(By Mike McVay) Suddenly the question of “Have you had your vaccine,” being asked of me by some of my clients, has changed to “will we ever return to the studio?” The follow-up question is “will radio ever return to how it was pre-pandemic?” Those are two tough questions that require deep thought. Two questions that are situational and have several possible answers to them. There is much you need to think about.
Many companies are starting to have their employees return to their offices and studios in phases. It varies by company, but the dates I am hearing for most companies is July, August or at latest early September. On-Air personalities and Program Directors appear to be the first to come back. Air staff is next. In many cases the Engineers never fully left. I know of a couple companies that have maintained a nearly 100% staffed operation from the start of the pandemic, but they are in the minority.
There is more multi-market, multi-format, voice-tracking talent today than at any time in our past. There’s good and bad to that scenario. A talent who lives in one market can work remotely to be on-air in another market. A personality that you may have thought would never move to your market, is now suddenly available, if you’re willing to have them work from a city that isn’t in your home market. That’s the good part of the equation if you’re an on-air personality who doesn’t want to live in a dozen cities during their career.
The danger inside of that scenario is that most talent who voice-track are not paid as much as a talent who is live and local, living in the market, and being present to multitask. Insistence on your part that you need not be in the market likely comes with a lower price tag for your services. “Be careful what you wish for, because you might just get it.”
The question that management will ask of themselves is “do I believe that this talent is critical to my station or not?” If they are critical to the station’s success, those personalities may be able to negotiate that opportunity into a new agreement. If they are not, those talent may be faced with having to decide if they’re willing to take less money to continue to do their show remotely or are they ready to return to the studio. That is, of course, if the decision is elective.
Sellers are once again offering live on-site broadcasts and live appearances, albeit with social distance in mind, and that’s another reason why many stations will want their talent to live in the market where they broadcast. Appearances, meeting advertisers, knowing a city first hand is important to local radio.
Promotion teams have been eliminated or mostly decimated. Those departments may take a long time to return to pre-pandemic levels. This department should not be eliminated. They generate revenue as well as help to build an audience. It might be a while before we see the return of street teams. Although face masks have become this eras logoed T-Shirt. Same with station logos on bottles of hand sanitizer.
Some offices will be without a receptionist. We’re hearing of markets who are building out regionalized operations, meaning many regional stations combined in one location. A decision that’s much easier to make now that there is no longer a rule that insists you have a presence in your city of license. That means that the Engineers have a greater area to cover, PD’s have more stations to program, Personalities more stations on which to appear. Promotion managers have more properties to focus on when developing promotions. Marketing will be to a greater area within which you will need to spread your resources. More multi-tasking for all.
Sales teams will likely not be required to be in-house more than one or two days a week. Those meetings will be motivation, training, guidance and camaraderie. Some companies will allow, even encourage, a seller to begin the workday from their home versus a studio location as it makes them more efficient. More than any other department, you can tell if a sales rep is working effectively or not, because they are selling advertising. That can be tracked. The numbers don’t lie.
The traffic department, admin and accounting/finance may continue to work from home. Those positions have existed primarily on-line, for years before the Coronavirus, and are the easiest to allow to continue to work from home without negative impact. Same with copy writers, if that position still exists locally, and likewise for the digital team.
One thing we miss by not being together is ‘esprit de corp’. That feeling of togetherness, all working toward the same goal, is important to maintain belief in an institution or goal. That’s particularly true when you’re facing tough opposition. Being part of a team, feeling that you are part of a team, collectively striving to succeed, is something that also extends the tenure of employees. We all want to work somewhere fun. Working somewhere that is positive to work at is a great benefit. It’s harder to be an engaged employee when you WFH. You have to be self-motivated and disciplined in how you work.
Another negative that comes from a decision to not return to work is that it also eliminates mentoring and being mentored. Training can be set as a curriculum, but learning by observing has real value, and it is difficult to do that on a video call. Think about those that have mentored you, or those that you mentor, and you realize how valuable it is to learn by doing. I expect that we will see some companies develop formal mentoring programs as a way to compensate for the lack of an in-person work environment.
Many of us have been spoiled by being able to “work on-demand.” Performing our duties when we wanted to perform them has been a luxury. One that I certainly know that I enjoyed. What we need to do now is think about those positive things we learned while working from home, and ask ourselves how we can incorporate them into working in a workplace. Wearing “Hello Kitty” jammies will not be one of them.
Mike McVay is President of McVay Media and can be reached at [email protected]