Jobs and wages are a hot topic these days. Recently, we learned that only 96,000 jobs had been added in our Nation in August and unemployment stood at 8.1 percent, down from 8.3 percent largely because of 368,000 people leaving the workforce altogether. 

In 2009, we heard a lot about downsizing departments, furloughs, freezing salaries and less attractive benefit packages. The declining job market and downward trend of salaries in the Traffic Management profession have me doubly concerned. While these trends can be blamed to a degree on our current economy, the repercussions to our profession just might be profound. 

So, my intentions in writing this article is to paint a picture of what has happened to those working in Traffic in the last eight years. Since the TDGA Survey Salaries are the only real effort to measure the health of the Traffic profession, I spent most of my time dissecting surveys from past years. If you don’t know about these surveys, they are a great resource packed with data including: salaries broken down in various ways, increases and decreases in workforce, workload statistics and job satisfaction results. There is so much data in fact, that I had to make decisions on which direction to go. 

To really drill down into this information in a clear and simple way, I will focus my attention on Traffic Managers working in Commercial Radio for this first article. Then I can expand in future articles into the significant differences of Traffic in TV, Public Radio as well as how Hubs and Spokes, HD Radio and HDTV play into the mix.

You should know however that even though there are slight variances in the numbers between all the variables, the overall trends are consistent. No matter what your title is, what form of radio station you work for or which market you work in, for most, more work has been added with virtually no increase in pay. 

I would imagine that while employees may have been understanding when the economy was in the tank, as it recovers they expect their situations to recover as well. Restoring salaries to their pre-recession levels matters almost as much as how you announced the cuts. Looking at the data, broadcasters have some catching up to do. 

 

 The average (that’s coast to coast) salary for a Commercial Radio Traffic Manager this year is $43,285. That in itself is sad, considering the importance of this job. If you care to test the importance of the duties performed by a Traffic Manager, have everyone stay home tomorrow and let’s see which absence will affect you most. Anyway, $43,285. From 2004 to 2008 (pre-recession) the average increase in pay year over year was 2.75%. From 2008 to present, that already low increase plummeted to 1.125% year over year. 

The year over year average US median pay increase over the last eight years is 3.3%. The year over year average median pay increase for Traffic Managers over the last eight years was 1.8%. If 3.3% had been paid year over year, the average salary would be sitting at $48,369 for a Commercial Radio Traffic Manager. With the current salary at $43,285, that’s a little over $5,000 a year you are missing out on. For some, that’s a years worth of car payments. And insurance.

The last point is the most important. Yes, raises are given for good performance, but mostly raises are given to keep everyone on track with boosts in cost of living. Inflation. 

2004 to 2012 saw 22% inflation, which means on average, the salary should be at $45,513 just to have the quality of life you had in 2004. $45,513. Remember the average is $43,285. 

CEO’s and upper management have interesting clauses built into their contracts. Clauses like “any such annual increase shall not be less than the greater of 3% or a cost of living increase based on a consumer price index.” When you make $300,000 to $500,000 a year, are you really struggling to keep up with the cost of living? Traffic Managers are often on the low end of the pay scale and are not eligible for commission. Yet, they are responsible for the bottom line. If anyone is struggling with keeping up with cost of living increases, it’s Traffic. Who is looking out for these people?

The next area I wanted to focus in on is the increase in workload. As you can see in the below graph, in 2005, Traffic Managers were at a manageable average of 2 logs per person. I use the word manageable cautiously. The work of a Traffic Manager has always been stressful, never ending and mind numbing. Look where we are today though. Almost 5 logs per person. A 215% increase in work. And no reward.

 

What happened? First, radio saw substantial staffing reductions in 2009 as an effort to cover debt service that were exacerbated by reduced cash flow from dwindling advertising revenues. While I do not have data on how many people in Traffic were let go, I can without hesitation say it was at least a third.

Secondly, we must factor in that there are now more things to Traffic. Web Banners. Streaming. In most cases,  a ‘Interactive staff’ is not hired and the responsibility is thrown upon Traffic.  

The good news: Staffs have been cut to the quick. There simply is no more room to trim. 

The bad news: 2009 provided a good reason to make cuts. I don’t expect things to change in the near future because employers will fall into the notion that they can ‘get by’ with less. 

So that brings us to job satisfaction. Im sure it comes as no surprise that the level of happiness at work is dwindling. 

 

I don’t really have anything to add to this. It is clear that the recent economic downturn has had an adverse impact on morale. Probably productivity as well.

Where are we going?

Will these problems go away as radio rebounds? Will radio rebound? Could conditions continue to erode in the next eight years due to changes in technology or maybe even foreign competition? 

I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. I do know that it’s important to be aware of your surroundings though. I know feeling like you aren’t thriving is a dull, weighed-down feeling. It’s easy to become complacent and comfortable sometimes when there is so much uncertainty around us, but it’s important to check in and scan the internal and external environments to see what is happening in our industry.

If you hunkered down the past few years, you achieved quite a bit. You’ve shown your value and that should help your case when the company can start rewarding employees. If it’s been a while, it’s time. There are solutions out there. Ways to reward Traffic Managers for improving the bottom line. Like employees, employers can also become complacent and comfortable. Unwilling to change. If you find that things stay status quo, with no sign of recognition, increase in pay or a even a bonus, then it could be time to start looking for a new job.

 

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