Advice I Wish I'd Heeded When I Was Starting My Career in Media
I was going to title this, "Advice I Wish I'd Gotten When I Was Starting My Career in Media."
But then I realized I probably did get this advice, maybe even more than once from multiple qualified sources, and I was just too headstrong to pay attention. Somehow, "Advice to Which I Wish Someone Had Forced Me to Listen" seemed a little too wordy as a headline.
So here we are, more than 18 years after someone paid me to talk into a microphone for the first time. After a career spanning multiple radio stations, news rooms and PR / marketing shops, I'm the one making the hiring decisions now. And I get it.
I recently gave a guest lecture to a college class of young communicators. One of them emailed me and asked me to listen to his work (A for initiative) and refer him to any employers who would hire him as a show host.
At the risk of coming off as preachy and hypocritical, here's my response to him--though I might as well have been writing to my 22-year-old self 15 years ago:
Hi XYZ ABC,
I poked around a little. Things are tough with the COVID, and I don't know anyone who's looking for someone like you at the moment. That will change, so hang in there.
I did tune into an episode, and I hear a lot of promise and enthusiasm there. Keep doing your thing, build on it, improve it and grow it. In this email, you'll find two concrete steps to help you do that.
Learn from my mistakes; take this advice to heart.
Piece of Advice Number One: Be Purposeful in Everything You Do
You're producing a show that's from the heart and full of passion. That's awesome. That's rare. It's also only half the battle.
To take your show to the next level is going to take some thoughtfulness and purpose. That means sitting down and sketching out a picture of who your target listener is. What makes them tick? How do they see the world? What do they need from you? How can you serve those needs?
Defining your listener is an exercise in precision guesswork. It's not enough to say your target listener is "everyone" or "people who like music" or "college students."
Sit down with a notebook and write out 20 questions about your listener, or even more. How old are they? Where are they from? Who did they vote for, and why? How much debt do they have? Do they have a car, if so what kind, and why? And many more questions you can come up with.
Then, as you plan your show in the weeks that follow, ask yourself, "How does this guest or segment of the show serve my listener? How do I make it relevant to them?" If you can't answer those questions, that means the segment doesn't belong in the show. Cut it and save your listener's time.
Your answers won't apply to every person who listens to your show, but it will help you create programming that is purposeful and inspired.
Piece of Advice Number Two: Be a Solution, Not a Problem
While you're refining your voice on your podcast, you should also look for other professional opportunities. But if your approach is, "My name is XYZ, I want to host my own show," you're going to have a hard time.
Program directors and content managers are looking for solutions, because they usually have a lot of problems on their hands already.
One problem they have is that literally everyone in the world wants to host their own show. I know PDs who start out each day by deleting a dozen emails from people who reached out randomly and pitched them a show. It's a supply and demand problem.
But they also have problems getting talented people to edit audio. To run sound boards. To post articles to their website. To run their social media. To wash the radio station truck. To do paperwork.
Those jobs don't have the glamor of a host chair. But you're MORE LIKELY to get your own show (eventually) by asking for one of those jobs than you are by asking for your own show.
My hand to God here, buddy. I know dozens of people who have hosted radio shows and podcasts professionally. None of them got there by asking to be a show host. They all started out doing "grunt work," solving someone else's problem and showing they were good team players. Then, someone recognized their talent and offered them the opportunity to sit in that host's chair.
So I think your best course right now is to start reaching out to radio stations, TV stations, publishers, newspapers and anyone else who's doing media and asking what problems you can help them solve. Internships and parttime jobs will build your credibility, build your skillset and get you pointed toward your dream job.
When they ask you why you're interested in their job, don't say it's "because I want to host a show." Say it's "because I want to learn this craft and contribute to the operation any way I can."
Good luck, stay in touch. If you ever have questions, I'm hear to answer them.
I wish this young man the very best and hope he takes this advice to heart. Beats learning these lessons the hard way. But I did never hear back from him, which is why I've posted it here.
Everybody's looking for a short cut to the top, but the only proven route is through time, dedication and hard work.