By Wendy Weaver

COVID-19 has impacted all of our nonprofit clients in 2020 in one way or another. Some clients halted advertising temporarily, others shifted media spend to digital channels to reach the new stay-at-home workforce with more relevant messaging.

If we have learned anything from this experience, it is to be nimble and pivot when necessary. Our team is keeping tabs on media consumption and consumer behavior shifts as it relates to the nonprofit industry. This fall we moved broadcast radio dollars to digital radio due to new listening trends. Cable television rankers were updated, which shifted our station lists. Facebook boycotts organized by #StopHateForProfit put social advertising on pause. The #BlackLivesMatter movement made diversity and inclusion in advertising more paramount. And it’s only September.

Now, it’s an election countdown to November 3rd along with COVID-19 colliding with flu season.

2021 planning began early. Plan B is in place. Cue the murder hornets.

An overview of how we have adjusted media plans for clients in 2020 is outlined below. We are predicting that most of these media shifts will continue into 2021 and beyond.


We have adjusted broadcast radio from traditional 60% drivetime (M-F 6A-10A and 3P-7P) to dayparts which mirror new listening patterns. This transferred dollars to time periods reported by recent Nielsen Audio ratings in PPM* markets, which show user shifts by month and have followed similar patterns in small markets.

While broadcast radio is still viable in most formats and time periods, particularly with news stations, we have also moved dollars from broadcast to digital radio in our current annual 2020 plans (i.e., Pandora, Spotify, iHeart radio, etc.). This allows us to target by demographic, as well as geography and behavior.

 Digital & Social Media

As a result of social distancing at home, consumers are spending more time online to virtually connect with others and stream entertainment. Alongside this shift in consumer behavior, industries are also adapting to the effects of the pandemic.

For example, as users continue to look to social media for real-time information, Twitter recently announced that for Q1 2020, the average total of monetizable daily active users reached approximately 164 million. That’s up 23 percent from last year. The heightened news cycle tied to COVID-19 has significantly driven Twitter’s increase in daily active users beyond what we would typically expect for the first quarter.

These media shifts have impacted digital spend, with many clients spending north of 40% on digital. In the recently launched Social Transformation Report by Hootsuite + Altimeter, it states that social is now capturing 13-24% of the total marketing budget based on their research. This is due to the pandemic, which shifted 2020 business communications to social channels to address the impact of COVID-19 on their products and services.


With U.S. consumers asked to refrain from social gatherings and shelter in place at home due to COVID-19, media consumption has increased significantly. Based on Nielsen data from prior major crises in recent U.S. history that forced consumers to stay home, total TV usage increased by nearly 60%. We’re not there yet, but consumption is starting to climb in the most impacted markets.

While cable news channels have seen their ratings double over the past several months, The New York Times has also experienced record levels of engagement, boosting subscriber levels beyond expectations – particularly with digital subscription revenue growth in the high teens. The uptick applies to television genres beyond the news and can be attributed to captive at-home audiences.

Nielsen is not officially forecasting that the COVID-19 pandemic will increase TV viewing to levels associated with historical crises. But it is worth noting that U.S. consumers have traditionally turned to the TV during troubling times.

Before the pandemic, U.S. consumers were already just shy of 12 hours each day with media platforms, and three-fourths of U.S. consumers are broadening their media options with streaming subscriptions and TV-connected devices.

Trends elsewhere in the world indicate COVID-19 will send users to stream even more.

Additionally, an increase in self-isolation has led to an abrupt rise in the consumption of online media. The demand for Video-on-Demand (VOD) and other online video services have notably increased among target audiences.


Wherever consumer behavior has shifted, advertising spend has been adjusted in response. It makes little sense for advertisers to spend on media that have no audience. As confinement measures were introduced around the world, out-of-home and cinema advertising shrank almost instantly.

While digital advertising platforms have prospered thanks to captive audiences, the traditional Out-Of-Home (OOH) advertising market is predicted to decline over the next few years.

The trend will hit major OOH mediums, including billboard advertisements at airports, railway and metro stations, and the busiest markets in cities. Transit advertising on buses, taxis, and subways will decline, losing ground to advertising on products that are more frequently delivered to the doorstep.

As confinement measures relax and out-of-home advertising recovers, these typically offline channels will accelerate their shift to digital. This will increase pressure on the advertising industry to improve how it measures return on investment across different media, devices and platforms.

Not all advertising is equal

Brands that advertise to raise awareness, increase sales and build loyalty should focus on media appropriate to each objective and closely scrutinize and monitor each medium. In general, small- and medium-sized enterprises are more dependent on channels that drive customer engagement.

Others, however, focus their means on changing the message. IAB data shows that 73% of advertisers have modified or developed new assets since the start of the pandemic. Of these, over half (53%) are increasing messaging that emphasizes the mission of the company.

As we navigate the precarious re-entry to a post-COVID world, media consumption will continue to evolve. It’s more important than ever for advertisers to build a data-driven media plan that is reflective of the current environment and customer mindset.

For more on “Ideas that Generate Change for Nonprofits”, visit

Wendy Weaver is Director of Media Services at Williams Whittle, a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

*The Portable People Meter (PPM), also known as Nielsen Meter, is a system developed by Arbitron (now Nielsen Audio) to measure how many people are exposed or listening to individual radio stations and television stations, including cable television. The PPM is worn like a pager and detects hidden audio tones within a station or network’s audio stream, logging each time it finds such a signal. It reports monthly.

Sources:  Forrester, Nielsen Audio, IAB, Twitter, Social Transformation Report by Hootsuite + Altimeter





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