MMany retailers still live and die based on fourth-quarter sales. As the third quarter draws to a close, what does the fourth quarter look like and how might that impact local media companies?

According to ShopperTrak, sales in physical stores in the United States are forecast to rise only 2.4% in November and December compared with increases of 3% in 2012, 4% in 2011, and 3.8% in 2010.

ShopperTrak expects store visits to fall 1.4% during those months. Traffic rose by 2.5% in 2012 after falling 3.1% in 2011.

In a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll, about one-third of consumers said they would be spending less this year than last on key gift items like toys and jewelry. Additionally, about one in four respondents plan to spend less on clothes.

There is much speculation on why this is true — anemic growth in the economy, unemployment/under-employment, uncertainty in world events, political stalemate of the U.S. government, etc.

No matter the reasons, retailers know the fourth quarter will be tough and have already taken important steps: managing inventory down, promoting holiday items early, and tapping their direct customer relationships with “private” sales.

Of course, this might not bode well for media players. However, good advertising sales teams should view this as an opportunity.

Have you met as a sales team to discuss how you can help pull your retailers across the finish line this year?

If you really believe in the value of local media — print plus digital and other local offerings — to drive traffic, here is the opportunity to be creative. Some stores will have discretionary budgets for local point-of-sale activities. Find out which ones do and present an idea developed and targeted for them.

Begin with your list of major retailers controlled locally or regionally. These are the ones you most likely can influence. The list might have only three to 20 names on it. It is a start.

Next, brainstorm with your team to determine what you could pull together to drive traffic over the next crucial six weeks. Check out the INMA Web site for promotions and winning ideas. Talk to your colleagues in other markets.

We are not talking “brand building”… not addressing “awareness growing.” What can you do to drive traffic, plain and simple?! No one can marshal local events and messaging like a local media company.

It might be time to revisit some non-retail advertisers such as mall companies and real estate companies that see their tenants’ pain. Can you convince them to kick in something for a campaign?

If ShopperTrak is right and that traffic is expected to fall, retailers should be open to hearing your ideas and, if priced right, open to buying.

I am not suggesting this will be easy. But those top local and regional accounts are anxious and looking for ways to make their numbers. If you do not try, a competitor will.

If advertising sales team members do not take the fourth quarter by the horns, they run the risk of being gored themselves at year end.