For years we’ve studied, discussed, and written about ways to satisfy audiences.

We’ve sliced and diced data. We’ve polled readers. We’ve lurked and watched, we’ve noted, we’ve pitched new products and improved old ones.

In this season of holidays, I’d like to propose going old school. Instead of satisfying audiences — because, face it, in many instances we’re asking or requiring an action on the part of our audiences — I propose appreciating audiences.

If the local pub can show customer appreciation, media companies can afford to as well.
If the local pub can show customer appreciation, media companies can afford to as well.

It’s sad, in a way, to even have to shake the cobwebs loose to reconsider this concept.

I recall a certain hometown newspaper that used to bankroll a military band concert at a giant public facility and — egads! — invite the public to attend free of charge.

At the newspaper where I had my first paying job in journalism after college, the family that owned it bankrolled a spectacular fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Cynical even in our early years, I remember hearing my two-years-on-the-job, already world-weary co-workers watching the display on a beach blanket and making comments like “there goes my bonus” and “there goes the new cameras” to accompany bombs bursting in air.

Still, it was pretty dang cool and pretty dang special to be able to hear members of the community express surprise and delight that the newspaper of record was doing something without expecting anything in return.

On a recent December Friday night, my favourite Spokane watering hole hosted its annual Customer Appreciation Party. The Satellite Diner & Lounge hung red, white, and blue posters in the diner and the lounge. It sent the same via social media: “We invite you to come Eat, Drink, & be Merry,” the sign read. “Dress up, Ugly Sweater, or just as you are. We are looking forward to seeing you.”

I never need an excuse to visit The Satellite, where employees and regulars alike make for a warm and welcoming vibe. But a party to appreciate me? Woo hoo! My husband and I met after the workweek ended and made our way in the cold to the warm bar.

It may have been simple, but a free customer appreciation dinner went a long way in saying thank you to the community.
It may have been simple, but a free customer appreciation dinner went a long way in saying thank you to the community.

Lined up at a simple and generous buffet were regulars. But at the head of the line were United States veterans, Garrison caps atop their heads indicating their branch of service. Not only was The Satellite providing free dinner to everyone who came in, they were also hosting veterans and holding live and silent auctions to benefit local disabled veterans services.

We took our places in line and filled our plates with salad, garlic bread, and copious amounts of savory beef stroganoff over noodles, the provisions refilled over and over all evening long. At the end of the hot food section were plates of bite-sized brownies dusted with powdered sugar.

We purchased raffle tickets and took our chances on a toddler-sized Army teddy bear, which wore fatigues and held a U.S. flag. Veterans and regulars eyed the displays, exchanging pleasantries and tipping hats at spouses of friends.

During the recent difficult years of running a newspaper, it’s become next to impossible to think of doing anything free for customers. Our forecasts are imprecise as we duck and dodge the decisions of the majors and their preprint insertion orders. Retail is also a crapshoot and, in many cases, even businesses that know they need to advertise cannot dig that deep with their thin, thin margins.

But if a diner and lounge, with even more inexact forecasts — and, horrors, perishables! — can make an annual gesture of pure goodness, surely we in the media business can, too. It’s true it takes money to make money. But it’s also true that generous giving back to those who support you year in and year out can create its own positive energy.

Happy New Year!