By Wayne Clouten, BPR
One of the most challenging aspects of being a Program/Content Director is managing the on-air talent. The longer the talent has been in market and/or successful the more difficult providing direction can be.
If the PD and the talent have known each other for a long time, possibly developing their careers at the same time then it is much easier for the PD to provide direction to someone where there is a relationship and hopefully mutual respect.
Respect is essentially the key consideration when it comes to the relationship between the PD and talent. In this article I will mainly address this issue from the perspective of a new PD coming into a station for the first time and how that PD best goes about developing a relationship based on mutual respect. It is not essential for a PD and Talent to like each other but they must have a framework where they can work together smoothly and productively without too much friction.
The biggest mistake a new PD can make is not doing their initial homework. It does not matter how experienced or successful you are as a PD; it is always wise to give yourself time to understand the talent you are dealing with and the environment in which they work. What does this initial homework comprise?
- Listen to the talent’s entire show from the perspective of the running schedule. Know every detail of how the show is put together and how it works. It is a breakfast show then listen from 5am. If it is a late-night show, then listen from 10pm.
- Form your opinions about the parts of the show which work best and when the talent is at their best. Take note of the benchmarks and what they are about.
- Talk to other staff about the talent but don’t make it an inquisition.
- Know the ratings history of the talent, how many surveys they have won, how long they have been in radio.
- Establish a clear perspective of where you want the station to go under your leadership even if that is simply keeping the ship on a steady course.
After you have done your homework it is time to build credibility.
- Introduce yourself to the talent personally, before the memo goes out.
- Make your first meeting with talent on common ground. Go to a café or restaurant outside of the station.
- Get to know the talent as a person not just a presenter – if they are prepared to open-up. Some talent can be very private or even introverted. It may take time before they open-up to you. Don’t rush it.
- Refer to parts of the show that you enjoy. Communicate the fact that you possess a detailed knowledge of their show.
- Have a clear idea of what you want to say about yourself and your vision for the station. Keep it short, keep it focussed.
- The talent should do most of the talking.
- Ask the talent how they would prefer to go about aircheck sessions and discussion about direction and developing the show.
- Sit in on their show or at least be around where they can see you. This is very important for breakfast, evening and weekend talent. Don’t appear to be a 9-5 PD only.
- Never have too much to drink in front of; or with the talent unless you have a long-standing relationship with them that goes back many years.
Building the Relationship.
- The most important aspect of building a relationship is consistency. Consistency of temperament, consistency of message, consistency of values. Presenters hate PD’s who run hot and then cold and make promises that are never fulfilled.
- Be a doer not a talker. Always do what you say you are going to do or provide a very good reason why you changed your mind.
- If a decision is made concerning the talent, make sure the talent is the first to know before they hear it from anyone else.
- Confront criticism from the talent with a listening ear and without becoming angry or defensive.
- If you have to criticise the talent; make it about what they DID, not about THEM.
- Always share ratings successes with the talent, always be there to support the talent when the ratings are bad. Demonstrate that you are not a fair-weather PD. That you will be there in the good times and the bad.
- Be to the talent the type of person that you wish the talent would be to you.
- Never apologise for having to make a tough or unpopular decision. Explain your decision and why it’s important but don’t apologise for it or blame it on someone else. Sometimes making tough and unpopular decisions is the job.
- Avoid managing with memos. Talk first then confirm in a memo.
- Be clear about what you expect from the talent. Make it clear how you will help them get to where you want them to be.
Having done all that you should be on the way to being a PD that has the respect of the talent and can successfully give direction. These skills will also lay the foundation for an effective and hopefully long career as a PD/Content Director. It is not possible to make everyone like you, in fact trying to do that is a big mistake. Respect is much more important than popularity for a leader, and PD’s should be leaders.