When the Going Gets Tough, Radio Breaks Through


Vice President, Strategic Sales Development , Business Development

Marketing During Sandy

The U.S. has experienced more extreme weather events in the last few years than in any period in recent history. If Hurricane Sandy and weather events like it prove anything, it’s that natural disasters make it tough to quickly get trustworthy information.

As cellphone reception goes down and cable TV goes dark, it’s radio that local audiences turn to for information and salvation. There are often days on end when radio is the best connection that families have to the outside world.

Despite the ubiquity of mobile devices, radio reigns supreme when wireless networks falter. The cataclysmic events of Hurricane Sandy prove just that. In November, The Daily News ran a story that proved just how tenacious radio and its employees were. Here’s an excerpt:

Dozens still stayed out in the middle of the storm, helping radio keeps its traditional role as our most reliable and local media lifeline when nature deals its worst.

“If everything else is gone, people still have radio,” says Tim Scheld, news director at WCBS AM. “It’s not just information. It’s a connection. Even music provides companionship and a sense of calm.

Many of the reporters from WINS slept in the station’s unheated offices that night, the Daily News reported.

Of course, marketing effectively during times of natural calamity can be tricky. During Hurricane Sandy, there were plenty of marketing faux pas made by the likes of American Apparel and Urban Outfitters, whose humor did not juxtapose well with the devastation and death caused by the storm.

But not all marketing was insensitive in light of tragedy. In fact, some of the best marketing will come from those genuinely trying to help. Anheuser Busch turned its Budweiser factories into water-canning facilities to provide over 1 million cans of fresh drinking water.

Imagine  sitting home without power for days or weeks. Your only source of communication with the outside world is a battery operated radio. Cutting through the doldrums of other unoriginal ads is a message that help is on the way. Only radio can evoke that feeling of security like no other medium can.

The New York Times detailed some of the ads that broke through to consumers during Sandy in a tasteful way. The successful campaigns all shared one common characteristic: they were genuinely helpful.

Examples included Allstate, with radio commercials describing how policyholders can file claims; American Express, with e-mails addressed to cardholders “in the area impacted by Hurricane Sandy” that offered “emergency financial, medical or travel assistance”; JetBlue Airways, which told customers with travel affected by the storm that it would be “waiving change and cancellation fees for those rebooking through Nov. 14”; and Walgreens, with e-mails advising customers affected by the storm that it was “doing everything possible to make sure we can continue to serve the health and daily living needs of you and your loved ones.”

Radio’s power to help in times of need isn’t going anywhere, either. In fact, it’s only getting more robust.

Realizing that radio waves are far more reliable than cellular service, Sprint announced that some of its phones will now contain FM tuners. This means that when disaster strikes again, consumers will be better equipped with reliable news using one of America’s most reliable mediums.

Radio marketers need not look at the success of mobile and digital services as antagonistic to radio. Rather, marketers need to realize that for consumers, radio is not a case of “either/or” opposed to other mediums, but co-exists in a number of combinations and permutations with other digital technology.