By: Seth Resler
Jacobs Media Strategies
Twelve months ago, as we turned the page on 2020, we all hoped the new year would bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, as we slog through a resurgence brought on by the Omicron variant, it feels naive to have the same hopes for 2022. Whether you are optimistic or pessimistic about the new year, you should be realistic. As the saying goes, “Hope for the best but prepare for the worst.”
Here’s what that means if your radio station relies on revenue from producing signature events, such as a concert series or festival: You need to have a virtual backup plan. I don’t know what the year ahead will bring, but as we enter the third year of the pandemic, there’s no excuse for radio stations to be caught off guard if a viral surge or local regulations derail live events. If you are producing an event, you really need to plan two events: a live event and a virtual event. One of these won’t happen, but it’s impossible to know which.
What does it mean to prepare a virtual backup plan? Here are some steps you can take:
1. Research virtual platforms now.
Now is the time to look into virtual platforms that can be used for a backup plan. Chances are you will have to tailor your virtual event to the limitations of the available software, so understand those limitations in advance. If you think you might want to hire a virtual event producer, solicit proposals now. If you think you want to handle it all in house, find a virtual events platform and host a few practice events so you’re not using the software for the first time when you have a lot of money riding on it.
2. Understand the revenue numbers for both scenarios.
If your event is forced to go virtual, you will probably need to charge sponsors less, but you may also have lower costs. Create separate budgets for the live and virtual scenarios and make sure all the appropriate people understand the impact these will have on the station’s revenue.
3. Prepare your sponsors in advance.
If your station is forced to use the backup plan, you don’t want the sales reps to have to go back to the event’s sponsors and sell them a second time. Instead, make sure the sponsors understand the backup plan from the beginning and know how things — including the price of the sponsorship — will be adjusted depending on the circumstances. Sponsorship contracts should spell out the contingency plan.
4. Prepare your talent in advance.
If your event relies on a performance, such as a musical artist, do your best to address contingency plans when you book the act. Talk to the record label or management team in advance about what you’re going to do if a band member is sick or passport restrictions prevent the show from happening. Will you cancel or will you switch to a virtual performance?
5. Monitor personnel shortages and supply chain disruptions.
It’s difficult to anticipate how these things might disrupt your event, but if your station produces a Bacon Festival and the price of bacon doubles, your bottom line could be impacted. If there’s a shortage of EMTs and you are required to have some on call for your event, things could get hairy. Identify the key components of your events and ask questions about what’s happening with them. When possible, find alternatives (tofu bacon!) that can be substituted in a pinch.
6. Know your drop-dead decision date.
What is the latest date you can decide whether your event will be live or virtual? What is the criteria you will use for making this decision? Build consensus around these questions in advance to avoid arguments later on.
We all hope for a return to normalcy this year, but crossing your fingers and hoping for the best is not a sufficient strategy. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared.”
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