No radio stations (or their companies) were prepared for the lockdown due to a global pandemic when we were all clinking glasses and hoping for better days way back on December 31st.
Here we are, less than six months later, and we've all learned a lot about our operations and our staffs. For radio stations, the takeaways were swift and challenging. In mid-March, most stations were forced to quickly adapt to a foreign notion – BFH – Broadcasting From Home. Now, three months later, it is still going on inside radio operations all over America. And many buildings still will not reopen until much later this year, due to the virus.
But it's not just the airstaff, of course. Sales, traffic, HR, and other departments have all learned how to adapt, figure out how to use Zoom, and find ways to be productive – with kids hanging out at home.
I've begun moderating focus groups on the Zoom platform, and I can happily report just how resilient people have become in the face of COVID-19. They've learned how to be better organized, juggling the demands of work, parenting, and personal business – often while wearing pajamas, sweats, or yoga pants.
But that doesn't mean they're happy. They may be coping and even accepting with the status quo, but many are angst-ridden, and concerned about where this is all headed.
While some actually enjoy WFH (I'm one of them), many others miss the camaraderie of the workplace, hanging out with co-workers, whining about the boss, planning the next birthday, and filling out “March Madness” brackets. I'm sure the emotional gap caused the “separation anxiety” of not being in the workplace is even greater in the radio business. Hanging out at a station – in spite of the cutbacks and downsizing – remains a fun activity. It's why many of us got into radio in the first place.
The good news in all of this is how many stations have managed to retain their strong internal culture, despite the building being virtually empty.
But for how long? How resilient is that station vibe when the only time people see one another is in Zoom meetings or on Facebook? How many stations have felt that culture erosion as their employees WFH?
That's was the topic of a recent Quartz At Work story by Kimberlee Josephson, a college professor in Business Administration. Her story is titled, “Do not underestimate the power of company swag at a time like this.”
Dr. Johnson maintains that organizational culture is being jeopardized by COVID-19 because most employees find themselves working out of rec rooms, basements, and spare bedrooms. And her solution?
Branded swag that proudly displays the company logo.
She's a believer that now is the time for companies to “market to those who matter most” – your own employees.
Those of us in radio know the power of swag – it's been part of the industry's promotional machine since the early days of Boss Radio back in the 1960s. And while many stations have cut back on their merch as promotional budgets have been slashed and decimated, consumer demand for this stuff is as high as ever.
In Techsurvey 2019, we asked our 50,000+ stations' fans whether they'd be interested in purchasing station branded merch if it were made available. The result? More than one-fourth say they'd proudly buy logoware produced by their favorite station.
So why wouldn't stations and companies assume their staffs aren't as interested in displaying the company logo? Dr. Johnson's point is to outfit the staff right now – especially while they're busily WFH.
Dr. Johnson suggests creative merch in the spirit of the moment – branded PJs or flip-flops, for example. She whimsically points to merch with a sense of humor – like toilet paper or face masks displaying the station logo.
Of course, simple T-shirts, hoodies, or hats would also fit the bill. And an added plus would be the inevitable sharing that would occur as staffers show off their new station merch on any number of their preferred social platforms.
Dr. Johnson also makes the point that our staffs will remember how the company commemorates this stressful moment in time, in much the same way we purchase and wear shirts or hats that highlight concerts and festivals, sports championships and big games, and other milestones where we feel a sense of pride and even the joy of tribal membership – of being part of a team.
This is the least expensive way to remind radio's “frontline” workers just how important they are – now, in the middle of a crisis, and soon, as our stations work their way out of the red and back into profitability for themselves and their clients. It is an effective morale-boosting strategy for commercial and public radio alike.
You can't buy company culture. But for perhaps $20 an employee, radio companies have that chance to remind their own staffs just how important they are.
And thank them for an incredible job well done in the process.
(BTW, I wear a large.)