What we learned in 2020 and what this means for 2021 (and beyond)

In the News

A few weeks ago, we joked in our daily blog that in 2015, everyone who answered the question, “Where do you want to be in five years?” got it terribly wrong. Nobody could have predicted the upheaval all of us felt in our business and personal lives in 2020 and the changes it caused.

But as we turn the page to 2021, there’s much reason for optimism. We now are at the early stages of distributing a vaccine, and most experts believe that by the mid-point of the year we will be back to “normal.” 

Whatever “normal” is.

I believe we are set up for a good year for a few reasons beyond the obvious benefits of feeling more secure about our health and the health of our families and colleagues. First, every economist believes once the vaccine is widely distributed, the economy should begin to rebound very quickly. And second, how hard is it going to be to beat comps like 2020’s? Ex-political, of course.

More importantly, whenever we go through strife, we learn a lot about who we are, how good our people are, and how resilient our organizations are. We certainly learned a lot in 2020, and that means we enter the new year confident in our ability to take a punch, survive, re-invent, and rebuild.

So here’s what I believe we learned in 2020, and why this positions the industry so well for the coming year:

  • We learned how agile we can be, completely shifting the way our business operates in a matter of days. If I told you a year ago that you had 72 hours to get your on-air talent set up to broadcast from home, with access to commercial logs and automation systems, with video backdrops and lighting, as well as editing and other production tools, you would have thought I was crazy.

But that’s what most of you accomplished in 2020 and this skillset and mindset will come in handy in the coming years.

It seems that every week both radio and television take on a new competitor, gadget, or delivery system designed to upend the business, and it feels like we’ve been on pivot-mode for a decade. But that’s the world we live in, and the stations and companies that are most agile will have the best opportunity for success. 

  • Broadcasters learned how essential they are to their local communities. Now I know we all knew this before the pandemic, but this was the year broadcasters really stood up and demonstrated just how essential they are to their listeners and viewers, and why this separates them from digital competitors like Facebook, Spotify, and Disney+ (let’s continue to remind our advertisers of that in 2021). Broadcasters have always stepped up in times of need, but this year was truly outstanding – supporting our essential workers, conducting food drives, and other pandemic-related efforts, while continuing to support other ongoing efforts like radiothons for children’s hospitals, military veterans, and more.

Despite the fact it’s been a trying year for so many in our business, take a minute to reflect on truly making a difference for so many people in Wisconsin.The best of broadcasting came forward in 2020.

  • We learned how important digital channels, content, and distribution are. The way people listened and watched media were the same day in and day out … until they weren’t. Suddenly people were no longer in cars listening to radio and instead were at home all day where declining numbers owned an actual radio. On the TV side, consumption spiked, while binge-watching on OTT channels exploded. 

Of course, this put pressure on broadcasters to ensure they not only invested in quality digital distribution platforms like smartphone and smart TV apps, Alexa, and Sonos, but also recognizing the opportunity to create new content offerings for them – simply using them for distribution wasn’t maximizing the opportunity.

Many broadcasters did just that, and as the pandemic eases and business bounces back, you will be in position to expand and redefine your business, all because of the moves you made in 2020.

  • We learned our customer base has been shaken due to the economy, with shifts in shopping behaviors and eCommerce, and broadcasters need to a) identify new client categories, b) develop new content solutions, and c) develop new revenue streams. For the past few years, I’ve been concerned about the shrinking number of local business who advertise on the radio, as mega-retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and others have swooped in. And when the pandemic hit, the big guys were in position to alleviate health concerns the American people suddenly had regarding in-store shopping. But many smaller, local retailers were out of position, and many of them have paid the price for not investing in ramping up their digital relationship with their customers.

But here we are today, and in 2021, broadcasters are going to see a different retail landscape. Of course, because of what we learned in 2020, we are in much better position to help small businesses better understand the value of advertising digitally, and some companies provide consulting and services around things like ecommerce and many other digital solutions.

So, one of the legacies of 2020 is broadcasters will have new opportunities that didn’t exist before – clients who don’t want (or can’t afford to) advertise in a traditional way, businesses who need help understanding digital and will do business with people they trust (like local broadcasters), and even companies that never used to advertise on radio because they didn’t need to but are open to new services and solutions being offered by innovative broadcasters.

  • We have learned just how good we are as an industry. I was speaking with my daughter a few weeks ago as she was having trouble dealing with all the massive changes in her life (she’s 31 and single, so you can fill in the blanks). After stumbling around for an answer, I told her that for the rest of her life she will (hopefully) never have a year as bad, as scary, and as challenging as 2020. No matter what happens, she will always be able to look back on this year and the gift it will keep on giving is perspective.

I believe the same is true for the broadcasting industry. We’ve been tested in ways none of us could have ever conceived. We see colleagues lose their jobs, maybe we’ve made less money, hopefully haven’t lost family or friends to COVID, and of course, while having to deal with family issues, home schooling, and more. But we emerge stronger in so many ways, and that’s what we learned in 2020 and what fuels us for the coming year.

I wish all of you health and happiness in the coming year, and please don’t hesitate to call on us at Jacobs Media with digital questions and needs – we’re here to help!

The WBA Digital Hotline is a free service of the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.  If you have any questions or needs, contact Paul Jacobs at paul@jacobsmedia.com.