I got to chat with the team from All Access about Talent Development and life in Radio…
1) How would you describe your first radio gig?
I worked for a station called FM107 The Falcon (it doesn’t exist anymore). I started writing the news, then reading the news and quickly got moved to weekend hosting; I think they realized that I had zero credibility reading the news. It was a defining moment for me as prior to walking through the studio doors I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I did well at school, but got easily bored so found myself in trouble constantly. No question I was an embarrassment for my parents. I remember fondly the station having a sense of camaraderie and a constantly changing environment and I knew this was the kind of environment I wanted to always be a part of. It was also the place I met one of my best friends – the start of many years of fun and memories!
2) How much traveling are you doing in your talent development role? Are you visiting local markets?
I do a fair amount of travelling; being on the road and working with our teams across the country is a passion of mine; it is the most fulfilling part of the job. Even in today’s hyper-connected world, there is nothing more powerful than sitting face to face with a PD or morning show and talking about ideas, sharing thoughts, de-briefing research and building battle plans. I read that on average it takes three times more time to prepare and travel to a meeting than it does to simply jump on Skype or pick up the phone. However, there are many scientific studies that support the fact that being face to face leads to more synchronicity, more understanding and more connection. I feel lucky that the company empowers us to work together in whatever way will be most effective to getting results. For me, that often means jumping on a plane and sitting in the market, working with the team in their current reality. To be effective you need to build strong relationships with others and I think that involves suitable fact to face time.
Being face to face with our teams helps me in my role. I notice patterns that we need to work on. I get time to brainstorm and dream with PDs and talent and that often leads to ideas that work for more than one team. It allows me to learn about people and spot opportunities to connect them with other people who may be able to help them or vice versa. When I am on the road, the teams get all of my attention and I am at my most exhausted when I am on the plane coming home.
3) Lack of talent development in radio has been a constant theme for awhile now. What are you doing to combat that?
Let’s start by underlining the phrase talent development in that statement. There has been a lack of talent development but there isn’t a lack of talent.
It frustrates me when I hear people say there is a lack of talent. I don’t understand that. We live in the most connected time in history, people across the world are able to become stars and build a sizeable following with just their cell phones. There are now more entertainment choices and distribution platforms than ever before and entertainment has/will always be reliant on talent to create it. Because of all the new options available to people in which to share their thoughts, ideas and creations, they aren’t turning to radio like they once did. We’re not the shiniest toy for them. That’s on us as an industry to solve. We have to find a way to cultivate an environment of creativity and show a future that will continually excite today’s content creators.
There is also a lot of good talent on the air today but sadly many aren’t given the freedom to experiment and express themselves. By reducing ‘off Broadway’ shows, it’s only understandable that PDs are nervous to develop new talent in peak times. All of these problems are internal; they are industry problems that we have imposed upon ourselves (often for good reasons but it was our doing regardless).
Talent development hasn’t been prioritized as much as it should have been. The problem is that coaching is a little messy and unpredictable. Training someone to work with talent, guiding, nurturing, growing, challenging them, is harder than teaching someone to schedule music (not that I am saying that’s not important). It requires understanding people and a desire to stand in the background and push someone else into the spotlight. We need to start training people on coaching techniques and then give them the chance to practice. It takes a long time for this stuff to click. The coach needs to build their confidence. Too often we promote the best on air talent or the best MD and then they start the learning at the point of having the PD title. That’s often a little too late.
We are doing lots of things to try and combat the lack of talent development:
- We talk about it all the time. It’s a key part of all our plans. Developing and acquiring the best talent. We see talent as the center of our business, and believe the company with the best talent (on and off the air) will always have the competitive edge.
- We have an internal talent mentor program. We are giving our PDs the chance to work with different shows and formats across the company; the PDs get exposure to different talent and programmers as well as feedback on their performance. The talent gets exposed to new perspectives and more feedback. We have just started using key talent to mentor new shows across the country, too – teaming shows up with talent who have experience and can really help shape new performers is exciting.
- Some of our stations are working with local broadcast schools and offering on air shifts off peak to students to practice and get feedback. Imagine your first job being in a major market as a result of this program – we have someone now who went through this program and landed their first job in market #1.
- We believe in developing our own. We’re focused on moving our own talent through our pipeline. We are always working with our talent to have career conversations and promote them up through the company. That’s a priority for us; it talks to our belief in partnering with talent to move forward. There have been so many examples of talent moving up for us over the last year.
- Our corporate programmers spend a lot of time working within their formats to offer feedback, guidance and mentoring to their PDs.
- We ask our PDs to actively look for and work with new talent. I have a strong belief that it’s our responsibility to be working with talent both inside and outside of our company. It’s just the right thing for the industry, the better radio becomes, the better the future for us all.
That’s just the tip of what we’re up to. Ultimately we have prioritized the development of our teams in all roles. It starts at the top; our Head of Radio sets the bar high on ensuring we do all we can to support our talent and ensure they achieve their career goals.
The important thing to remember with talent development is that it’s messy and unpredictable. You have to experiment and take some risks, which means we’ll likely fail often. We are constantly working on building an environment that allows for that. That’s key to building a coaching culture in an organization. We probably don’t get it right all the time but we’re trying.
4) What advice would you give to talent who would like to receive more direction, but work for a company that doesn’t have a guy like you?
Your career is your responsibility. Don’t wait for someone else to help you. Take control, take action and go after what you’re seeking. The job title I have doesn’t mean anything. Truly it doesn’t. Titles are overrated (in fact, most people can’t remember mine and I struggle to as well if I’m being honest). How companies structure themselves, where they focus their efforts and how they behave makes the difference. If you work for a company or someone who doesn’t prioritize your development, then you need to find someone or people who will.
I encourage talent to reach out to PDs at stations they respect and would like to work for one day and ask for advice and input. You’d be surprised at how many PDs will get back to you. It’s also a great way to cultivate a relationship that may lead to a job in the future. One talent in Canada comes to mind who regularly reaches out to a group of PDs asking for feedback and it’s been amazing to hear her name come up from multiple PDs thinking she’ll be a big star. She has also benefitted from the input and has grown hugely in the last year.
It doesn’t have to be someone in management that helps you. It could be a peer, another talent in another market, a family member – ask everyone for their opinion and use what resonates to help you.
If you aren’t getting feedback and would like some, we’re always happy to help. Reach out. If I can’t get back to you promptly, I will ask someone on our team to offer some advice.
Ultimately, if you’re working with a company that doesn’t believe in your development you should find a new home that will invest in you. But there’s lots that is in your control that you can do now.
5) Who are some of the great personalities who you’ve had the privilege to work with?
I can’t answer this. There’s simply too many to mention. I would forget someone. I have worked with so many amazing talents. I feel incredibly fortunate. I love working with and learning from all the talent we have at Rogers. I often feel like the stupidest person in the room, and I think for now (until I’m found out) that’s a good thing.
6) Are you wearing more “hats” than you have in the past?
Sure. But that’s life ,right? We can complain about the changes but it won’t make any difference. Far better for us to roll up our sleeves and get on with it. I love the variety in my job although my wife Amy has to endure the odd day where my head is spinning and I come home moaning about something. She’s the one person that always makes a bad day better.
In the U.K., I worked with some fantastic people like Duncan Campbell, Dirk Anthony, David Lloyd and many more who shaped my approach. Wearing more “hats” means prioritizing our attention and our focus. I focus on (or at least try to) the things that make a difference … and that means I may not be the speediest on email or the one attending every meeting. When there’s more going on, we have to be more disciplined on what gets the majority of our attention.
7) What are your favorite show prep sources?
Life! The best shows come from people who are interesting and complex. Nothing compares to living an interesting life and bringing that to your show every day. I often say the secret to the best shows is “they are doing a show they are interested in rather than a show that they hope the audience maybe interested in” – they are people with things to say and thoughts to share, and the audience finds them.
8) What is your favorite part of the job?
Strategy creation. I love working with our teams to dissect research and build new plans for our brands. I love the sense of collaboration and the passion that fuels our planning. There’s something magical about sitting in a room and dreaming, challenging and deciding together.
I love monitoring our stations, too. I seem to have always been fortunate to be able to hear the big picture challenges and the small details with ease. I like hearing what’s working (and sharing that with others) and identifying areas (big and small) that we can improve.
Working with our teams to make s@*t happen. I don’t do well with rules and processes – I know they’re important, but they can slow us down. So I love saying to our teams “screw it, just do it … send whoever my way when we get in trouble.” I’d rather help our teams get to yes. Mind you, I haven’t had my performance review yet this year so maybe this will come back to haunt me.
9) What is the most challenging part of the job?
Giving each project the time I want to give it. I am a thinker, and need to ensure I find time to not be always ‘doing’ but instead ‘thinking.’ I constantly have to remind myself of the importance of prioritizing thinking.
10) What is the one truth that has held constant throughout your career?
You control your destiny … but it helps to surround yourself with positive, supportive and smarter people!