Lessons for a Thawing Market

What do the following dates have in common?

  • March 29, 1848
  • March 6, 2009
  • Yesterday

In a word: Choice

That which occurred on each of these dates is still considered by many (or at least by me anyway) to be simply remarkable. Maybe more remarkable than what had occurred on these dates was the action taken — or lack thereof — by those that witnessed the events.


March 29, 1848
A day on which the people of Niagara Falls, NY and Niagara Falls, Ontario awoke to silence. The mighty and ever-present roar of Niagara Falls had run dry. For the first time in recorded history the Falls had stopped flowing. While not completely frozen, an ice-jam up river caused the Falls to go silent for several hours. Given the uncanny silence, reaction from local residents varied greatly :

  • Some assumed that the world had ended and prepared for the worst.
  • Many others simply “listened to the silence” and found it to be overwhelming.
  • The curious rushed to view the now dry Falls.
  • Then, there were those who became the first ever to descend into the Great Niagara Gorge. It was in the Gorge that these residents, possessing a higher risk-tolerance, laid claim to treasures that had been swept downstream and locked hidden underwater many years earlier. Bayonets, swords, tomahawks and pistols dating to the War of 1812 (and prior) along with other treasures were retrieved by those choosing to take advantage of this seemingly once in a forever occurrence.

March 6, 2009
A day marked by Wall Street as the lowest point for the Dow Jones Industrial Average (6,547) since 1997. The fear caused by the market’s continued downward spiral seemed simply unbearable to many who had never experienced such a cliff-dive. Analogous to the varied reactions of the residents living near the Falls in 1848, market investors reacted in extreme manners:

  • Some sold everything.
  • Others did the same but went so far as to actually hold the physical cash in their house.
  • Some, now “stuck in the mud,” sat tight.
  • Other investors sensed the obvious fear in the market and, well … ran into the gorge. Why? Look no further than the fear-driven share prices and correspondingly silly (at least to me) market caps of a few media industry leaders on that day:
Company 3/6/09 Share Price 3/6/09 Market Cap*
BELO $0.56 $51.1M
GANNETT $2.30 $547.6M
LIN $0.85 $30.0M

Those who sensed and chose to act on this seemingly once in a lifetime occurrence were rewarded handsomely as the market began its slow but choppy climb back.

A day, which on the surface, seems like any other day in Broadcast Television. Countless should-be television advertisers … attorneys, HVACs, plumbers, auto dealers and retailers of all types that could be lowering their cost per new customer acquisition, continue to spend seemingly countless dollars in cable, radio, print, DM, YP and paid search. Yes, remarkable … at least to me anyway.

Unlike the prior “OTO” occurrences, this last one plays out repeatedly much like the movie, Ground Hog’s Day.

Yet, analogous to both the above mentioned “folks by the Falls” and those able to leverage market fear, television sales execs continually choose actions that vary greatly:

  • Some look away and simply plan anxiously for pending built-in demand builders, i.e. Olympics and elections.
  • Others assemble/peddle incorrectly labeled “turnkey” campaigns that do nothing more than move the station’s inventory at all cost to the unfortunate advertisers.
  • And then there are those that have done the math. It is this group that will seize the opportunities created given the crumbling of yellow pages, the now web-rendered inefficiency of direct mail, the “no-such-metric-(but we’ll-use-it until-someone-catches-us)-cost-per-spot” cable guise and last but never least, the “I can drive my business (into the ground) for as little as $3.00 cost per click” paid search.

Yesterday … someone held the antique pistol that their great-great-grandfather pulled out of the Gorge 162 years prior. This prize, now priceless, was undoubtedly worth the risk taken on that day.

Yesterday … LIN Television (TVL, now rebranded as LIN MEDIA) closed at $7.61. Shares have climbed 895% since March 6, 2009. A respectable return on risk/investment to say the least.

Yesterday … 1,000 attorneys waited anxiously for their phones to ring as their yellow page / cable advertising campaigns ran ad nauseum against the same 183 viewers at a CPM that would justify sponsorship of the next three Super Bowls.

Did you call?

You should … they have plenty of time to talk.

At what point will we look back and realize that “Yesterday” has been March 29, 1848 and March 6, 2009 for quite some time now?

Roland Eckstein is the Managing Partner of ESA & Company, an advertising strategy firm that accelerates profit for local businesses.

* Market cap figures are approximations from March 6, 2009.

About Roland Eckstein

Roland Eckstein is the managing partner of ESA & Company


  1. Always like your stuff. Keep this information coming Roland.

  2. Thanks Ed … we’ll do our best.

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