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Be a Better Media Boss

10 Tips to Succeed as a Media Boss


A photo of a boss being lifted up in the air by his happy employees

Every media boss would love to be toasted by his employees for creating a winning work environment.

Photo © Michael Blann / Getty Images
When you become a media boss at a print, broadcast or online company, your big dreams to transform your product often take a backseat when you're faced with endless corporate paperwork that piles up on your desk. Refocus yourself as a media boss to deliver a better product by knowing how to motivate your staff.

Media Boss Tip #1: Organize Your Department

When considering the pros and cons of media careers, realize that one reason you and your team are in the business is that you thrive on creativity and the element of surprise that each day brings. That can lead to a culture of chaos.

It's true that media pros don't have the same mental wiring as a room full of accountants, but taking time to organize your department will produce results. You can dominate breaking news coverage the next time a crisis hits, because your staff will not be faced with the typical lack of communication that ironically confronts many media companies that are in the business of communication.

Organizing means making sure everyone knows each other's responsibilities, setting up a chain of command and keeping printer ink cartridges and other everyday resources on hand.

Media Boss Tip #2: Set Consistently High Standards

Most media bosses have no trouble setting high standards. It's the consistency that creates trouble.

A radio station's top on-air radio personality may be on a two-week vacation, but that doesn't mean the quality of the product in the time slot should suffer. Through better training and cross training, your staff will be ready to fill in the gaps when someone's absent.

Make sure your team knows your standards. Be more specific than just saying, "I want to produce the best gardening magazine in the industry." Before you blame them for poor results, ask yourself whether you have communicated what you expect of them. Make sure they understand your brand management strategy and the demographics of the audience you're trying to reach.

Media Boss Tip #3: Praise in Public, Criticize in Private

You may have worked for someone who overreacted to every momentary victory or defeat in a work day -- like a football coach who cheers his team one moment, only to throw down his clipboard and headset in a sudden fit of rage seconds later. That behavior can damage your department.

"Praise in public, criticize in private" is a basic management creed. It requires self-discipline for any media boss. Letting your emotions take over when something goes wrong will quickly get you labeled as a bad boss.

Prepare yourself now on how you'll deliver negative feedback to someone in private when a monumental mistake is made. Having a plan will help you control your temper when your TV sportscaster gets the Super Bowl score backwards on the 6 o'clock news.

Media Boss Tip #4: Hold Meaningful Critique Sessions

A common complaint among people working in media is that they never get any feedback on their work. They are left simply assuming that because they haven't heard otherwise, their performance must be acceptable.

The constant deadlines that face everyone in media make it easy to forget staff development skills, because there's always the next newspaper or newscast to produce. Failing to critique your employees' work is a lost opportunity to help them grow on the job and become more valuable to you.

Critiquing requires more than simply observing, "You're always five minutes late to work. Show up on time." Most workers crave the attention you'll give them by teaching them to be better writers, producers or on-air personalities.

It can be difficult for a media boss to be a mentor to everyone. Some employees might mistakenly think they're about to be fired when all you're trying to do is give advice on how to write better headlines for the web. That's why some media companies, especially in television, use consultants to help. An outsider is seen as less threatening than the boss.

Media Boss Tip #5: Reward Creativity

The media industry is a creative business. Too often, those creative juices dry up when you're a manager faced with deadline and budget pressures and the constant need to please your own boss.

Most media companies are now shooting video, either for on-air or online use. Once your staff masters the basic 10 video tips to get professional results, look to get them thinking beyond just hitting the "record" button.

Hold a regular competition for the most creative video, with a cash prize presented at the end of the month. Even if only a few people on your staff jump at the chance to win the monthly contests, everyone will benefit from the renewed emphasis on creativity.

The same method can be used to develop writing, photography and layout skills. Some people are self-motivated to be creative, others will need this incentive.

Media Boss Tip #6: Avoid Overworking Key Staff Members

Every company has its superstars -- those people who can be trusted to produce excellent results on time, every time. Unfortunately, those are the people most at risk of becoming burned out on the job.

That's because you as a media boss put too many extra tasks on them. At first, they may be flattered at how much you respect and depend their work. But the burden of bailing out the team in a crisis can create fatique, even resentment toward you.

Instead of treating your go-to people as hamsters constantly running on a wheel to produce your product when others on your staff can't, put them into mentoring and coaching roles. You are now using them to train your superstar employees of tomorrow.

By doing this, you're still showing your respect and trust. But the payoff is empowering your key players to train your other employees without simply working them to death.

Media Boss Tip #7: Stop Micromanaging Every Detail

As you build your magazine brand, you have a clear mental image of how you want the cover of next month's issue to look. The person designing your cover has her own vision.

Ask yourself, "Does it matter that she chose a different font typeface that I would have?". When you go behind every choice that employees make and revise them, you take away their sense of accomplishment. That leads to needless frustration and can cripple their motivation.

You can't publish a magazine by yourself. Once you have your team in place, it is critical to let your team members make decisions. Yes, you'll have to step in occasionally when your experience tells you something's not right. But changing every detail leads to long-term managment problems, long after your magazine cover is forgotten.

Media Boss Tip #8: Offer Advancement Opportunities

Your organizational and leadership skills have transformed your media company, leading to happy and fulfilled employees. Yet they're still quitting to take jobs at other places, which forces you to keep hiring and training their replacements.

One of the key ways to ensure employee satisfaction is by offering ways for them to advance themselves in your company. Otherwise, they'll look for opportunities elsewhere.

Your first response may be to say, "I hired this person to be a TV reporter. I don't need another anchor, even if that's her career goal." It's true that you can't simply give in to your employees' every dream. It's a workplace, not a field trip where everyone gets their chance to sit in the anchor chair.

Still, that person could be used on a fill-in basis, or told that if an anchor position opens up, she would be considered, provided that you mean it. Employees have a desire to work toward something, not just punch a clock.

Some crave authoritiy, recognition or a fatter paycheck. If you can meet that internal goal, chances are you'll keep that employee longer. It'll take less of your time than sifting through a stack of resumes to hire someone else.

Media Boss Tip #9: Maintain High Ethical Standards

What gets lost in many media companies are the ethical standards that are rarely discussed. That is, until there's a crisis and you're blamed for not communicating what you thought should have been understood.

Print and post your expectations about not accepting payola, using anonymous sources, avoiding political bias and other ethical issues. You can't hold your team members accountable for their actions unless you say what's expected of them.

Use your policies as a chance to teach them ethical skills that they'll use for the rest of their careers. Give them scenarios to find out if they'll make the right choices when you're not there to lead them. Anything less could lead to a lawsuit involving libel, slander or invasion of privacy.

Media Boss Tip #10: Respond to Changing Technology

As if you didn't already have enough to do, every time you commit to a high-tech tool to improve your media product, something else better comes along. The techies on your team will criticize you for being stuck in the stone age when version 2.0 of some gadget is released.

You can't be expected to track every software development. But you probably have some staff members who'd jump at the chance to lead your high-tech efforts. Appoint them to look for ways to boost your website traffic, or improve your content SEO.

Remind them that the goal isn't to buy every new doodad that you can. There has to be a payoff to your product. But whether it's developing a strategy for using Google+ or investigating the best analytics tools to track your web stats, you can use some help.

No one ever said being a media boss is simple. By developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with your staff, your workday will be easier when you can surround yourself with happy and productive employees.

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