In the lexicon of TV station creative services, a preditor is a writer, producer and editor. They can be a virtual one-person marketing machine. And increasingly, finding people to fill these roles is becoming difficult, especially for small and medium-market stations. Here's why and what needs to be done to solve the problem.
Promo Priority: Finding, Keeping ‘Preditors’
They create the advertising for the most promoted product on television — local news. They do the heavy lifting on the front lines of your station’s marketing efforts, creating messages that air in some of the most highly viewed and expensive airtime on TV. If they succeed, TV stations’ ratings might go up, garnering heaps of revenue for the corporate owners.
They often move up into station marketing management. From there, some even make it to the general manager’s office. And yet outside the TV business, hardly anyone knows they exist. They’re called preditors.
In the lexicon of TV station creative services, a preditor is a writer, producer and editor. They can be a virtual one-person marketing machine. And increasingly, finding people to fill these roles is becoming difficult.
“I think we have a pipeline issue,” says Robby Thomas, the creative services director (CSD) at WNCN, the NBC affiliate in Raleigh, N.C.
There’s a reason for that. “The job requires a lot. It’s a tough, demanding, skill set,” says Steve Patrick, marketing director of NBC affiliate WHEC Rochester, N.Y.
In a TVNewsCheck survey last month, creative services directors ranked finding good staffer their third greatest challenge. (Not enough money for outside media and undistinguished newscasts were No. 1 and No. 2.)
It is a much bigger challenge for small and medium-market stations. Stations in the large markets have little problem attracting and keeping staff.
Melissa Crawford, VP, creative and marketing for WNBC New York, says that when she has an opening, “resumes pour in from across the country.”
Rebecca Campbell, president of the ABC-owned television group, says that creative services personnel also tend to stay in the big markets because of the opportunities for advancement. Two out of eight station general managers within her group are former CSDs.
“We believe in our people and look internally first,” she says. “But we hardly have any turnover. People stay.”
One reason small and medium markets struggle to find good preditors is money. According to TVJobs.com, the median salary for a creative services producer in the top 50 markets is about $50,000. In markets 51-100, it’s $42,000; in markets 101-150, $32,000, and in markets 150-212, just $20,000.
Another is that marketing and communications students are more apt to opt for Internet or social media positions as a career choice, says Jay Newell, associate professor in the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. His students are aware of local TV news promotion, just not as a career path, he says. “They need to be recruited into it, but there’s no institutionalized recruitment that I can see.”
So if money is tight and fully qualified students aren’t knocking on your door, what can you do? Grow your own.
Find someone who is experienced in TV production and oversee their writing. Or find a good writer and teach them TV production.
“Don’t be afraid to put the time into teaching,” says Kent Kay, director of marketing and creative services at KESQ, the ABC affiliate in Palm Springs, Calif.
Here are some other suggestions for attracting good candidates:
- Become an advocate of the benefits of working at TV stations in general and specifically in creative services.
- Establish a proactive internship program at your station.
- Become active at local colleges and universities. Talk to professors and become a guest speaker.
- Pitch your location, lifestyle or the success and creativity of your shop. Promote your awards.
Once you find good staffers, hang on to them. Create a good team atmosphere and work environment. Give your preditors more responsibility to grow and learn. Consider a personal services contract for key employees in your department.
Keep in mind that entry-level writer/producers in local TV marketing often become senior writer/producers, then promotion managers or assistant creative services directors, then marketing directors or creative services directors.
How well we attract, train and retain preditors in creative services is important — not just to a station, but to TV as a whole.
Paul Greeley writes Market Share, TVNewsCheck’s blog on marketing and promotion at TV stations. He has more than 20 years of experience in local TV marketing as a writer, producer, editor, creative services director and VP of marketing for a top-20 broadcast company.