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Being a Lighthouse in the Darkness

Posted by Ashley J. Swartz on Mar 24, 2020 8:23:09 AM

Being a Lighthouse in the Darkness

Living within sight of the Atlantic Ocean, nautical symbols are near and dear to me. Whales, dolphins, anchors and mermaids are all warm and evocative symbols of my beloved seaside community, but during these past few weeks, the lighthouse has become especially meaningful. It’s an enduring symbol that has transcended nautical significance to represent guidance, strength and hope. It illuminates the darkest waters and brings us safely to port.

In this moment of unprecedented dislocation and uncertainty, I believe that a leader’s main role is to offer stability, guidance, generosity, patience, strength and hope. Similar to a lighthouse, leaders can provide light and hope to their teams, colleagues and stakeholders through darkness and uncertainty.

There’s no sugar-coating it: TV is facing unprecedented challenges right now, as is virtually every industry (including our valued marketing partners). When sports disappeared overnight, some of the most valuable TV advertising inventory went along with it. Meanwhile, buyers need to figure out how to achieve reach and resonance with consumers who are forced to stay at home for an extended, unknown period.

There are few certainties, though it’s clear that every media seller’s revenue performance will suffer. Tentpole events like March Madness have been canceled outright, not just postponed. And even when sports do return, a shortage of high-value programming offering the greatest reach and unit value will persist as a result of production for the fall season being disrupted. We can’t rely on political spending to fully make up the difference.

On top of this, cancellation of the Upfronts will result in proportionately more scattered sales, which will increase the pricing, planning and sales operations burden for sellers, making it harder to manage revenue and inventory efficiently. The additional processing effort will affect buyers as well.

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the economic and business impacts, we can’t overlook the effect on our emotional well-being. Sports and TV are things that bring people together. Watching, smack-talking and armchair-quarterbacking with the family are all ways of connecting around TV that have been taken from people overnight—and perversely during a time when we need human connection more than ever to combat isolation.

But take several deep breaths and remember not to despair. This period of darkness, if we choose to be lighthouses, it can deliver us to a future where we are all better, wiser and, most importantly, more connected as humans. So how do we do that.

Use Sight, Sound and Motion to Stay Connected

Make it a rule that every communication possible be a video conference. Replace calls with video, both internally and with agencies and buyers. Utilize video in every way possible to keep people connected and be omnipresent in their new normal. Set up meet-and-greets on video to see what people’s home offices look like and comment on their super fashionable jammies. See and acknowledge their humanity as we would if we could be together physically.

Listen to Understand, Not to Respond

Ask questions. Listen to understand and not only to respond. Don’t sell. Solve.

Neither reach and frequency nor impressions and audience segments are going to solve the significant business challenges of your advertisers and agencies right now. Ask them to tell you their ideas about how you can help, and then broaden the discussion to use a lexicon other than media. Perhaps as a brand they are themselves wanting to listen to their customers more, and need help doing that. Or perhaps they want to more actively bring positive stories and content to their consumers to be a lighthouse in their own way during this time. Watch their facial expressions when they’re talking and ask more questions; listen to understand and to hear, not respond.

Immerse Yourself in Data to Plan for the Future

There is wisdom in the data that sits inside your walls. Let that history about your content, audiences and advertisers guide you to future opportunities and solutions. Look deeply into your historical sales, programming, audience, ratings and other data to get to know your advertisers and audiences more intimately than ever before during this period of waiting.

Your data has stories to tell you about new ways of looking at things, ways to do more with less, and pockets of dormant value waiting to be unlocked for your brands. If you approach it with the goal of being a lighthouse for your clients, the value created will propel you forward when toilet paper fills grocery store shelves and fans fill stadiums again.

More than anything, this surreal time affords us all an opportunity to reset, choose who we want to be during times of crisis, and forge more meaningful human connections. This is ultimately what will create the greatest value and return, both measurable and unmeasurable, for our industry. Wouldn’t that be a great “new normal”?

Then make it so. Be a lighthouse.