At the Worldwide Radio Summit in Los Angeles this month, I did what any South African does when travelling overseas on business.
When travelling overseas, I compared what we do in our industry locally with the best in the industry worldwide.
From a broad perspective I can confidently say that when it comes to radio, in South Africa we are very much on our game. I’d say we are ahead of American radio, we keep pace with British radio and there are pockets of brilliance we can easily adopt or that we do already only slightly differently when it comes to Australian and European radio.
And anyway, I think the method by which we measure success shouldn’t be set by the developed world’s standards. So in short, we do well, and that counts everywhere.
I then took a look at what similarities there are between the South African media industry and other markets. The most strikingly similar element is definitely that elusive and consistently taxing of jobs in radio: talent management. It became very clear to me that the challenges and exhilarations of managing talent are very much an international language and experience.
During one particular presentation at the WWRS 2016 the members of the panel were asked what they look for in talent.
These are the six salient points I derived from that valuable discussion:
Willingness to be coached
It’s clear that you can only work with people who want to work with you. Any kind of relationship is only 50% in your power and if you are giving it horns you still only have a 50% stake in that relationship. To make magic, you have to work with people that want to learn, can understand and value constructive criticism and recognise the bigger picture outside of their own self-worth and even their own radio show.
Commitment to the brand
It sounds harsh, but the years that DJs are on-air will be the years they have the most profile and consequently the biggest opportunity to earn. Even Ryan Seacrest knows that and is still plugging Taco Bell and Subway on KIIS FM in Southern California daily (I listened). What talent does off-air is important. This is not an industry where you have a ‘job’. It’s an industry where you have an intrinsically linked relationship with a business that fundamentally affects who you are and how you live your life. This is something you have to embrace, not rebel against. The more you work with people, the more you bring them into your fold and the more likely they are to want to help you achieve what you want to do.
Some of the most prolific of programme directors and managers at the summit highlighted this as the first thing they look for in any talent. How badly do you want this job? The line outside the door of any radio station is not insignificant for a range of reasons so you are competing from the very bottom up. If you want it bad, chances are you are willing to work for it and you will deliver more value than your body is expected to cash. For example, if you host a radio show and happen to love cooking, then chances are you will be keen to commit to a weekly podcast, outside of your on-air time, about cooking. This enhances the radio brand’s strategy of providing valuable live and unique content while simultaneously up-weighting and rounding out a talent’s personality. We all win.
Ego: The big killer
Once you HAVE the job, the important questions become, “How willing are you to work at it?” and “How smart can you be at developing a plan to progress?” Getting the job is not a box ticked, it’s just another step taken forward. You never stop working, stop learning, stop improving. You have to be brave but you have to know how to hold back sometimes. Confidence and humility are equally important.
If you are a guarded and private person, people are going to have a hard time engaging with you. This might be a trait you have to overcome or it might just be coded into your personality, but the fact is that people expect you to be open on-air. They want to know what you really think and feel. As radio provides the last line of defence against pre-production and polish, by virtue of being a live medium, the grit, the raw and the reality is what people expect. If you can’t be vulnerable, admit to your shortcomings and share who you really are, or worse if you are afraid of who you are and spend your time hiding it, the audience will know and they will reject what you have to say.
Adapt or die
Just because something worked yesterday doesn’t mean it will work today. The worst part about that is that often this has nothing to do with your abilities. People change, things happen and you have to go on that journey and be able to adjust to your environment and make it your own each time.
I spend at least 60% of my time managing on-air talent. I often say that I would have been better equipped for the job of station manager of 5FM if I had a psychology degree rather than a marketing, journalism and media studies background. But attracting and retaining talent is fundamental to a business that creates and shares content to derive and serve a community, so it’s worth getting it right.
Image: #WWRS16 Twitter / All Access