ARN’s Ciaran Davis on managing a radio network during a pandemic
The radio industry has taken hit after hit during the coronavirus pandemic, with dips in advertising leading to redundancies at most radio networks since 2020 began.
Running a radio network during a pandemic is new territory for the executives in charge, who’ve had to make tough choices as they try to see things out to the other side… whenever that may be.
Australian Radio Network CEO Ciaran Davis spoke with Radio Today about the biggest challenges the business has tackled in 2020, ahead of parent company HT&E’s financial results tomorrow.
“We had made a substantial upgrade to our technology last year. So, in terms of transmission and infrastructure and systems and equipment, we were very well placed,” Davis revealed.
“When lockdown happened, we had all our major on-air personalities’ studios set up in the house ready to go, and we could move 500 people out of the office into their home. I was really pleased.”
Davis praised ARN workers from across the broadcaster’s various departments for stepping up during difficult times: “I thought everybody rose to the challenge extraordinarily well.
“It’s difficult. Communication was something that we worked on really hard, to be honest, and made sure that everybody was up-to-date in what was happening
“We set it up from COVID and we’ve kept going. So I think communication improved a lot.”
But while there were some things to spin positively, it would ultimately come down to the bottom line and shrinking revenue across the Australian advertising sector left jobs under threat.
“It’s been very challenging, we had to make tough decisions. We’re all on reduced hours, all bonuses are gone, that sort of stuff, and then we did have to stand down people as well,” he said.
“That’s been really tough because you’re dealing with people that you’ve worked with and known for a long time, who are very good, but these are decisions that we have to make.
“You’ve got to cut your costs unfortunately, that’s what business is,” the CEO told Radio Today.
When ARN launched new marketing material recently, questions were raised about the timing and Davis says he understands their position but says radio must remain top of mind.
“We’re in the business of generating audiences that we sell to advertisers. If we’re not marketing ourselves, then we run the risk of people not consuming or switching off the radio.
“And that, in the long-term, will have a much more negative impact on the radio industry.”
Despite what will undoubtedly be one of the weakest FY results in years, Davis remains hopeful. Data suggests that people are just as engaged with radio as they’ve ever been, if not more.
“There was a misconception that because people were not travelling in their car, that radio listenership would be down, and I think that probably affected us in the very, very short-term.
“We’ve seen the opposite of that, as you know. We’ve seen listenership up 20%. We’ve seen at-home listening up about 40-odd per cent. We’ve seen podcast listening up about 40-odd per cent.
“So that connection that people have with audiences, with talent, with breakfast shows, with drive shows, was as strong as ever, if not stronger during the COVID period.
“From our perspective, it just shows that the strategy we have around recruiting and retaining the best talent actually is what wins audiences in the longer term.”
Radio remains a strong proposition as advertisers slowly return, and Davis tells Radio Today he’s “optimistic” about re-building ARN’s advertiser base.
“The advantages and the benefits of radio advertising at times like this: its effectiveness, its immediacy, its ability to create as much creative as you want, its ability to get on air very quickly.
“More importantly, its ability to sell stuff and be a retail-driven call to action is extremely strong and powerful, and those CMOs that have got limited budgets or have to see an ROI on their return pretty much immediately, radio’s in the best position, I think, to capitalise that.
“We see that through word attribution day in, day out.”