In a new series amid the coronavirus pandemic, Billboard is asking individuals from all sectors of the music business to share stories of how they work now, with much of the world quarantined at home and unable to take in-person meetings, attend conferences or even go into the office. Submissions for the series can be sent to HowWeWorkNow@Billboard.com. Read the full series here.
This installment is with Juliette Jones, executive vp urban promotion for Atlantic Records.
Juliette Jones: I live in Harlem, so I’m really in the center of it. I haven’t been out of my building in five weeks. But I’m fine. Truth is, I didn’t go out to grocery shop before this. I’ve always had my groceries delivered because I’m always working. And I don’t take the train to work. So a lot of this [stay-at-home] stuff is the same as before for me. Not being able to go out at night has been a little crazy. But at the same time, we are so blessed on the record side that our business is still doing okay. We’re in a good space, as opposed to radio, which has been hit so hard.
As the pandemic was ramping up, Atlantic decided to hold a test day on March 12. The idea was to globally test our functionality from a technological standpoint in case the need should arise that everyone must work from home. So on that day everyone worked from home to see how everything would actually function and find any glitches. By the end of the test day, ironically, the decision had been made to close the offices. Who could have imagined this was the door to the Twilight Zone?
There’s definitely been a learning curve. It’s inspired some of the more mature executives to get a little better in tune with all of this technology. In fact, I’ve learned something new: how to use Microsoft Teams. I still haven’t gotten as fancy as some people, because I hear you can make fake backgrounds and apparently load your documents into the program so everybody can see them. But these video meetings have created a level of humanity among us coworkers that didn’t exist before. Prior to this, we’d just see each other in meetings and keep on going about our business. It’s been interesting now to see people as they work at home.
But it’s been hard to watch what our radio colleagues are going through between layoffs and significant hits on station revenues. Some of us have worked closely with them for decades. Julie [Atlantic chairman/COO Greenwald] has always been supportive of doing radio advertising. I’ve reassured all of our partners that we have every intention of continuing that support and doing business with them.
Still, I know it feels awkward calling them. Like, “Hey guys, I heard you laid off 80% of your staff today. So sorry to hear that. Did you get a chance to listen to that new Jucee Froot record?” It sounds so insensitive. I definitely spent a fair amount of time early on during my conference calls in talking to my team about how they were feeling and how to handle such situations. I told them that if you call someone and they’re just really distraught or had a bad day, simply talk to them and get off the phone. Don’t ask them about the records. I mean, we’re human beings first and life goes on.
So we’ve tried to figure out what we can do to be better partners with the radio folks and help where we can. In fact, I’m very excited because we’ve teamed with several radio partners and are in the process of making washable masks with filters and hand sanitizers that they’re going to help distribute within local communities that need them. We’re doing everything we can, down to giving any extras to programmers who maybe didn’t have masks for their families.
We’ve always had three conference calls a week on my team, which is a pretty significant amount. What we have done is made one of those a video conference. What I’ve found is that the first 40 minutes or so are spent on the staff wanting talking about their experiences, what they’re seeing on the news, asking questions and getting their concerns out. I also make an effort to reach out to everyone on my team every week or at the very least every other week. It’s just to check on them personally. How’s it going? How are you feeling? Do you have everything you need? People really need communication and honest conversation.
Right now, content is king as that’s what fans want. We have a generation that doesn’t just want to hear the music. They want to see it. So the Instagram and Zoom live events and video interviews have been incredibly successful. We recently did one with Wiz Khalifa and [V-103 (WVEE) Atlanta DJ] Greg Street that brought out some 75,000 people.
So new opportunities have come out of the coronavirus pandemic. And as we move forward, I’m expecting more artists to become more participatory with us. Everyone is going through this process at their own speed and finding their groove. These kinds of conversations are forcing people to get out of their comfort zones, which will be good for all of us in business over time. No one wanted a pandemic to make this happen. But there’s a lot of innovation that will come out of this experience.