication impacts your credibility. To make it real, I will bring up the story my mother told me as a kid: When you cry wolf too many times, people don’t believe you. So, what is the lesson in this for radio in all this communication about Coronavirus?
- We must be careful with how we handle information about COVID-19 as responsible members of local communities. No matter what your brand, you are responsible for the messages you deliver to audiences on air, on your website, in podcasts, in person and in your social media. Be careful to make sure your messages are direct, simple and responsible because you may be held accountable for those things like never before by your community, your company or a government agency or even a lawsuit.
- Even more important than number 1 above, when you become inconsistent in your messaging or messages, you become unbelievable. If you work for a broadcast company, you probably roll your eyes at social media and cable news for sending conflicting messages. We often separate ourselves from “the media.” However, we are part of the media to our listeners and we are vulnerable to distrust just as easily as CNN, Fox News or something you see on Facebook.
- If you are sharing information about COVID-19 or messaging about your radio brand, making certain that your messages are consistent across platforms and over the air. This is critical and now is a great time to review every message on your radio station. You may think fact checking has fallen out of favor, but you might be wrong. If you are like me, you think a large portion of the population has glazed over about COVID-19 but don’t underestimate the potential consequences of fear acceleration. We simply must be responsible for keeping our communities up to date with relevant and responsible information consistently. It could be even more important to your overall relationship with important listeners in your market. Those listeners are the reason you have a job.
- Across time media has lowered the expectation of the general public about media motives and the quality of their work. The same is certainly true for radio with voice tracking, changes in budgets and even mission of local radio stations often placing cluster strategy ahead of local community mission or even single radio station brand focus. It may truly be time to reinvestigate our motives at radio and the quality of our individual brands and even strategy before it is too late. Prolonged periods of time where brands ignore the values of their core customers and consumers can result in destabilization, product disruption and even fatal destruction. Different industries throughout time have failed to hear warnings of destruction just like this and they don’t exist anymore. People come to radio because of certain values; we better make sure those values remain in our product and that we clearly communicate those values to our audience today or we will face total disruption at some future date. That date could be closer than you are counting on.
- Making certain you are focused on listener needs and having a significant strategy to capture a strong or large enough constituency to grow ratings is powerful in the age of COVID-19 (or any age). In many ways, strategy has fallen out of favor in radio’s consolidated modern era. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need a great strategy to win. No matter what your market, to be truly successful you must capture enough market share to be a significant force and deliver important audience to advertisers. Having quality programming people in place and important strategy designed to make sure the value of your product is in line with listener expectations is more critical and important today than it has ever been.
We all know that COVID-19 has presented challenges for radio. It has presented challenges for everyone, but it may also be presenting a great opportunity for you to focus your product and messaging. It has never really changed: Great product and consistent messaging wins. Take this advice and review messages you are sending over the air, on your website, in social media, in person, in your marketing and to your advertisers. This might be the best thing you do this quarter to re-establish new opportunities to grow your market share. After all, the closer we are to our listeners and advertisers, the more we know about how to propel our business forward in any environment.
Loyd Ford consults radio stations, coaches personalities, and provides behavioral and strategic programming to radio with RPC. Reach him anytime. 864.448.4169 or [email protected]