Protecting Your Most Valuable Asset: You

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 15, 2021 

I’ve seen a lot of social media posts lately from people in all aspects of the audio and content industry talking about the demise of traditional radio, including and especially the lack of opportunity, pay and diverse leadership. One post in particular by one-time radio talent, now Director of Global Curation Strategy at Universal Music Group, Alex Gervasi, lead to a rabbit hole of comments about how bad the state of radio is right now because the same old people keep getting hired in positions of power, regardless of their actual success. The tweet read, “Radio continues to wonder why radio is nose-diving while also employing the most awful people. Trust me, this is not just one bad apple. The industry needs to be purged.” A lot of people agree. It seems like everyone in the business knows how to fix the state of radio right now, except actual radio people.

One company received an enormous amount of hate on social media for posting a job opportunity which required at least 2 years of experience in the business along with a list of other requirements but offered no pay in the beginning. The ad stated that qualified candidates would not be paid for their work until and unless a following and/or financial opportunity came about. So basically, the company was looking for people to provide content and talent for them without any compensation so they could eventually turn that into compensation for their bottom line.

I’ve also seen a lot of complaints about major radio companies offering minimum wage, at best, for hourly on-air positions in big markets. These are the kinds of positions that require a certain skill set to fill, but there is no real incentive to do the work, because it takes up time that skilled workers could be filling with jobs that actually pay livable wages.

Sure, in the good ole days, some of us volunteered, and worked for free and answered phones just to get our foot in the door. But things are different now. Traditional radio isn’t what it used to be, and now that it’s morphing into the audio and content business, and accessible platforms are as easy as starting a social media account, radio doesn’t have the luxury of being that way anymore. What’s that ole saying? “If you pay Bananas, you get Monkeys.” Nowadays it’s the truth. Not only is that the case, but skilled talent can do the same for themselves as the company who was looking to hire talent for no money on their own. Why bring in a third party?

Becoming an entrepreneur in our business appears to be the norm these days with the growing popularity of podcasting, streaming and on demand content, and the increasing necessity to do so based on consolidation and lack of opportunity within radio companies. And as much as many of those out of work would like to be employed by some of the bigger companies, it’s necessary to look at what’s better for you. Option 1: Working for a company who expects you to build a brand for them, while they assume ownership of it and the content you create or working for a company that insists on taking ownership of the brand and content you’ve already built when you sign on to work for them. Or Option 2: Working out a deal where you maintain ownership of your personal brand and reap some of the financial benefits or do it on your own all together and have total control and 100% of the revenue. Building a brand with compelling content is a special skill, and you should be compensated for it.

While we’re on this topic, let’s dig a little deeper. Let’s say you are a seasoned programmer with a proven track record for success and you are interviewing for a PD job for a major company who asks you to take time out of your schedule to put together a “report” on the station you are interviewing with. “Your Winning Strategy,” if you will. That’s no longer okay to do without signing an NDA and/or legal document which guarantees that the information and content you provide will not be used if you are not hired to do the job, or at the very least you be paid a consultant’s fee for the time, energy and work you put into it. I hear a lot of in and out of work PDs complain about this. Most seasoned PD’s these days get paid for those kinds of reports and therefore should be considered the sole proprietor of the information provided unless they are employed with the station the report is about.

It takes an enormous amount of time and market analyzation to put together a solid plan. Just last fall, a colleague of mine called me so upset because a company she was interviewing with asked her to complete a 30-page, essay questionnaire on strategy. It took her a minimum of 12 hours to complete this in addition to turning in a report for multiple stations in a specific cluster for the company. Doing so took away an enormous amount of time from her current job and individual clients. And after she “helped them” with the gender EEO requirements, went through several interviews and provided them with a winning playbook, she didn’t even get so much as a heads up before the “usual suspect” (not her) was hired. Sadly, it took her a minute to learn her lesson, she did this again for the same company in a different market, was told how good the reports were, and suffered the same experience again. Another colleague of mine, (also not the usual suspect) just recently experienced the exact same thing multiple times as she continues to pursue a PD job in radio.

Sadly, this is a trend in radio (and has been for years). The opportunities are few and far between, and if you are not one of the “usual suspects,” it’s unlikely you will get the job despite your experienced strategy. There is still this very small network of people in charge of the hiring process when it comes to PDs, and if you aren’t in the “network,” you don’t have a shot. That’s why it’s important to remember that when asked to do in depth reports and strategy on markets when interviewing for a job, if you are experienced, and your track record is solid, you should be compensated or rewarded somehow if you are asked to put in the work.

So, we have a lot of work to do to turn the negative around when it comes to perception of radio, but it’s got to start with the basics: opportunity, decent pay, opportunity for growth, and more importantly diversity and inclusion in leadership. In the meantime, make sure no one is taking advantage of you and that you are the one benefitting from your talent and content. At the end of the day, you may feel like you’ve got nothing, but again, all you really need these days is some kind of social media account to turn your most valuable asset (YOU) into a winning and profitable brand.