Tough Times = Good Times?

boss-manBy Craig Jackman

So here we are facing the worst global economic downturn since The Great Depression of the 1930s, a time of, at best, your grandparents or great-grandparents. The big three automakers are asking for billions in handouts. The US government buying into banks and insurance companies to the tune of trillions of dollars. The amounts of money being handed out will make you go “Oooooooh” just reading all the zeros. The economy is teetering on the edge of the dumper everywhere, with a record number of mortgages in foreclosure. Hell, my daughter’s college education fund lost 40% of its value in 7 weeks.

So what do we do about it? Radio will face tough times to be certain. For example, my company has already announced and executed job cuts, and cut Christmas parties. All expenses are getting a second and third look to see where we can cut costs. Raises? Not much this year. However, since radio for the listener is free, there will always be a demand for radio that will keep most of us in business. Successful companies know that to achieve in the long term, they will still need to advertise in the short term. Products and services will still need to be bought and sold, and that means that there will be money coming in. How can we in Creative and Production help our stations survive or even prosper with things the way they are?

First, maintain a focus on the customer. It’s easier for everyone involved to maintain an existing customer who literally buys into what you do, than to go out, find, and “educate” a new one. Retaining an existing customer adds value to what you do. That’s one of many problems with the auto industry, as the North American makers took their finger off the pulse of what the customer wanted, letting them become someone else’s customer. Focus on your execution, and don’t give the customer any reason to get pissed off. They want their spots to run as approved and as scheduled, so do that. Exceed their expectations where you can. They are going to want value for their money, and while adding value may be beyond your sphere of influence in terms of bonus spots or swag, you can ensure what you do helps move the entire process forward.

To do that you are going to have to know what is expected of you. You have to maintain clear lines of communication both up and down the food chain. The Reps need to know what you want of them, be that time in the studio to work on the spot or time in the office in writing a spot. Conversely, you need to know from them when they need finished product and when they need to work outside of the normal time lines. You need to know from Programming what they are looking for in promos and splitters that keep listeners excited about your station. Everyone involved has to be accountable for any mistakes that are bound to happen, and to learn from them so that they are not repeated.

Everyone involved needs to buy in and work as a team. That means everything from sharing industry gossip; because you know how often industry gossip turns into reality in this business, to brainstorming. In the business world the former is called competitive intelligence, doing the latter just proves your collective intelligence. Working as a team gives your group the chance to innovate and collaborate on new ideas and new ways to work together.

We in the Production and Creative side are going to be asked repeatedly to provide solutions. Make sure you take the time to track and measure your results. Yes, times may be tough, but this could be your opportunity to shine and move your career forward. Where are you the star? You will certainly need to keep your skills current, and then expand your skills and what you bring to the table. This may mean paying for some training courses out of your own pocket. Take advantage of anything that is offered to you by your current company, either on-line or in-class. Remember that the way we did things 20 years ago is not the way we do things now, so the way things are going to be done in 20 years will not be the same as now either. If you are not learning, you are not growing, and this could be your opportunity to grow your career to the next level.

How do you move to that level? You have to get noticed. What gets noticed first? Your attitude. You need to polish your reputation. If you are thought of as difficult, make an effort to be accommodating. Having those clear lines of communication I mentioned earlier can really help change people’s perspectives of you. Don’t be an annoying brown-noser, but be positive. Show up early and stay late if needed. I’m not saying get used as a doormat, but be prepared for a little extra effort when required. It is the old work smarter, not harder, dictum. If you put in a little bit of extra time and are noticed for it, perhaps you can use that time to make the rest of your workday less frantic. Go back to those clear lines of communication to know and understand your stations goals. Ask questions if needed. Then position yourself to help meet those goals. Seek and save recognition from Sales and directly from clients, you never know when those emails will come in handy.

It’s all about documenting and celebrating your victories, no matter how small. More victories than losses, plus being noticed for a positive attitude and providing the solution, makes you a valued asset to your current employer and to your next employer. The best way to your next job? Do your current one with excellence, and be prepared for the next step.

Look at yourself and your work environment. Are you showing up for a client session in a pair of shorts and whatever T-shirt was at the top of the pile? For some clients that might be perfectly appropriate, but for most business clients it is not. If you want to wear T-shirts to work at least make it a station logo one. How do you keep the studio? Is it a case that you know where everything is even though your studio looks like a paper bomb exploded? Do you have more Post-It notes than paint showing on the walls? I am not saying you have to wear your most expensive suit and work out of a perfect germ free studio environment, but be aware of the power your impression makes.

One of the best tools available to you is everyone else in the same position as you are. Network. Ask questions of people whose work you respect. Ask for a critique, not necessarily of your best work, but of clients or situations that give you trouble. Shamelessly steal good ideas you hear and adapt them to your situation. Of course, a great starting point is in your hands right now with Radio And Production.

Although the experts say this is the worst economic time since the ‘30s, in reality this is an unprecedented economic situation. Nobody knows what is really going to happen, and anyone who says otherwise is lying until time proves him or her right. The economy will eventually bounce back due to its cyclical nature, but until then, what we do know for now is those that can be light and move with the demands of the business will have the most success. Be flexible and reactive, be innovative. Those are the keys to being a winner in these tough times.

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