-Can you give a brief bio to start with. For example, where you come from, your family background and your work history?
My parents both came from a council house background and I think because of their upbringing, I developed a very strong work ethic. We lived in the countryside and I remember coming home from picking onions late one evening at around age eight or nine, feeling so proud because I had a palm full of silver coins that the farmer had given me for my efforts. I also remember getting a clipped ear for being late home! From that point on, I always had jobs and wanted to earn some money. My work ethic, which is vital if you want to achieve anything in life, came from that background because if you wanted anything, you had to go and earn it.
That work ethic has stayed with me throughout my career, along with the drive I have to do a great job and be the best I can. Hard work, and the determination to behave with the right level of empathy, morals and ethics, and to treat people in the right way, is crucial.
I started working in radio when I was at University in Bristol. I heard an ad on the radio for a part-time job as a person on the street team. I was basically employed as a promotional person handing out cans of V8. From there I made some contacts and eventually managed to get a job as a salesperson. This was back in the day when radio in the UK was a two percent medium, so nobody really cared about it, and it was a tough way to start. But it gave me a great foundation in dealing with different people, in showing people respect, and understanding the value of what I was selling; after all, people are only going to buy something if it works for them.
I worked hard, and I was very eager to learn and improve, and at the age of 27, I was made Sales Director at a regional station in the UK. Then, in my early 30s, I worked as MD for a National station. That was where I really started to see the impact radio stations had on their audiences, I could really see it and feel it.
From there, I went to London to run the National sales team for Bauer and following that I had the opportunity to buy into a business – Orion media – where I eventually became Chief Executive. We owned a number of radio stations and were private equity backed. I ran that business for six years and successfully sold it in 2016.
Then I had a look around and thought about what I wanted to do next. The opportunity came up to talk to Communicorp and I loved the appeal of it because it felt like it had a real entrepreneurial spirit. It felt like it had a private equity ambition around its growth and its willingness to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves. Over the last four years we’ve done a huge amount of work to make that business laser-focused on delivering audience and revenue growth, back to the core of what the business should be focused on.
-What can happen in your typical day at Communicorp?
Well, I’ll give you my typical pre-Covid day. When I wake up, I flick around the radio stations – I like to listen to all the breakfast shows. Generally, I would get into the office early. I’d normally have an executive meeting with my senior team, or I might meet with my commercial guys on revenue.
I try to keep myself and the team focused on what our strategic aims are, and then try to align my efforts with that. And, you know, the key levers to drive our business are pretty straightforward; they are audience, revenue and people. The people development – and the development of our culture – is really important because it drives the behaviours we want to affect audience and revenue growth. So, we’ve done a lot of work around supporting, coaching, developing, recruiting and retaining our people to make sure that we’ve got the best people in every part of the business to drive it forward.
-How does the Irish radio market differ to other markets across the world?
I think radio in Ireland is probably in a more vibrant, more exciting place than anywhere else in Europe. The way audiences listen to and engage with radio is like nothing else. Audiences here are far more engaged; they don’t just have the radio on, they actively listen to it. That is really powerful, and in the light of the whole digital phenomenon, it’s not stopping.
-Why do you think that is? Is it an Irish thing, because we like to talk a lot?
That’s definitely a part of it. There’s definitely an appetite for speech radio in this market because of the culture – Irish people like to talk and air their views. That’s really powerful and a strong reason for it.
But I also think radio remains a very strong source of content, information, and news – and it’s a trusted source. Our digital audience spike during the Covid pandemic reflected that. We saw a 40% increase in our digital audience numbers because people were turning on Newstalk or Today FM to hear what was actually happening. I think the pandemic reminded people about the value of radio and the position it has for consumers within the media repertoire.
-In terms of the radio industry, where do you see that going into the future? What is the most exciting thing on the horizon for the radio industry, in your opinion?
I think radio has a really bright future. It’s also expanding by the day, and its evolving into a wider audio market.
At Communicorp, we’re creating more and more digital audio content which we’re distributing via GoLoud – our aggregator platform where you can access all of the radio stations and all of our brand extensions, music streams and podcasts under one roof.
It’s very much a hub for all of our content because our strategy is to make sure Irish people spend more time with us, and in order to do that we need to embrace the changes in technology and the changes in consumers’ lives.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen far greater convergence of the consumption of audio content to mobile and digital devices. The moves we have made reflect that trend, and our creation of the GoLoud brand, sums up our ambition is to provide 100% of our consumers’ audio portfolio, so that they can listen to sport, music, news and current affairs within one single environment.
-Is Digital Media impacting on Radio? How can it work in tandem with Radio
I don’t see a replacement for radio in the digital environment because radio is live, it’s up-to-date and because of the heritage and connection that listeners have with “their” station and “their” presenters. It’s also down to the way radio is consumed. That relationship, that trust, that friendship – it doesn’t just happen overnight, it’s built up over a number of years. We do so much work to protect that relationship, to ensure that people keep tuning in, keep coming back tomorrow, the day after and the day after that.
Consumers define themselves as a Newstalk listener, or a Today FM listener. I think this trait is fairly unique to radio, and will not be easily replicated by digital competitors.
-Do you see any problem with the youth market in terms of streaming, Spotify etc…..
I think that threat has existed for years but when we were kids, we wouldn’t have said it was spotify; we would have said it was LPs, CDs, cassettes, or the Walkman. Streaming has replaced our “owned music”, so we don’t go and buy CDs anymore, we have a Spotify account instead. But I think that radio’s place, and the role it plays in our lives is very different from what your “playlist” gives you.
There’s no doubt that the pressure on young people’s time is far greater, because they’ll also consume dozens of other social and digital platforms and brands. But I think that’s where broadening our own portfolio is really important. Launching Spin Xtra, for instance, or recording a podcast that appeals to a youth audience, are great ways for us to expand our repertoire and invite young people into our portfolio, to eventually expose them to radio and to help them to access it in a slightly different way. So, if they’re coming in via a podcast, they might think, “well actually Spin Xtra is a great station, perhaps I’ll listen to that.”
-How well does the BAI serve the Irish Industry? What could they do to better assist the Irish radio business?
The BAI are restricted as to what they can do because of the legislation. In fact, I would go so far as to say it’s the legislation that needs to be reviewed to reflect the ways we now live and work and communicate in a digital age.
I think a lot of the regulation was set a long time before the digital era really took off. We need to see a modernised approach to regulation that gives us more flexibility to deliver content that our audiences want. We have to be bound by that and held accountable to that within the regulatory framework, but there needs to be change if the industry is to survive and it needs to happen quickly.
-What is your view on how media is sold in Ireland? Is that changing?
It’s sold in a similar way that it is across Europe. I think there us a role for media agencies although that is changing. The challenge for media agencies and advertisers going forward is to figure out the remuneration model between the agency and the client.
There has been a shift towards some in-housing over the last year or two, but I think lots of brands still rely on their media agency. Obviously, we work very closely with all of the agencies across Ireland and have great relationships with them, but I suspect that model will evolve over the coming years.
-How do you see podcasting as a platform evolving? Are you happy with Communicorp’s experience to date?
Yes, as I said earlier, we host content on our GoLoud app. Podcasting is great, but it’s relatively early days. I think many consumers find podcasts through recommendations, and they don’t always know where to find that content. But every day, more and more people reference the fact that they have been listening to a podcast.
It’s going to become a bigger part of our platform and content strategy. That’s an exciting opportunity for us because it means we’re not just playing in the radio space, we’re expanding into the audio space. It gives us an opportunity to leverage a lot of our talent, to be more creative, and to be more niche in some areas because we can create content for very specific audiences. It also gives us another opportunity to make more Irish people listen to us, so it’s a new platform and we should take full advantage of it.
-Most radio stations will need advertising to survive. What do you think is a way to ensure continued advertising support on Irish radio stations?
We need to demonstrate effectiveness. I think whether you’re a local car dealer or a Top 100 company, every business wants to know that their advertising is delivering a return on their investment. It’s as simple as that.
I believe that radio does that. I believe we have creative ways to deliver great solutions for advertisers that help them penetrate the relationships we have with our audiences in meaningful and engaging ways. Part of our success over the past few years is based around our ability to work with brands to enable them to get closer to that listener relationship.
-Do you see any obvious threats to the commercial success of radio, or any opportunities on the horizon that we’re not grasping yet?
I think the exciting opportunity we’re taking advantage of is the digital audio boom and the way that audiences are now listening. The platforms that people are listening on and the technology are changing – smart speakers or mobile listening, for instance. That’s a really exciting opportunity for us.
-What became of DAB radio?
DAB has not taken off in this country and my feeling is that other technology has now superseded it. If a consumer is spending €100 at your local electrical shop, why would you buy a digital radio when you can buy a smart speaker that gives you far more?
-Do you see room for co-operation between different platforms? For example, Newstalk and Virgin TV have a good relationship. Do you see similar opportunities arising?
I would always be open to informal partnerships if there’s a benefit from an audience or commercial point of view. We should all be very open to that. We know that our audiences watch TV, look at billboards and read newspapers, so if there’s any benefit to be gained, we should be open to maximising it.
-You pointed out earlier that radio appears to have performed well during the pandemic. Do you think it can retain the listenership gained?
Yes, as I said earlier, we’ve seen a spike in listenership, and we have retained that over recent months. I expect that to change a bit as people go back to their normal daily habits because if people are going back to work, they might have their listening time reduced. But I also expect it will have re-ignited a lot of lapsed listeners interest in radio again. I think radio will come out of the pandemic much stronger.
-Do you get much work/life balance? Like, is there time for a doughnut during the day…?
I have a great work/life balance but I’m not going to tell you what the percentage it is! I have a wife and three kids, aged 22, 20 and 16, and a small dog, so I tend to spend all of my spare time with them.