Since the coronavirus crisis took over our business and personal lives, we've spent the last two Fridays highlighting front line employees in American radio. Two weeks ago, it was air talent. Last week, we showcased program managers and operations directors.
But what about the corner office? The GM or market manager in charge of the whole ball of wax – ratings, revenue, performance, and of course, the health welfare of all employees in the building.
It's always been a big job – the person responsible for interfacing with the community, and the face of the radio station when things go wrong. And the go-to-guy/gal in this position has the not-always-enviable task of managing up and down – overseeing the entire staff and interfacing with corporate.
In today's post, we've got a strong mix of passionate senior managers, including a station owner and another fine leader from the public radio sector. Each has a story to tell in a full-blown emergency, the likes of which no one has ever faced. COVID-19 is testing broadcasters in unimaginable ways. Today's featured managers are just a few examples of strong, local leaders faced with big decisions in the most dire of times.
Peter Burton, VP/Market Manager, Beasley, Las Vegas
These are definitely the toughest and most unprecedented times that I’ve certainly experienced over the course of my career. They present many challenges for companies in America and across the world.
Keeping our staff safe and healthy as well as getting them settled into their new work environment continues to be our most important priority and greatest immediate challenge.
Our team is holding up well, amidst some of the technological challenges, business cancellations and general concern for their own health and that of their families. We are certainly managing them with much more empathy, out of concern for them and what they are going through during these unprecedented times.
Our on-air personalities remain empathetic for what our listeners are experiencing in their daily lives. They’re focused on serving as a friendly voice and constant companion to them during these challenging times.
We’re also focused on making sure that our sales team members have what they need to properly function and are staying on a weekly schedule with our sales and management meetings as well as one-on-one forecasts.
Our sales team members are challenged since they work, based on commissions. While most of them have all taken deep cancellations, they are playing the ‘long game’ by offering programs that may not put money in their pockets immediately, but will be helpful to their clients that are currently struggling. We believe this will them help them now and our company in the long run.
One of the biggest challenges for our sales team has been shifting from a short-term mindset to a more long-term approach by offering opportunities like our PSA program as well as the company’s Operation Gift Card initiative for restaurants that are struggling to stay afloat by providing curbside takeout and delivery.
These are two examples of many programs being implemented within our market that provide advertisers with an opportunity to deliver a message that is helpful to our community and is directly relatable to what is happening right now, free of charge.
In addition, we feel that through conversations with decision makers, most of the cancelled business will return when the coast is clear. As far as new business is concerned, our vertical approach has changed to businesses that are thriving or should be thriving in this current environment.
Other departments in our market have been less interrupted, but are still being asked to do things differently.
Beasley Media Group has provided tremendous corporate support with an abundance of helpful and important content for our listeners, both online and on the air. They have also been working in conjunction with our markets to set up helpful webinars for small to medium sized businesses that feature informed government representatives and experts who have provided helpful insight on a variety of topics, such as marketing in crisis situations. Participation and gratitude from clients and listeners has been extremely strong.
Our corporate content team continues to be hard at work providing extremely valuable information with a high level of coordination and communication. This has required a ton of work and coordination, but shows the overwhelming power of radio and our ability to mobilize and distribute content, both on the air and online, to benefit our communities.
We’re really seeing the power of radio during these tough times. I believe we will be better as a company and an industry once this is all over.
I’ve had to adapt to these new circumstances, just like everyone else. I’m good and believe it’s important to stand up and be better than ever as I watch our incredible people do the same. We will all adapt and adjust effectively in the short-term, while maintaining a path to long-term success.
I am proud to be in this industry and with this company!
We’re all in this together.
Dave Doetsch, President/General Manager, Mid-West Family, Southwest Michigan
Out of the gate, my challenge was informing the staff that we were having everyone work from home. I received emails in reply questioning this, feeling I was being an alarmist, taking things to the extreme. Later some of those same people thanked me for my swift decision.
And that describes the deeper challenge, having to make significant decisions with very little information along with blind forecasting. Going with a lot of gut instinct in the moment. And in a situation where people on our team are already scared, it isn’t always easy to get buy in. But with our management team’s unity in message along with a calm clear demeanor, we have been able to continue leading our team in this uncertain situation.
Another challenge is addressing the question as to whether jobs are safe. Currently our operation has enough resources to carry through the short term. A few months. That said, we will still seek assistance with the loans now available. So, for now it is status quo from home. We are fortunate.
The impact and value of our industry shines today through the actions of our programming and content teams. They are the voice of the community bringing calm, laughter and much sought-after information. I really believe they are helping our local communities stay somewhat grounded through this. Helping them feel a degree of hope on the one hand and normalcy on the other.
So how bad is business? We have experienced cancellations as have others in our industry. Of greater concern is the lack of new revenue and the fact payments coming in the door are near non-existent. And that only makes sense because of how other businesses are being impacted.
And how am I doing through all this? My adrenaline is through the roof with the singular focus of getting us to the other side of this. It isn’t a matter of if, it is a matter of when. In life you cannot control the cards you get dealt, but you are in complete control in how you play the hand.
And if I can offer this to my peers in the industry, take time to read about stoicism right now, I think you’ll find those practices incredibly valuable.
Susanne Elkins, Director of Broadcasting/General Manager, WKAR Public Media, East Lansing
This pandemic has been disruptive to internal operations, but I’m pleased with the way our team has risen to the challenge with tenacity and creativity. It was important that we maintain normalcy for our listeners as much as possible, so we made it a priority to configure operations to allow our hosts to broadcast from home and to file stories remotely.
Three weeks in, perhaps the biggest challenge is balancing the workload while keeping an eye on both the physical and mental health of our employees, because, of course, the need for local news has increased exponentially and our classical listeners are relying on us to provide respite and a local connection to the arts community now more than ever.
A crisis of this magnitude is taxing in the extreme, but it also has a way of providing clarity and a sharpened sense of purpose. I find myself listening more and managing less these days. The words of encouragement and gratitude coming from our listeners and members in response to our efforts means more than anything I can do or say, so I take care to share them with staff.
It’s also important to look out ahead for new paths of opportunity and partnership that will inevitably arise out of this. When our team gets a chance to breathe and look up from the day-to-day grind, I want to ensure they’ll see bright spots ahead.
For now, the news team is busy adding additional newscasts and a live coronavirus blog with updates in English and Spanish, and the music team is curating a list of classical performances being streamed in spite of venues being closed to live audiences – this was recently highlighted by the New York Times. We’re contributing to NPR national newscasts and providing production support to ensure our state government officials can communicate widely as well.
All of these efforts would make a lovely case for financial support, but the timing of the crisis has upended our spring membership campaign. We will regroup, but for now we’re emphasizing the importance of local journalism and music, and we’ll not shy away from reminding our listeners that we are in this together.
You’ve asked if I have any words of wisdom, and I can only offer a quote that I’ve been repeating to myself daily while working in my home office/kitchen: Make your vision so clear that your fears become irrelevant.
Stacey Kauffman, SVP/Market Manager, Entercom, Sacramento
The biggest challenge is the human side – all the people who are affected by this. Like our clients, our business has been substantially impacted and we have to make tough decisions that affect people we work with every day and care about, for the health of our business. Nothing is harder than that part.
My team is resilient. I would say I’ve seen some of our best work in the last three weeks, across the building. I think our AEs are more productive, and are having more meaningful impactful, conversations with their clients. I see our brands and personalities finding creative ways to be even more connected to the audience and community, both on-air and on social.
I don’t feel I’m managing that much differently, other than obviously, it’s remotely and via video conferencing – everything from staff meetings to sales calls. I actually feel like we’re communicating and connecting more, and that is a positive that will come out of this.
Our personalities are living through this, side-by-side with their listeners – juggling work and kids homeschool, searching for a local grocery store that has milk and TP, etc., as everyone else is. It’s a rewarding feeling to see the shared empathy, connection and companionship during such a tough time, between the audience, the talent and our brands.
We understand and share empathy with our advertisers, and we are in this together. We are having more meaningful conversations, and I’m proud of the ideation and innovation coming out of them.
We’ve seen all the research and learned from history that the businesses who not just “make it,” but thrive after tough economic turns are those who keep their brands on the hearts and minds during the tough times. And we are doing everything we can to help our advertising partners do just that right now.
How am I doing? I'd be lying if I said it’s been easy, but I think there would be something wrong if it was. That’s the personal and human part of what we do. We care, we care a lot about our teammates, our audiences, our advertisers and the community. And that is what is driving me and us to push ourselves to do our very best work now more than ever, so that we can positively impact as many people as possible.
My advice would go along with that- whether or not we like it, we actually get to choose how we feel about things and what we focus on. We control our thoughts. And if I chose to focus on the negatives in this situation, I wouldn’t be an effective leader, and that’s not fair to this team who is working so hard.
So I’m choosing to focus on the good that I’m seeing – the empathy, communication, collaboration, and innovation, the people rising to the challenge and doing more than they thought they were capable of. These are tough times, but they aren’t forever. And if we learn the lessons that are being presented to us right now, we can be even stronger as an organization and industry afterward as a result.
Dan Seeman, VP/Market Manager, Hubbard, Minneapolis-St. Paul
There have been so many challenges. We had to very quickly deploy a mobile workforce so we worked closely with HBI Information Services to get our staff the laptops and VPNs they needed to work from home. Very early we sent everyone other than the airstaff to work from home.
Our goal from the start was focused on the health and wellness of our employees, while still focusing on the continuity of our business. We felt the best course of action was to get people separated as quickly as we could. The only people left at the radio stations are talent and key managers. That way they are in contact with as few people as possible.
Also, in nearly every case, two, three and four person shows are in separate studios, and in the rare case they are together we are keeping them six feet apart. Our engineering staff did an incredible job building out broadcast-quality studios in homes and around non-broadcast studio locations at the radio stations.
How is the staff holding up? I think the first week was an adventure. The second week everyone got into the work-from-home flow. As I talk to employees during this third week I can tell that the shelter-in-place order is taking its toll. We have a very collaborative culture here at Hubbard MSP and our employees are missing that. They are missing the informal hallway conversations, whether the subject is work or what they are watching on Netflix. They miss the camaraderie.
I have been very mindful of that so I am making communication and interaction a key priority. Every day I put out an end-of-day email that recaps all the great work our staff is doing throughout Minnesota, in markets like Minneapolis-St. Paul, Brainerd, Bemidji, Alexandria and Wadena. I host a Zoom lunch with Dan every Tuesday and Thursday so 15-20 different employees from all the different Minnesota markets get to see each other and share what they have been working on. We recently hosted a Zoom happy hour where employees played bingo. Communication is key.
With entertainment-based radio stations like KS95, myTalk 107.1 and SKOR North we are very mindful of balance. We talk every day about the important role we are playing in this crisis as we inform, inspire and entertain our listeners. We inform our listeners about important coronavirus information through a partnership with Hubbard-owned KSTP-TV. Their news anchors are on live with our talent discussing the latest coronavirus news.
We inspire listeners through partnerships with our many non-profit community organizations. Since the outbreak began we have raised money for Meals on Wheels, The Sheridan Project (which helps feed children who are no longer getting school lunches, Second Harvest Heartland food shelves, Ronald McDonald House and Minnesota Diaper Bank.
And, of course, we entertain. Our radio stations are very personality-focused so those personalities are playing a big role in the lives of our listeners. We remind or listeners that it’s okay to smile. It’s okay to take time to laugh. We provide an oasis in the middle of a very scary situation and we think listeners need that. The feedback has been overwhelming. Now, more than ever, listeners are finding information, inspiration and entertainment from their favorite radio stations.
Tom Yates, Owner/Manager, KOZT, Mendocino
The biggest challenge? Information. We're on it on an intense level and well connected to all sources needed, but it is so fluid and time consuming, it sometimes feels like an information scavenger hunt. Listeners are more active across all platforms, especially the phone than I've ever experienced. Rumor control…it's a full time job….but the staff is holding up great.
Setting up layers of protection for staff and preparing to WFH – that's something we've never done.
We've certainly shifted our Community Reminders to focus strongly on the pandemic and resources folks can use, and upped the amount of time for those. The website is full of useful connections but also contains a “Delightful Distractions” section that folks are really appreciating. Social media, likewise. Our local News coverage – six ‘casts a day plus bulletins as needed – is amped up a bit , with interviews with City Managers, Police Chiefs, Mayors, Sheriff and we're starting a daily check-in mornings with doctors from our local hospitals.
We're pushing our on-air team hard to remind and promote our digital assets as more folks are staying home – as you pointed out- without a “real” radio. Again, judging by audience response, we're doing O.K. Keeping them informed and knowing we're here for the long haul.
There's much time on our sales folks part soothing and counseling clients while trying to slow the fiscal bleeding – which is intense – and preparing to help them all when things return to whatever normal will look like. Smaller retail was already having a hard time. With much of our clientele in the visitor serving business – which is pretty much gone- we're concerned some won't survive. Those who do will likely do well when commerce/travel resume but there's really a hole in the money bucket for our entire county and no clue as to how long that curve will be. The Magic Eight Ball is unclear.
Words of wisdom? Besides “wash your hands” and “physical distancing?” Pace yourself. It looks like a marathon, not a sprint.
Please add your stories to our “comments” section, or visit my Facebook page. -FJ