OPEN MIKE BY GREG AHLQUIST

Building Talent Relationships Is Crucial For Control Rooms

With automation and robotics making interaction far less frequent between control rooms and talents, fortifying those relationships is more important than ever. Here are some ways to do so.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from years of experience as a live news and special events director and subsequently operations/production executive, it’s that stations need to pay special attention to their on-air talent from a production and operations perspective.

Readers might be thinking, “how much more attention do they need?” but it’s a different kind of attention I’m talking about here, and it pays off more than one might think.

On-air talent has always been a program’s brand identity its marquee, but today talent can separate product from the multitude of programming options available. Management and consultants are always quick to encourage these stars, but what can one do as a director or production/operations manager to take it to the next level?

The question is more important now than ever. With automation and robotics in use and smaller staffs on hand, there is far less human interaction with talent. One needs to make sure everyone in front of the camera knows they are part of their team and that they’re always aiming to make them appear stronger and to improve the pacing and consistency of the show.

I worked at a Southern affiliate as production manager. My experience at a news network in New York City taught me, from day one, to always approach the talent, introduce myself and set up group and one-on-one meetings.

I asked the anchor teams at the station what would help them improve their performance. For years, they asked for monitors in the anchor desk, but were told to use the one on a back wall with a seven-second delay instead. Thus, they couldn’t read or react to the video.

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To me, this was a simple fix. But the resistance from operations and engineering management for this request was fierce. All the anchors were asking for were the basic production tools to do their jobs. In response, they were completely shut out by their directors and management.

As a director, I’ve learned that pacing and anticipating the talent was built by my relationships with them, almost being in their head. There are audible cues and inflections that must complement pacing and anticipate the anchors. Communicating with them about their style and expectations not only builds a better relationship with the production crew, but also builds the anchor’s confidence and strength on-air.

So here are the top five ways to build that confidence and let the talent know you are their partner:

  1. Start strong: Whether it’s a new gig or a promotion, one should always take a moment to introduce oneself to anchors and talent on day one.
  2. Build trust and confidence: Regularly watch a show with the talent and ask for feedback. Suggest where there might be opportunities to do something differently.
  3. Be seen: Be in the studio regularly and in the control room during newscasts. Make sure to be seen by every anchor and to touch base with them after the show.
  4. The next level: Discuss pacing, timing and how to lead talent to video or graphics. Build trust and illustrate that collaborating this way makes the show run more smoothly and creates a stronger flow.
  5. Follow-up: Do so frequently and with consistency.

I practice these points as both a director and manager, and in so doing, prided myself with the relationships I’ve built with talent.


Greg Ahlquist worked in television, including 20 years at Fox News as a director and operations/production executive.


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