How a radio company faced the pandemic and won!
(By Gary Fisher) It was a crisp, chilly April 15th morning on the Black Horse Pike in West Atlantic City. This should have been the start of another busy summer season on the Jersey Shore. We had just finished talking to the postman, who left without handing over a check for the fifth day in a row. He left everyone’s mail at Equity because no other business in the five-story Bayport One office building was open. It was exactly a month in the depths of the pandemic.
There were no emails, voicemail messages, no salespeople at work, and 50% of Equity’s second quarter bookings were canceled in the previous 30 days. No customer had planned their usual early season promotions. Phillies baseball, typically a contributor of over $ 250,000 to Equity’s revenue, had been canceled indefinitely. The Beer Fest, a music festival, a $ 100,000 event marketing revenue generator was also canceled. It was the start of a nuclear winter in April.
South Jersey businesses continue to squat for what promises to be a long, cold Covid winter. With cases increasing in various parts of southern Jersey and across the country and the possibility for Governor Murphy to order continued quarantines and capacity limits, Covid is never far from the concerns of homeowners. local businesses.
However, a South Jersey company is going against the trend and is working to revamp the way it does business during the pandemic. It’s a local radio group that actually gives credit to the pandemic for helping reset their business and boosting their signal.
The weight of the pandemic and the drop in income it created in the spring and summer was unlike anything we had ever seen. We have spent 24 years building this business; then almost half was gone overnight.
I have formed Equity communications in 1996 with my partner Steve Gormley. We have nine South Jersey radio stations and a digital advertising and streaming company. The stations are 95.1 WAYV, 100.7 WZXL, 99.3 WZBZ, 96.1 WTTH, 93.1 WMiD AM / FM.
We had lived here during September 11, the 2006 financial crisis, Hurricane Sandy and the collapse of the local casinos. These things were rounded errors from what happened in the first few months of Covid. We had done pretty much the same old fashioned way for two decades and had been very successful. Then suddenly, in March, everything stopped. No cars on the road to listen to the radio. No car dealership or casino is open to buy ads. No one at work to write checks for the ads we had already run. Things came to a complete stop.
Equity was of course not the only one to see its activity come to an abrupt halt. All analogue and digital media experienced disruption in Q2 bordering on devastation. The pandemic has shaken the media industry, accelerating the rise of the digital economy while decimating local retail, the so-called K-Shaped recovery. We had to take stock of everything we had been doing for 23 years. and put everything and everyone under the prism of the Covid. There was indeed a new world order for local media, local radio and Equity in particular. Initially it stopped us and everyone else in South Jersey in our tracks.
For many South Jersey businesses, adjusting to new realities – after doing virtually everything the same for decades – has not been an easy transition. For the first time in 24 years of existence, we have been forced to cut expenses, downsize staff, cut salaries, sell assets, and completely reorganize the sales, programming and engineering departments. administration.
Veteran account managers and DJs have left, new digital salespeople have emerged, and tough staffing decisions have to be made. Legacy operating strategies and practices have been abandoned and new ones have been instituted. For Equity, it was a complete and utter reset.
Once we got over the shock of what was going on and what was not going to happen, we got up and started listening to our customers and our audience, to see what they needed. Listening to sponsors and listeners has always allowed us to be successful in the past. Looking back, I like to think of it as our own personal destruction. We just let our customers and our listeners tell us what to do. The goals were to remain relevant and useful to them, and to remain a constant concern for us and our staff.
While no one expected a pandemic, Equity was strangely prepared for its new economic reality. Over the past few years, the company had grown its streaming radio audience through websites and mobile apps and quintupled its revenues by staffing its high-performing in-house digital sales division.
As in other industries, the pandemic has accelerated forces that were already at play in advertising. More specifically in the media, the pandemic had the effect of bringing about several years of change in just a few months. From a business standpoint, everyone was immediately pushed out of their comfort zone whether they liked it or not. From an expense control standpoint, we’ve stopped doing stupid, fun stuff. From a programming standpoint, streaming music and digital programming – once considered an existential thread for live radio media – have become our savior.
We took the approach that we had to totally reinvent the business – otherwise we might not be a business anymore. It was an opportunity to accelerate the modernization of the company. We took the approach that the pandemic didn’t happen to us, maybe it happened to us. The worst crisis we have ever seen has given us countless opportunities. Thanks to the pandemic, we have become the embodiment of a modern media enterprise.
We were at a bit of a disadvantage compared to our competitors like Comcast, Townsquare, and Atlantic City Press because we didn’t have the backing or cash flow of a bigger company behind us. On the other hand, we were fortunate to have no debt and no debt service to worry about.
We have also been fortunate that Equity has an amazing core of around 12 or 13 employees who have shown up every day since March 10 to help us keep going. The staggered hours, the reduced staff, the physical distance, the separation, the sanitation, the ventilation, the mitigation, many cleanings and masks have allowed us to continue. These staff members – many of whom have been with us for over 15 years – are the true architects of our reconfiguration. They were truly our core workers.
Along the way, Equity has learned valuable lessons about dealing with adversity in general and Covid in particular:
1. The past is history, the future is a mystery – so stay in the moment.
2. The future is here and the past will never come back.
3. Less is more.
4. Find your pleasures and successes where you can.
5. Move quickly but slow down and don’t rush.
6. The clean monsters and germophobes we laughed at were right.
7. When you go through hell, keep going.
8. Stay focused on the long term because the short term is – well, the short term.
9. Don’t assume – don’t expect – don’t blame anyone – do something.
10. Success is never final and failure is never fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.
We keep telling our customers: we’re still here, we’re still big and popular; and now we’re more affordable than ever. Staying big, digital, and cheap is our way through this. We are definitely going to the other side and are now seeing sequential improvement month after month.
I am encouraged that most banks, law firms, car dealerships, restaurants and casinos are now recalling their staff to work. This should be a precursor to the return of advertising and spending. I’m sure most of the clients we zoom in are still in sweatpants and underwear – but I’m happy to report that it seems like a lot of staff are returning to work most of the time.
We still don’t know what the future holds, but we’re fine and our doors are open. We are still here and we will be there. I am concerned about projections that one in five small businesses will close their doors this winter. The real recovery will begin next year when everyone feels safe that the risks of a pandemic are behind us; and people can eat in restaurants and shop in stores without worry.
When vaccines, therapies and herd immunity eventually take hold later next year, I think our local radio and digital will really take off. Until then, we remind everyone that we are here, that we are great, that we are still local, popular and more affordable than ever!
I think we’re kind of like that Timex watch from those TV commercials 50 years ago. We got licked but we still tick.
Gary Fisher is the President / Owner of Equity Communications, you can reach him at: [emailÂ protected]