It has been anything but ‘business as usual’ for Erica McGee since she took over as Acting GM of SCA Perth following Gina Hogan’s decision to return to Brisbane last year.
Within her first six months, SCA bought the regional Redwave radio network from Seven West Media, which meant integrating two brands covering eight regional areas and remote mine sites into the Triple M and Hit family in WA. In her second six months, there were devastating bushfires. But of course, the biggest challenge has been leading the organisation through the disruption of COVID-19.
“I don’t think any leader at any level has had all the answers in dealing with everything COVID-19 has thrown at us, from both a business and personal perspective. I’d like to think my natural style is authentic; I haven’t ‘designed’ my approach. I’ve just tried my best to keep everybody updated, make the best decisions possible given circumstances that were changing daily – sometimes hourly – and to care for our people.”
McGee is a veteran of radio, having worked in the medium since 1993 and been Content Director at SCA Perth since 2013 (she was recently named one of the Top 20 content directors in Australian radio by RadioToday). That experience was invaluable in striking the right balance on-air for SCA’s two Perth stations when everything was in upheaval.
“On Hit92.9, our direction was to provide a safe escape from all the constant headlines, lean into fun content, and actually celebrate when we weren’t touching anything Corona-related. As Working From Home became more commonplace, our team continued to focus less on the news and to reflect the new normal, with talk topics around WFH, being in lockdown etc.”
“On mix94.5 we extended our Breakfast show to 10am during most of lockdown and threw out the rule book. We allowed calls and interviews to run their natural course, giving our listeners the space to talk and feel connected with our hosts and each other. We recognised the need for balance and tried to keep our fingers on the pulse for COVID fatigue, while still providing important information, as it came to hand, in Breakfast and across the workday.”
“This is where radio is powerful, in its ability to pivot quickly and to really connect with audiences, becoming a source of comfort, information and entertainment.”
The flipside to the stations’ on-air product was managing her team internally. McGee said the priority was ensuring their health and wellbeing before everything else.
“We moved extremely quickly to set up our Breakfast shows to work from home and implemented a comprehensive WFH strategy for the rest of the office. We have re-introduced staff back into the office carefully, in slow and considered stages, while providing an appropriate level of COVID-Safe precautions.”
An important development for Radio’s return to some kind of normal is the reinstatement of surveys, which were suspended after Survey 2 in April. That survey showed an extremely tight race in Perth, with mix94.5 on a P10+ share of 12.6%, just ahead of rivals Nova 93.7 and 96fm on 12.0% each, followed by Hit92.9 on 10.1%.
Needless to say, Survey 6 – due to be released on September 29 – is very keenly anticipated.
Besides the individual station shares, McGee said it will also provide a vital indication of how the medium has been affected overall.
“Our lifestyles and listening habits have changed significantly through COVID-19 and it’s important we get an accurate snapshot of how that looks currently, in comparison to the numbers in April.”
“We know from other sources of measurement that listening has increased substantially throughout the pandemic, particularly across our digital radio platforms – including live radio streaming, catch up radio podcasts and smart speakers – which collectively reached 10 million listening hours in August 2020, an increase of 46 percent year-on-year.”
McGee said it is also important to restate the facts when it comes to the reach of commercial radio in comparison to some of the free streaming services, with which radio networks compete for advertisers.
“The latest data from Infinite Dial 2020 shows commercial radio reaches more than four times the number of Australians as Spotify’s free service. When helping local business get back on their feet is so critical, radio needs to be able to demonstrate its capacity to help them achieve that.”
Like all media, Radio has taken a big hit, with CRA figures for 2019/20 showing revenue was down 22.37% YOY in Perth. McGee is cautious but confident the market will recover this year, with some positive signs it is already on the way up.
“From an optimistic point-of-view, we’re hoping to see growth in Q4, given that’s where the market was really impacted by COVID during FY20. What’s more, from other data we found that advertisers were quick to return to radio once the initial concerns surrounding limited ‘in-car’ listening went away.”
Since assuming the role as Acting GM, it has been in at the deepest of deep ends for McGee. She has met all the challenges thrown at her and characteristically found positives amongst all the negatives.
“We’ve been forced to be creative, to be agile, to push aside the bullshit and recognise what’s really important. We’ve been reminded daily who and what matters, and have come together to support our communities. And we’ve uncovered a whole new way of working, that will tear down a lot of barriers and make for a truly inclusive professional environment.”
“I can see a lot of silver linings.”