Sliding into a holiday weekend, 2020-style

Red and white, blue-suede shoes.

A little housekeeping:

In the before times, today would be a day where people duck out of work early to get a jump on the July 4th weekend. Now, well, who knows? Certainly not I, as I don’t have a workplace to duck out of. But even though every day is technically a weekend for me I’m taking tomorrow “off.”

(July 4th appeal: if you’re a hiring manager or talent acquisition staffer at a media company looking for an experienced newsroom leader or editor or reporter or crash test dummy, I am willing to work for pay and health care; I’ll even bring along this newsletter. Hit me up.)

Also: this is the 50th edition of The Media Nut. Thank you, all 2,612 of you, for allowing me in your inbox every day for the last 10 weeks. I never thought I’d make it this far, and I’m deeply appreciative of the thoughtful conversations we have via email and online. 

As I mention every day, please let me know your thoughts on the newsletter: what works, what doesn’t, what would you like to see more/less of, etc. (And no: I will not be including a “Key Insights Box'“ at the top of the newsletter.) There is no grand strategy behind this project other than to just write, so I’m always looking for ways to improve. Plus, I enjoy getting emails.

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Now onto the fireworks...

July 4th is, by definition, the most American of holidays. But this year, it’s ... different. We are in the midst of a pandemic with a government that shockingly and continually fails us. And we’re also at a moment of great reflection, as we grapple with the nation’s original sin and how to fix the systemic racism that courses through our nation’s veins. Independence Day takes on a new meaning this year. And while the holiday is part of our national story, it has, over the years morphed into not just a symbol of democracy and supposed life, liberty and justice for all, but also a symbol of capitalism. 

Last year, for instance, Americans spent $6.7 billion on food items alone during the July 4th weekend. This year, again, will be different. Data from the National Retail Federation shows how Americans are not as enthusiastic about partying for America’s birthday this year. 

According the NRF:

This year, three-quarters (76 percent) of consumers plan to celebrate Independence Day, down from 86 percent in 2019. Much of the decline is driven by the fact that fewer consumers plan to participate in traditional celebrations like a fireworks show. In fact, just 24 percent say they plan to celebrate the Fourth of July by attending a community celebration, compared with 41 percent last year.

(Image via NRF)

For retailers, though, July 4th is typically the final push to clear the stores of summer and spring merchandise, according to Matt Kaden, managing director of MMG Advisors, a retail M&A strategic advisory firm. 

“Only problem is that so many stores are still closed and filled with fall and winter goods,” he told me. 

It’s a complicated story, he says. 

Indeed, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics today highlight how the U.S regained 4.8 million jobs, as the jobless rate dropped to 11.1 percent (a far cry from the low of 3.5 percent before the coronavirus swept the nation; also note that the BLS survey was done before this most recent spike of coronavirus cases hit large swaths of the country).

According to the BLS:

In June, employment in retail trade rose by 740,000, after a gain of 372,000 in May and losses totaling 2.4 million in March and April combined. On net, employment in the industry is 1.3 million lower than in February. In June, notable job gains occurred in clothing and clothing accessories stores (+202,000), general merchandise stores (+108,000), furniture and home furnishings stores (+84,000), and motor vehicle and parts dealers (+84,000). 

While the retail sector bounced back somewhat in May and likely June, the coronavirus continues to spread across the parts of the country that supported that growth. In May, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it estimated that retail and food services sales for May were $4895.5 billion, a jump of 17.7 percent from April, but 6.1 percent down from May 2019.

And something to perhaps think about: with many companies pulling ad spend from Facebook this month, I wonder how that will impact their holiday sales, if at all.

In March and April, retailers were canceling orders, Kaden says, and being non-commital with future purchase orders. He added that if retailers committed to August and September receipts in May, they’re likely going to wiggle their way out again. It’s not just media that has a payments issue. 

“There is a ton of inventory in the system,” Kaden told me. “I’d rather see companies donate their excess to charity, like Banana Republic, which delivered $20 million [in clothing], and Michael Kors [which donated $35 million in clothing] did with Delivering Good.”

(Delivering Good is a charity that “unites retailers, manufacturers, foundations and individuals to provide people impacted by poverty and tragedy with new merchandise, effectively distributed through a network of agency partners to offer hope, dignity and self-esteem to at-risk children, families and individuals.”)

Speaking of excess inventory, let’s shift gears to media for a moment. This weekend is a holiday for hackers, according to Dr. Augustine Fou writing in Forbes. Historically, he writes, surges in malvertising happen during holidays because we’re at home where our devices aren’t as protected. This year, however, may be different. 

Matt Gillis, CEO of clean.io, a cybersecurity company, told Fou:

“This year, July 4th presents a set of unique circumstances that we've not seen before. Most obvious is the fact that we are still dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 on the digital media ecosystem. The pull back of ad spending by big brand advertisers means the cost of ads is lower overall. Lower ad prices means it’s easier and more affordable for hackers to launch these attacks and their profit margins are higher. Historically, weekend days, especially Saturday, have seen the highest threat levels. July 4th 2020 falls on a Saturday. With all of these factors, it seems like this year could be the perfect storm for a malvertising surge on the 4th of July.” 

Wave that flag; wave it wide and high.

Have a safe holiday weekend. Be smart. Wear your masks. See you Monday.

Grateful Dead, “U.S. Blues”

Some interesting links:

  • How cartoons are chronicling the battle between mask wearers and Trump (Washington Post)

  • In the Covid-19 Economy, You Can Have a Kid or a Job. You Can’t Have Both. (New York Times)

  • Tribune Publishing adds Alden co-founder to board while extending ownership standstill agreement (Chicago Tribune)

  • Fox News Fires Anchor Ed Henry Over Sexual Misconduct Claims (Hollywood Reporter)

  • LA Times Food Editor Peter Meehan Resigns After Accusations of Verbal Abuse, Sexual Harassment (The Wrap)

  • One in six jobs to go as BBC cuts 450 staff from regional programs (The Guardian)