This post is part of our “Leadership in Challenging Times” blog series, which highlights the inspiring work of the HBS community in addressing the health and economic consequences of COVID-19, alongside the fight for racial equity and an especially polarized political climate. In this post, Mark Contreras (MBA 1988), President and CEO of Connecticut Public Broadcasting, describes how his organization was able to adapt to recent challenges and continue broadcasting content to keep the citizens of the state well-informed.
Tell us about your work
I lead a group of 100 people who constitute Connecticut Public Broadcasting. The organization is the primary affiliate of NPR, PBS, and PBS Kids for the state of Connecticut and reaches more than one million people in a given week. It is a non-profit organization which reaches people through more than 41 different digital platforms, including television and radio.
How has your organization and your role responded to this year’s challenges?
On March 12, 2020, our entire organization went from occupying a six-story office building in Hartford, which housed most of our employees, to asking all of our employees to work from home. We were able to continue broadcasting all local programming without skipping a beat. Luckily, we had introduced Zoom into the organization a year beforehand, so the adoption and familiarity with the tool eased the transition.
During the first 100 days, there were literally hundreds of decisions that would have normally taken several years to make, including decisions regarding technology, partnerships, employee policies, creating new shows and several other important areas of the business. Since the pandemic, we have not only maintained our broadcasting levels, but we have increased our local television, digital and radio content by more than 46%.
Is there a memorable story or insight that has been defining in your work this year?
Back in early 2020, I huddled with our CFO and Board Chair to establish preliminary thoughts regarding how we approach the year’s challenges from a strategic and financial basis. This was before we knew how long the pandemic could last and what it would do to our organizations. Based on my years of experience in leading organizations through horrific and challenging times during the past three decades, my one insight was that whatever we do now, our employees would remember what we did and how we did it for decades to come. As a result, we put together a plan to make sure that our #1 priority was to save jobs for every employee. Thankfully we were able to get both PPP loans which has helped us honor that pledge. At the time of writing this post, we have not laid off a single employee.
What has inspired you to keep going during these difficult months?
I have dedicated my 35+ year career to supporting local journalism. In a moment when so many organizations which traditionally serve this need are in financial jeopardy, public media’s purity of mission has become extra important in making sure the citizens of this state are well-informed. Without strong local journalism organizations, I’m afraid that the great American experiment in self-government could be imperiled.
How can someone interested in this area get involved or learn more?
Public media exists in every U.S. states and most cities and towns. An easy way to get involved is to become a member of your local station. To learn more about Connecticut Public Broadcasting, visit www.ctpublic.org.