Feature – Profile of ClearChannel Entertainment’s benefits package

In summary
ClearChannel Entertainment is a booking agent and music and theatre venue manager, with around 3,500 staff, only 650 of whom are permanent. Benefits on offer include an on the spot recognition scheme which goes on to annual awards ceremonies at local national and international level, voluntary benefits, pension scheme and income protection.

Article in full
When was the last time you went to a live theatre production? Going to a play, a musical or a pantomime is something we are more likely to remember fondly from our childhoods, than have done regularly over the past few weeks. Perhaps a concert or a sports match is more your bag, but even this form of live entertainment is likely to play second fiddle to being entertained at home by television or via a DVD.

So in a perverse turn of events, it is now live entertainment that has become a ‘hard act to follow’.

ClearChannel acts as a booking agent and theatre/music venue manager involved in around 10,000 events across Europe a year. ClearChannel Entertainment (CCE) employs some 3,500 staff, of which roughly 650 are permanent. Phil Gray, head of HR at CCE, explains that the biggest challenge facing the firm is “the battle for the leisure pound”. Brian Newman, HR consultant for the firm, adds: “Certainly people’s outlook and what they would spend on leisure activities has been influenced in recent years by events such as terrorist attacks. We also have to compete with out-of-town multiplexes offering cheaper entertainment options.”

These challenges have forced the firm to work hard to put ‘business’ into show business – not an easy task when many people who opt for a career in entertainment rate their art above commercial gains. Added to this, the organisation has faced several new strategies in recent years, so staff at the frontline can be more than a little cynical about initiatives originating from head office.

So when Gray joined CCE just over two years ago, she had her work cut out. Since then she has expanded her team to cope with the enormity of the task, and with a strong strategic vision and support from Catie Callender, CCE’s UK managing director, Gray has overseen the rollout of a training programme for all staff, including nearly 3,000 casual staff, a shake up of benefits, a revamp of a recognition scheme and the launch of a major Oscar-style award ceremony for staff. Current projects include an internal communications strategy, while a review of its benefits and pension strategy is on the cards.

All these projects have a clear business objective in mind: to ensure that the firm does everything it can to ensure the customer returns. This strategy is known as ‘Growth through delighting our customers’. So from the moment they pick up the phone to book a ticket, through to an interval drink and final curtain, they need to enjoy the experience. Gray says: “It is about making sure that from the first minute, customers have a good experience. The whole cycle leads to the customer feeling they would love to come back.”

Like its audiences, CCE’s staff are a diverse mix of people. There are students and school leavers right through to post-retirement workers. In addition, for many casual CCE staff, perhaps in the box office or selling ice creams during intervals, this is a second job.

To overcome this, CCE rolled out a training package, called ‘Showing we care’ for all customer-facing staff. The fact that casual staff are also trained is important because the customer doesn’t know, or particularly care, who is a casual staffer and who is permanent. So employees all need to be able to deal with the wide diversity of audiences that CCE attracts.

“You can’t train the customers, so you [have to] train the staff to deal with them,” explains Newman.

Gray adds: “We have a belief that it is very important to invest in staff and to develop them. Significant amounts of money are going into training for all management staff – from the most junior managers to the top of the organisation.”

This taps into CCE’s belief that there are more ways of retaining staff than simply giving them more money. Having said that, the HR team have taken a look at the reward package for managers higher up in the organisation. Gray says: “Two years ago, unless they were the most senior manager in a venue, they didn’t receive additional benefits – which didn’t show the whole management team they were valued and impacted on individual loyalty. After conducting extensive research internally and externally it became clear this had to change. Strategically it meant there was a need to offer these benefits to all managers from assistant managers upwards.”

The second strand of the reward strategy was to launch a whole range of voluntary benefits. Gray says: “We wanted to try to capture the people who come to work for us on a casual basis and make them feel valued.”

It was decided to go with the package offered by voluntary benefits providers Bringme. It was launched to staff just before Mother’s Day. “It was a huge success and approximately 1,000 of our staff visited the website in the first week of launch. And this is a workforce that had not traditionally been engaged in corporate activity,” says Newman.

“It’s like anything, success breeds success,” says Gray. “Word of mouth was its greatest driver.”

Later this year, Gray and her team plan to review the benefits currently being offered, including pension contributions. Newman explains: “We are all well aware of the pensions debate going on at the minute. We, as reasonable employers, have a duty to ensure that our staff are fully aware of the need to plan for their retirement and how we can help them do this.”

Playing into the stereotype of an excitable theatrical person, Newman gushes with enthusiasm when our interview turns to the company’s awards schemes. First up, playing a supporting act to the main event, are the ‘Hot Ticket’ awards – an on-the-spot recognition scheme that allows managers to give any employee a £25 bonus bond voucher for behaviour that was ‘above and beyond the call of duty’.

“There was a debate about the amount, but £25 was chosen because it was enough to mean something,” explains Newman. “It is instant recognition, to reward exemplary performance. The whole scheme is helping us reinforce the behaviours we now expect from all our staff. For casual staff, the speed of the reward is important because they might not be there the next week.”

Gray points out that there are no specified limits on how many vouchers a manager can give out. “We don’t want managers to feel restricted. If someone is doing something that [deserves] to be rewarded, they need to be rewarded so we have moved away from having a regulated amount. The procedure is there to help, but managers don’t have to stick to it if it is not appropriate,” she says.

But top billing must go to CCE’s ‘Spotlight’ annual awards scheme. This is the Oscar-style event where the key behaviours that the company wants to see in its staff are applauded and rewarded.

At each of its 23 venues across the UK, staff nominate the colleagues that they want to see win ‘Employee of the year’. The winner at each venue is announced at a local ceremony (to which all staff at that venue are invited) and they win a £150 voucher, champagne, flowers and, of course, local recognition. These ceremonies take place during August and September.

All 23 winners are then judged nationally, which leads to a gold, silver and bronze winner being announced at a national gala dinner (this year’s ceremony will take place in Southport in late November). Besides ‘Employee of the year’ there are a number of other categories. Last year’s included ‘Venue manager of the year’ to a ‘Showing we care award’, although a number of changes have been made for this year’s awards.

“The awards reinforce what we are doing. When we launched the awards last year there was a lot of cynicism at local level, but it was so successful that nominees have gone back and talked about it. They have done a selling job on it that we could never have done from head office, and this year the number of nominations has gone right up,” says Newman. “Anybody can be nominated for employee of the year – there were casual staff who won last year. It is about embracing everyone because Joe Customer does not distinguish between permanent and casual staff.”

Last year’s gold award winner worked at one of CCE’s smallest venues. “This sent message that you don’t have to be at a glitzy West End venue to exemplify our business,” he emphasises.

The winners of the Spotlight awards are then entered into the company’s international awards, the President’s Club. This year UK winners scooped four of the 20 awards. “It embraces exactly what we wanted to achieve. From the initial cynicism locally we have four people who were being internationally recognised,” enthuses Newman.

Gray believes that a reward strategy has to have a lot of streams to it, but for her “the Spotlight Awards is the umbrella that goes over everyone. It is a good example of how to communicate reward; all the letters, emails, and staff noticeboards in the world could not have given us what we got from the awards.” Career profiles
Philomena Gray

Philomena Gray joined ClearChannel Entertainment in August 2002 and was given a brief to work alongside the firm as a business partner. Over the last couple of years she has led a small team of HR professionals which are now part of a business operation across the UK.

Prior to that she had worked for HBOS for 15 years in a variety of HR and operations roles, with the last of these as part of an award-winning diversity team.

She points out that the entertainment culture is very different from the corporate financial services culture she had been used to. But she has found it extremely useful to take her previous experience and apply it in a very different world.

Brian Newman
When Brian Newman began his university studies he opted for a business degree. However, as part of the course he had to complete a work placement and landed up in the HR department at The Woolwich. He enjoyed the role so much that on his return to university he switched to a personnel degree. His first job on graduation was with Carlton Television as an HR adviser, before moving on to join ClearChannel Entertainment in February 2003 reporting to Gray. Newman works on the theatrical side of CCE, so his personal interest in theatre has been a great help. “Fortunately I was aware of some of the theatrical stars and what the shows were like, so it allowed me to hit the ground running.”

Benefits box

Private medical insurance for assistant managers and above. Voluntary healthcare cash plan from HSA for all staff.

Money purchase pension (contributions currently under review) Group risk insurance
Income protection and life assurance for assistant managers and above.

Voluntary benefits
For all staff, provided by Bringme
Company products
‘Just the ticket’ scheme where tickets at some shows are available to staff at a discount.

On-the-spot recognition scheme. Annual awards ceremonies at local, national and international level.

ClearChannel Entertainment at a glance
ClearChannel Entertainment (CCE) entered the UK in 2001 through the acquisition of Apollo Leisure. It, along with its sister company ClearChannel Outdoor (which engages in outdoor advertising such as on billboards), is part of ClearChannel International.

Brian Newman, HR consultant at CCE, says: “It is said that 92% of live entertainment has some involvement with ClearChannel whether it is in one of our venues, hosted by one of our bookers, is our promoter and so on.” More than 27 million people attend about 10,000 ClearChannel events in Europe each year.

In the UK, CCE employs 3,500 staff, of which roughly 650 are permanent employees. The workforce is based in venues from Edinburgh to Torquay, including 21 theatres (three in the West End), two licensed clubs and five music venues.

Employee case study
Alex Palmer, front of house manager at London’s Dominion Theatre, is responsible for everything that happens at the theatre (up to the stage, but excluding the box office).This means he can be responsible for up to 2,000 people a night watching the Queen tribute show We will rock you. Palmer started working for the company as an usher seven years ago, and has worked his way up, becoming a manager last April.

Having won ‘Employee of the year’ at his own venue’s awards last year he went on to win bronze at the Spotlight Awards. Then one evening, just as he was about to open up, he got a call from ClearChannel’s UK managing director, Catie Callender, to say he had won a President’s Club Award as well. He describes winning three awards as “exciting, but a little bit surreal”.

As to why he thinks he won: “We were rocking at the theatre last year and we hit all our targets.” He adds: “It’s changed everything, I feel more like part of a community. I like that I am appreciated.”