SWOT: Reputation Management Amid the Redundancy Rush

While we can’t control global economic conditions, or indeed the local cost-of-living crisis, we can control our messaging.

Welcome to SWOT by Sound Story, your weekly inside track on the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats looming for the entertainment industry.

⚡️ Trending: Vinyl is back for good and that’s exciting. Don’t let the greed of big labels ruin it. Words by John Harris. Source: The Guardian.

🌏 Global: Amazon-owned livestreaming platform Twitch plans to cut roughly 500 staff. Words by Cecilia D'Anastasio. Source: Bloomberg.

💰 Money: 37 Aussie festivals will share $2.5M in government funding via the Live Music Australia program. Words by James Hanley. Source: IQ.

🌶️ Spicy: CEO responds to employee’s video showing her getting fired. Words by Andréa Oldereide and Karina Babenok. Source: boredpanda.

📰 Media: Mumbrella has revealed its plans to cover the music and screen sectors, including exec interviews. Source: Mumbrellacast.

Strength: It’s Going to be a Big Year for Australian Screen

There might be a lot of industry, media and consumer chatter about primetime free-to-air television relying too heavily on tired and tiresome reality TV formats, but don’t let that make you think Australian screen content is in trouble. 2024 will be a massive year for Australian screen. 

👉 Boy Swallows Universe, the Netflix adaptation of Trent Dalton’s best-selling book, has already made it to #1 in Australia, #6 in Argentina and #2 in the US and UK – taking a hyper-real story of poverty-stricken suburban Brisbane to the world and putting Australian storytelling on the map. Federal Arts Minister Tony Burke has thrown his weight behind the seven-episode series, telling people “If you have Netflix please watch it. It’s brilliant.” While there’s no doubt Boy Swallows Universe is a beautiful piece of Australian creativity and execution, it’s a fascinating endorsement while Burke and the Australian Government are looking at how they can force international streaming giants to make more Australian content. 

👉 Foxtel’s Binge has also announced Season 2 of Strife, which was loosely based on Australian media entrepreneur Mia Freedman’s memoir Work Strife Balance. Strife broke Binge’s record as its best-performing Original in both its first day and first week – overtaking Colin From Accounts, which is currently in production for Season 2.

👉 Amazon’s Prime Video has also just released its trailer for its first Australian Original film Five Blind Dates.

👉 There are also a bunch of grants up for grabs from various screen bodies – including Screen NSW.

Weakness: The Never-Ending Debate About the ARIA Charts

Amongst all the ‘Years in Review’ for 2023 and predictions for 2024, are the seemingly inevitable think pieces and hot takes on “What’s wrong with the Australian music charts?”, and why so few Aussie artists have featured on them recently. Even ARIA are scratching their heads.

👉 This piece from The Music has done the rounds, and even got the endorsement of independent Senator David Pocock.

👉 A hot take from The Music's publisher, Stephen Green, followed a few days later. In the op-ed, Stephen says the argument that "everyone is ignoring new music" may have some truth to it, but that the real reveal of the current chart crisis is more a reflection of the data now at our fingertips. This data, he writes, means less manipulation by "gatekeepers" with physical formats.

👉 There's also been some negative chatter about how certain older songs are having a rebirth on the charts, seemingly at the expense of new ones – with people blaming everything from nostalgia to a lack of audience engagement with new music and radio not adequately supporting new Aussie acts.

👉 Let's not forget though, that the very nature of how the ARIA Charts, for example, are compiled, is completely different to the CD era. The Charts need to keep pace with the reality of the music landscape, so necessarily include streaming numbers. Pre-streaming charts took into account that Vivienne bought Britney Spears’ … Baby One More Time album in 1999, but then had no data/ insight into how much that single album was on repeat in her portable Sony CD player and Walkman (a lot). It received equal weighting to an album someone bought, but never listened to. Now we know how much people go back to old favourites (such as “Riptide” from Vance Joy), and how much they have current favourites (see: Taylor Swift) on repeat.

👉 There has never been more data at our fingertips. So do you think the way the Charts are measured and reported needs to change again to take this into account, particularly now that the debate is playing out so publicly?

Opportunity: Aussie Business Helping to Democratise Audio

If you work in media, music or entertainment, chances are you have a RØDE microphone in your sight-line. The Sydney-headquartered company now exports to 119 countries and bills itself as "The Choice of Today's Creative Generation". The company's exponential growth in recent years can teach us a lot about manufacturing onshore, Aussie business success stories, and the power of audio and the creator economy.

👉 Last month, while many businesses were winding down, RØDE founder Peter Freedman was buying Seattle-based Mackie, which makes mixers and loudspeakers.

👉 Peter told the AFR's Michael Bailey: "Our plan is to be the biggest pro audio company in the world in the next three years – we're pretty close now", and that both Mackie and RØDE "helped fuel the democratisation of DIY recording in their own way".

👉 Unlike many companies who have moved their manufacturing and production offshore, RØDE has a manufacturing hub in Sydney, with 26,000 square metres of factories and warehouses, and machinery worth over $500 million.

👉 “With the set-up we’ve got here, there’s a lot of things we can do cheaper than China,” Peter told Michael.

👉 The AFR Rich List estimates Peter is now worth $1.35 billion, partly fuelled by the popular RODECaster Pro, which helped people with at-home podcast production during the pandemic.

Threat: Reputation Management Amid the Redundancy Rush

It probably hasn’t escaped your attention that there have been redundancies in many media, tech, music and entertainment companies already. Just this week, layoffs at Twitch, Google and Universal Music have been announced.

While we can’t control global economic conditions, or indeed the local cost-of-living crisis, we can control how we handle our messaging. Here are five tips from the Sound Story team on managing headcount changes:

📌 Zanda Wilson: In your messaging and any media around redundancy news, it’s important to be clear that roles are made redundant, not people. It’s not a reflection of personal performance or ability. It’s about business structures, outcomes and the economic conditions of the time. 

📌 Vivienne Kelly: Having said that: do not forget the people. People are more than the roles they are leaving behind, and they may need support, structures and systems to help them come to terms with the news and think about what’s next. 

📌 Jake Challenor: Too many companies also forget the people who stay behind. Many may carry guilt about retaining their roles, while others around them are now jobless, or have ongoing fears about further redundancy rounds. They also might have legitimate concerns about picking up the additional workload, uncertainties about reporting lines and structures, and what happens next. Just because they've kept their jobs, doesn't mean they should be ignored.

📌 Jane Elliott: Invest time in understanding the real impact at the coalface. Too often commercial decisions are made at a senior level, with little insight from people managers, so the day-to-day impact is not considered resulting in resentment, burnout and the loss of good people.

📌 Maddie Koczanowski: As important as it is to communicate bad news sensitively and appropriately, remember to continue to tell good news stories to your people, stakeholders and the media. It's not all doom and gloom, and it's important to keep up morale for those who are still on-board!

📎 Further Reading: Communicating Bad News to Employees. Words by Elizabeth Baskin. Source: Forbes.

The Fun Stuff

Quote of the Week: “Music festivals are the life blood of the live music sector in this country – that’s why this Government is backing them in. We know the live music sector continues to face challenges, which is why we’re determined to support it.” Tony Burke, Federal Arts Minister

Show of the Week: Given its glowing endorsements from everyone from Federal Ministers to the book’s original author Trent Dalton and everyone in between, could it be anything other than Boy Swallows Universe this week? It’s streaming on Netflix now, and has already made it to #1 in Australia, as well as #6 in Argentina, and #2 in the US and UK. Not bad for a boy from Brisbane.

Team Tidbit: Caption this! Here’s a picture of Sound Story team member, Vivienne Kelly, SCUBA diving with seals down at Narooma on the New South Wales Sapphire Coast on New Years Eve. How did you ring in the New Year?

Written by
Sound Story
Sound Story is Australia’s leading strategic communications consultancy for the creative industries with clients spanning music, media, advertising and technology.
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