Written by Donald A. Promnitz
Business isn’t exactly booming during a pandemic. In fact, many are lucky to still be in business at all.
With budgets slashed, it’s been difficult to convince many companies to advertise their services, but broadcasters would argue that it’s in a crisis like Covid-19 that businesses need to get the word out the most. Still, John Ostlund, partner at One Putt Broadcasting in Fresno, admits that the early onset of the lockdown was a hard time for marketing, saying many colleagues lost 25% to half of their advertising revenue.
It’s an experience felt not only by small radio and television outlets, but major networks and papers. The New York Times, for example, was estimated in early May to fall at least 50% in the second quarter, while AMC Networks estimated a drop of 30% in their ad revenue.
“That is a tough sales pitch,” Ostlund said. “’Hey, we know you don’t have any money, but you have to continue to spend.’”
It was in this situation that many broadcasters found themselves not only dropping prices, but also giving away ad space. For example, when the pandemic broke out, One Putt invited more than 40 different restaurants to come into the studio and record public service announcements, letting listeners know they were still available for takeout. These ads were run on their radio stations thousands of times over the course of the next two months. They also reached out to homebuilders and other companies still providing curbside service.
This was done not only as a way of reaching out to the local business community, but also an act of pragmatism.
“You couldn’t charge less than zero and we gave away, I would say 75% of all the inventory that we had,” Ostlund said. “Because there was no market for it, No. 1; and No. 2, it spoils on a day-to-day basis. Tomorrow, I can’t sell any unsold commercial that I have today.”
However, One Putt wasn’t the only one reaching out during the shelter-in-place directive.
Cocola Broadcasting Co., which runs over-the-air antennae TV stations in the Fresno market, announced in April that they would offer businesses free air time for commercials lasting 15 to 30 seconds in length. The outpouring of interest was immediate and according to President Gary Cocola, it brought in new companies to advertise as well as old ones.
“We had a gentleman who didn’t have a commercial, so we helped him,” Cocola said. “We took his five-minute YouTube video and cut it down to a minute and used that for his commercial because he didn’t have one.”
Cocola got the idea from Impact Radio in Idaho. It had positive results for them, which he said was mirrored in Fresno.
“I think it did a lot of good for a lot of people who wanted to get the word out that they were doing takeout, or that they were still open,” he said. “It was a pretty bad time for a lot of people.”
But now things appear to be picking up for advertising and marketing. As the reopening continues to progress and commerce resumes, the demand for commercials has skyrocketed.
According to Ostlund, he’s sales in some areas come in at a record rate. Now, One Putt Broadcasting has been at work promoting not only their sponsors, but also their own handling of the crisis. And while the storm may not have passed entirely, Ostlund says he’s optimistic about the outlook as things improve. He also says he’s proud of his crew.
“We tried to serve the market, and serve the community, and the community’s best interest,” he said. “And it’s a pretty simple concepts my staff really executed well.”
Meanwhile, many broadcasters across the Valley, state and nation are likely to pick up not only old clients but also a few new ones. This will often come from companies who — in one of their toughest times — were aided with free air time and a platform to let their patrons know they were still in business.