New Orleans: Down, Not Out

DALLAS A year after hurricane Katrina came ashore, New Orleans retains about half of its pre-flood population and the media market has slipped significantly, according to research compiled by Zehnder Communications.

Drawing on data from ratings agencies and its own research, the New Orleans ad agency cited Arbitron reports that the city has fallen from the 46th largest radio DMA to 58th as of last spring. Television ratings from Nielsen (owned by Adweek parent VNU) are not expected until February, according to the report.

The Times-Picayune, the major daily in the city, has lost about 30 percent of its circulation, the report said. In nearby Biloxi-Gulfport, Miss., the radio DMA ranking has fallen from 139th to 143rd, according to Arbitron.

Joann Habisreitinger, media director for Zehnder, compiled the report to show the progress of recovery in the region. But many of the details remain grim.

The report cites data from demographic research firm Claritas that the population of Orleans Parish is 214,486, or 47 percent of the pre-Katrina level. St. Bernard Parish has had the largest percentage of increased population, with a 112 percent change from January to July 2006. Jefferson Parish has experienced substantial population recovery, with 411,000 current residents, but that is 40,000 below the pre-Katrina level.

Despite the hardship, New Orleans ad agencies have adapted to the new environment, Habisreitinger said. The two other major agencies in New Orleans are Peter A. Mayer and Trumpet.

“Our region has not only survived, it’s thrived in relation to the local advertising industry,” Habisreitinger wrote in an Aug. 21 column for Mediaweek, a sister publication of Adweek. “Within all agency departments, we have had to closely analyze how to reach consumers, as many of them live in one media market while working in another.”

When Katrina made landfall on Aug. 29, 2005, the agencies had already evacuated the city, setting up camp in the Louisiana capital of Baton Rouge or other cities such as Atlanta, where other shops offered to share space.

Trumpet returned to the city in October, and Mayer held its homecoming in December.

In May, Mayer issued its own report on the media market with recommendations to clients, given continued dislocations and uncertain readings on the television market.

Mayer advised clients that more attention will be paid to news and weather broadcasts in the current hurricane season, in part because many area residents are still living in temporary shelters that are more vulnerable to violent storms.

Longer commutes have also made radio a more attractive buy, according to Mayer. However, Habisreitinger notes that Clear Channel Radio’s “best rate” pricing system eliminates any possibility for negotiation.

The reports noted demographic shifts, such as an increase in median age in New Orleans from 37.7 years pre-Katrina to 41.6 years now. While the Hispanic population has remained steady at 6 percent, the black population has declined from 37 percent pre-Katrina to 22 percent now. Whites account for 73 percent of the population, up 14 percentage points since the storm.

While the median income has grown to $64,000 from a pre-Katrina $55,000, unemployment of 7.2 percent in the New Orleans metro area is much higher than the 4.6 percent national rate, the Zehnder report notes.

Habisreitinger said one of the greatest difficulties for media planners and buyers has been the lack of ratings data. Nielsen has not issued a television ratings book since July 2005, she said. When Arbitron issued its eagerly anticipated ratings two weeks ago, media planners and buyers devoured the data looking for trends, she said.

“It was like tossing a Ritz cracker to a starving person,” she said.

While some African-American radio broadcasts are down as much as 50 percent, ratings for WWL’s news talk format are “through the roof,” Habisreitinger said.

The biggest demand for radio and TV spots are coming from merchants of furniture, autos, appliances, construction and legal services, Habisreitinger said. That has left a lot of stations sold out of inventory she said. Under Clear Channel’s policy, once a station is sold out, an advertiser cannot outbid one that has already purchased a spot, she said.

“Some people anticipated that the bubble would burst by now, and it hasn’t,” she said.