(By Deborah Parenti) For over two months, Radio Ink Editor Ed Ryan and I have conducted a series of coronavirus podcasts and Facebook Live interviews. In those, we’ve heard from a broad and diverse cross section of the radio industry, along with voices from other media sectors. They have shared their concerns, challenges, and thoughts on the long-lasting impact the pandemic will have on the future of the industry as well as life in general.
What has impressed me most is the tenacity and nimbleness, not to mention sheer will, and even optimism, our guests have displayed. They are measured and grounded in reality, but all are determined to win. Like everyone, they are guiding their ships through uncharted waters. One unbalanced move, whether due to miscal- culation or a storm too rough to handle, could sink their vessels, especially those already battered coming into the crisis. Unfortunately, that may be the fate of those weak at the outset.
Whatever the particular circumstances, the virus has accelerated the speed at which the industry goes in a direction in which it was already headed. The pace has been condensed, from years to months. Many workplaces had already been moving toward some remote situations. That’s in keeping with a decade-long gen- eral trend, due in great part to millennials who have encouraged the uptick in WFH employees. According to Global Workplace
Analytics, a whopping 92% of millennials prefer to have the option to work remotely, even part of the week. Coupling that with the impact of COVID-19, GWA President Kate Lister says, “Our best estimate is that 25%-30% of the workforce will be working from home multiple days a week by the end of 2021.”
There are, of course, economic advan- tages to WFH. Data shows savings for both employers and employees. While not a per- fect scenario for all, it is an option that will continue to gain momentum.
Which brings us to smart speakers, obviously an opportunity even before the pandemic. If WFH continues to impact “drive time,” listening on this platform becomes even more critical. According to NPR/Edison Research “Smart Audio Report Spring 2020,” 77% of U.S. adults have made changes in their typical routine due to COVID-19. These changes have increased smart speaker use; 36% of those adults say they are using their device more to listen to music and entertainment since the outbreak, and 52% of 18-34-year-olds say the same.
What remains to be seen — or heard — is how radio adapts to, and takes advantage of, this technology. We spoke with several programming experts, and all agreed on one thing: smart speaker listening is not as ideal an experience as it should be.
It begins with branding. Smart speakers are interactive by nature. We talk to it —
there are no preset buttons to hit. That calls for top-of-mind awareness from the listener. And that awareness needs to be easy and uncomplicated to remember and to say aloud.
It’s also more important than ever that the streamed listening experience is as high-quality as the broadcast programming. If repetitive filler ads are being served over and over or the sound quality is poor, it will drive listeners away from a station.
Finally, let’s talk marketing. There’s a basic sales philosophy, one that is often forgotten today in a world of short bites and, oftentimes, less interaction.
“Tell them what you’re going to do — tell them what you are doing — and tell them what you did.” The last tenet is called recapping. Like frequency, it’s important to success.
Radio has uniquely served communi- ties, locally and nationally, throughout the crisis. That’s a story well worth recapping and retelling. We need to remind everyone, listeners and advertisers, that radio makes a difference.
Only radio can share radio’s story best. Our competitors in digital, print, and social won’t do it for us. They would rather tell it their way — or bury it.
Besides, squeaky wheels get the grease.
Deborah Parenti is the Publisher of Radio Ink Magazine and can be reached at [email protected]