A producer recently Tweeted me asking for an article on how to build a relationship with News Directors. Frankly, I could write a book on that subject! But there are some basics easily put into a short blog. First, you need to know, access to your ND varies greatly depending on market size, how many other managers exist in your newsroom and your ND’s temperament. There are some fail safes though that will help no matter your situation. We call them the 3 B’s:
- Be subtle
- Be consistent
- Be loyal
Before we spell out these 3 b’s, let’s give you some insight into what ND’s often think. Simply put, up to half the newsroom is “on board” helping out day to day, the rest are not loyal or don’t seem to pull their weight. (Trust me on this one, I’ve heard many ND’s say it!) That second group appear to fight the ND on everything by being argumentative. The ND gives a critique and the person throws back reasons why it’s “the newsroom’s fault” something wasn’t done. Then comes the “high maintenance” label of being difficult or too needy. This is especially true if you have valid points that, though probably unintentional, showcase the ND’s problem areas in the newsroom or even management style. No one is perfect, including your ND. We’re not saying you need to be a “kiss ass” and do whatever the ND wants all the time. We are not saying your opinion isn’t valid. It’s all in the delivery, which we will spell out in a moment. The ND will have people on staff that they count on for their own gut checks from time to time. You become one of those people with patience and by showing loyalty. This all begins by being subtle.
Being subtle means being the person that sits back and listens to what the ND asks for. Take, for instance, a staff meeting where the ND spells out the news philosophy of the shop. You don’t raise your hand and ask a bunch of questions. You want to hear not only what the ND says but his/her reaction to the flood of questions and instant critiques. Once that’s completed, process what the point of it all seems to be. A day or two later, drop by the news director’s office and say something like: “So I was thinking about the meeting and want to make sure that what you are expecting is ‘XYZ’.” Let ND answer and then thank him or her and walk out. Then try and do what was asked of you. After a few weeks pop your head in and ask for a critique. Yes, you will likely get an honest answer that could be disappointing. Most ND’s recognize that asking for critiques is not the easiest thing to do. The willingness to do so will show respect. Now this is key: Don’t ask for critiques all the time, just when there’s a philosophy change or change in your job assignment. People constantly asking for critiques and therefore validation are considered high maintenance. Remember the first B is to “Be subtle.”
Now that you have a clear idea of what the ND wants, execute it and “Be consistent.” Strive to do it every day. Keep your head down and just do your job. The ND will notice. You may not get a lot of pats on the back. But that doesn’t happen often in TV news anyway. If you screw up one day, the ND may give you the benefit of the doubt if you’ve built this relationship. You just might set yourself up for a promotion or at least an opportunity to ask for better assignments during your next review. Consistently doing your job is another way to show loyalty.
That leads to the third B, “Be loyal.” Before you start shaking your head and thinking to yourself “I’m not a kiss ass” know this: That’s not what showing loyalty is about. Loyalty doesn’t mean planting smooches on backsides. It means not going into the ND’s office and throwing fits when you just got royally screwed over. That doesn’t mean you have to become the news room doormat either. If something happens that puts you in an awful position, go in and ask for advice. If the ND throws something back at you like “How would you fix it?” have a possible solution ready. Spell it out, then accept the critique. Thank the ND for listening when you walk out. You need to do this even if the ND is a screamer. (click here for more on how to handle bosses that scream.) Showing loyalty means knowing your ND is going to screw up occasionally and you aren’t going to rub salt in the wound. You will forgive it and move on in the best interest of the station. If you see a situation that might really cause a problem, like a potential ethical issue, call the ND and give him/her a quick heads up. Don’t call screaming about how you don’t appreciate being in this position. The ND doesn’t care about your feelings. You are replaceable. (Never forget that.) Stay humble and try to work with the ND.
News Directors can be very inaccessible and very hard to read. You may never know if the ND likes you or thinks you are a hunk of junk. But, all ND’s appreciate loyalty. All types of ND’s will eventually notice if you make effort to just do what’s needed and try not to cause extra headaches. The 3 B’s will benefit you, even if you can’t tell right away. ND’s have given me good references throughout my career simply because I always tried to give them what they needed.