Ciaran Davis says honesty and transparency helped ARN navigate the pandemic
The CEO and managing director of Australian Radio Network (ARN) and its parent company HT&E, Ciaran Davis, believes regular and honest conversations with staff during the worst economic fallout of the COVID-induced recession helped it weather the pandemic.
“I like to think that maybe we provided constant communication to the business, and it was, I think, people will feel that it was honest and upfront, and when there was bad news, we gave it,” he told Radio Today after revealing the company’s financial position this morning. “We didn’t sugar coat it. We didn’t try and hide it. We gave it and we kept people informed through regular communication, regular videos that I would do on Teams and our internal platforms, that sort of stuff. That probably helped a lot.
“And then feeding down the comms that we would give to the leadership team, and they would give it to their leaders, was very consistent and we worked really hard on internal comms. And I think people appreciated that honesty, as well as the openness, as opposed to trying to sugar coat it with something it wasn’t.”
Much of the company faced pay and hours reductions of 20% throughout the pandemic, with some stood down completely. As ARN came off JobKeeper, some staff, such as the chief operating officer of iHeartRadio, Geraint Davies, did not return.
Davis notes the senior leadership team also took a hit because it was “the right thing to do”.
“I think bonuses and incentives in general are only paid out on successful execution and delivery of results,” he said in regards to his own package reduction throughout the 2020 calendar year compared to 2019. “But that’s the nature of bonuses.
“We did take the decision that we forewent that and we took it early because we were taking money from the Government. We weren’t paying dividends to our shareholders, so it was the right thing to do to be honest.”
He said the JobKeeper stimulus package staved off more severe job cuts within the organisation. The company stopped qualifying for the payment before the end of the program though, which – despite the reduction in Government assistance – is ultimately a good thing, Davis said.
“We were obviously still back for the half and that period of time, but to not qualify was good, because it showed that the market was returning, and that can only benefit us all. And JobKeeper, that’s not sustainable in the medium term, so the sooner we get back to normality and growth, the better.”
The other positives of today’s results, he said, were the general rise in optimism from consumers, advertisers and the market.
“It feels like people are starting to talk more positively again, which is good,” Davis said. “Last year was, we had that intense period of cancellations in sort of April time, and you’re scrambling there, but certainly what we’re seeing now, radio, in terms of audience, did really well. Listenership grew. Engagement grew…. So the power of radio, for me, really came through.
“So the story that we’re telling our advertisers is that connection is something you probably can’t get on many other mediums. And as the market recovers, as recovery comes through, as vaccinations are rolled out, we’re obviously selling how powerful radio is as a medium for listeners, but also then effectively for advertisers as well.”
He also said he expects his staff to have a better time this year, compared to last, as more people return to offices, engage in social interactions, and can have creativity thrive in an in-person environment.
“It’s funny, you talk to the content people, our talent, our producers, our researchers, our executive producers, they actually did an incredible job, because what you hear on air, a lot of work goes into that upbeat, positive presentation style that we did. And all our talent stayed on air, some of them stayed on longer in terms of later in the morning, so they were actually enjoying what they were doing.
“I think despite the uncertainty, the content that they were doing and throwing out, and the planning and ideas and the executions were really good.
“I think on the rest of the business side, yeah, last year was tough. Having people coming back into the office has been a really big positive, because we’re a creative industry. We’ve got a very young workforce. Our work is in many respects a social outlet for people as well, so to be able to come in and engage with people and brainstorm and go for a coffee or go to lunch or whatever it is is really good… Having people coming back there is just a more positive feel throughout the business.”