Despite Shortage of Prime Candidates, You Can Still Find Quality Hires

This article was originally published in TVRundown newsletter.

As you continue to deal with what the future of local news will look like, your new hires are more important than ever. The people you recruit today will be the ones producing “the news of the future” tomorrow. It isn’t easy attracting the best people at a time when our industry is changing rapidly.

Here is advice from Tom Dolan, President and CEO of Dolan Media Management, who has placed hundreds of news managers.

There’s a short supply of attractive candidates willing to move

To attract the highest quality people, employers today must take a closer look at how they are presenting themselves.

There has been a dramatic shift in the recruiting environment. The short supply has had a significant impact on many news operations:

  • Major stations have been left with few to no serious applicants that are the “right fit” for key positions.
  • Top stations go months with unfilled Executive Producer and producer positions.
  • Top 40-50 stations are recruiting producers with 1-2 years experience to produce their morning newscasts.
  • To compete for the best people, you must be able to show that you have a distinct, competitive, aggressive product,” says Dolan.

He says there are larger factors at work here that must be addressed, including: family, contracts and convergence.

Many candidates are hesitant to move

Dolan believes that 9/11 has changed people’s value systems.

It seems since 9/11 news people regard being close to family as more of a driver than the drive to move up the ladder in newsrooms,” he says.

Today’s television journalists are not as motivated to take those overnight and weekend shifts that interfere with their personal lifestyle.

In fact, there is little acknowledgment that news is a lifestyle any more,” he says.

Couples are making career decisions together. Dolan is seeing more “spousal vetoes.

One spouse appears very enthusiastic about a position, interviews seriously, then tries to sell the other spouse on the move. They may go way down the road to an offer. The other spouse may even encourage the career advancing move. But when it comes to the reality of a move and giving up their job or school system for their kids, it leaves them panicked and saying ‘no,’” he says.

Many times it is the job security of the two-income family and paying off the credit card lifestyle that is the deal-breaker, he adds.

The second big obstacle to recruiting is UC — Under Contract.

The number of producers under contract is probably well over 50%, he says. It may be closer to 80% in many Top 50 markets. “More companies are using contracts to get candidates to commit for longer periods, so they know who will be on the team. It seems to be equally appealing to the candidates, who are starting to prefer the job security and knowing where they will be for the next 2-3 years,” Dolan says.

The third issue on the minds of candidates is the same that is worrying their bosses: the future of TV news.

In the new recruiting environment, there seems to be a wider discussion of the future of TV: How to deal with more elusive viewers with plenty of choices and on-demand news, what a newscast will look like in three years, and how success will be judged given multiple platforms,” he says.

Short lists of pre-qualified candidates are getting shorter and shorter for all these reasons.

Calls and interviews per search are way up from 30-40 to 50-70 today,” he says.

Trend: Multi-talented in demand

Here are the trends Dolan is seeing in the types of candidates station executives are searching for.

Versatile people — people with non-traditional and varied skills — are being sought.

Can they post to Internet, not just be traditional line producers for TV? At the same time, are they flexible for TV and capable of sustaining stories?” he says. Some candidates may be very tech and new media savvy, but managers want to know that they also have the necessary background to debate content and focus the coverage with a reporter. “Can they blend what’s newsworthy — and how to produce it?” he asks.

Strong interpersonal skills as well as editorial talent are needed.

Dolan is seeing an increase in executives wanting strong interpersonal skills. He says there is more talk of psychological testing to pre- qualify candidates. “It is very demanding to run today’s newsrooms. TV News includes many complex elements. Producing, engaging the viewer and making good TV in a crowded environment more key than ever. Employers need someone far beyond the ‘Send me a good producer’ request of a few years ago. The challenges include designing and creating better AM Newscasts, implementing Internet strategies, and talent handling,” he explains.

News managers and producers today must be agile and opportunistic tactical performers.

Your newsroom managers must know how to make the most of the opportunities presented to them.
The 30-share #1 stations have more to worry about now as 20-share stations. They can be beaten on any given night by good lead-in programming and flow promotion,” says Dolan.

Position yourself as a progressive station

Presentation of your own product in the recruiting process is now more important than ever.

The historic image or former reputation of the station may be important, but is often secondary.
You have to show where you are distinct,” Dolan stresses.

You may not be able to draw the best candidates any longer by simply being the legend station.

Many candidates are bored with stations who think their silver bullet to win is simply aggressive coverage of breaking news and weather. It’s what you do with the breaking news,” he stresses.

Do you have reporters adept at daily enterprise and providing those unique, investigative angles?

Do you have anchors who simply toss to a package or live shot, or some who know how to showcase or frame a story with produced elements to drive coverage?

Candidates want to know what their creative license will be.

Some may choose the Internet savvy shop that does more than just add links for stories, but also produces unique content and shows you how to navigate. “If you are a server-based newsroom, and your producers pull their own graphics and design all the cut lines, do you give them enough support so they can still help manage content? Otherwise, candidates see that as leading to frustration. They don’t want to be robots,” he warns.

The preparation for a major hire actually starts now in your station’s culture and business plan. “Candidates want to see that you have a plan to attack major news, breaking news. Do you have resources to work on big stories beyond the general assignment pool? Do you have even one reporter who can dig for that extra angle or “get” on a story that is promotable?” he asks.

Win at recruiting: Sell your shop

You must learn how to package yourself and your news operation to attract potential staffers, says Dolan.

Pitch your positives.

If you have a two-hour morning block and are trying to recruit an AM Executive Producer or key producer, talk about how the last person was promoted to the late news because of leadership qualities in the morning,” he suggests.
Show tapes of how you have two or three live reporters in the morning when your competitors have none or one. Brag about the only graphic artist reassigned to mornings because mornings are a priority. Talk about the systems the Late News team has in place to protect the morning folks,” he adds.

Always have good “average day” airchecks that you can send to potential candidates.

Make sure you solicit AND review their tape for baseline understanding. You will at least learn something about your product from their feedback,” he says.

Recruit all the time to avoid crisis recruiting.

Keep track of regional and local (in market) candidates. Take local people to lunch or dinner and get to know them. It’s a major strategic advantage later. We’re all busy, but you have to dedicate time to this,” he urges. News directors are too often slaves to breaking news. Dolan suggests the 1-2 hours between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. as a time to commit to working on recruiting. “Put it in your schedule,” he urges.

Keep abreast of ratings trends and patterns in your region and feeder markets.

Research who is driving the movement: — Good management and/or line people? “Why are they trending well? Are they beating a habit station?

Work the colleges and universities in your region for entry level candidates.

Produce the visit

Outline and have a clear schedule prepared for candidate visits.

Print and send it to them in advance.

Always plan at least a day for a visit.

Have dinner the night before, if possible, so you get over the ‘What’s he/she like in person?’ question and break the ice. It’s amazing to see how many managers still do half-day or two-hour session,” says Dolan.

The day’s schedule should include:

  • Sessions with the candidate’s specific workgroup, e.g. producer brown bag lunches.
  • Major one-on-one sessions with the key department leaders that they would have to relate to, i.e. Promotion and Marketing.
  • At least one editorial meeting, preferably the morning meeting to show how you organize the day and the dayparts.
    “Candidates see a major red flag in stations that do not invite them to this meeting. You also want to see how the candidate performs in the meeting,” Dolan adds.
  • Plan to spend time touring the market and likely places to live. You can have your second in command do this as extra way to get to know them.

Things to help make the deal

Once you’ve found the right person for the job, Dolan says there are three things that make a big difference to potential candidates today during the negotiation process.

  1. Offer an attractive compensation package that does not play games. Come in where you want to be. Come in fair and set the tone,” he suggests.
  2. Include in the offer the moving of household goods. Respect the family,” he says.
  3. Provide temporary housing. Good companies are providing 2 to 4 weeks of temporary housing. Rare is the person who can find a place to live in one week,” he explains. “Plus, you want their focus on the new job not have them over-concerned about a place to live. Include money to find adequate housing, such as one advance round-trip. The whole effort is to get them focused on hitting the ground running and focused on the job, not on ‘Where am I going to live?’” he says.

You must cater not only to their professional side, but their personal side as well. Give consideration to family and lifestyle, whether they are single, childless or people in other relationships.

Tom Dolan, Dolan Media Management