Media: Double Standards - 'Managing radio talent is not all strops and divas'

Two radio talent managers describe how the job has changed in the past decade and how they go about guiding the careers of their celebrity charges.

CHRIS NORTH - head of talent and joint managing director, Wise Buddah

- What's your main responsibility as a talent manager?

My main responsibility as a talent manager is to develop and maintain the career of the presenter. That means retaining contracts, building relationships, seeking out new business and developing future projects. In a nutshell, it's looking after them, making sure the artist is happy, has a career with longevity and success and that, at the end of the day, they can pay the bills.

- How easy is it to manage talent? Is it all strops and divas?

It's not all strops and divas. I think it depends on the situation - being annoyed that a taxi's early or you have to pay for your hand luggage are things that you do wonder about. You spend a lot of time with your talent, so it's always good to know them well. We're lucky at Wise Buddah in that we have honest, content and likeable presenters. They're a pleasure to represent on the whole but, of course, we all have bad days ...

- How has managing talent changed in the past ten years?

The skill of managing talent comes with a combination of instinct and experience. On the whole, talent management will never change because the ethos of being a presenter doesn't really change. But the world is a different place now from when I started ten years ago. In radio, the industry is contracting, which means the chance of making a long career out of presenting has become so much tougher. Some radio stations, including Absolute, BBC Radios 1, 1Xtra, 6 Music and 5 live plus Global Radio and Bauer, do take a punt on new talent, but it's much more competitive than before. The balance is between a famous presenter who receives instant PR and audience versus fresh talent, who may help drive a new future audience to the station and actually move things on a bit - but that takes time. What's more, it's not just putting up a fader and talking or doing pieces to camera any more. Social media, vodcasts, podcasts and blogs are all part of any TV or radio presenting role now, on or off air.

- When does talent go 'too far'?

Talent always know when they've gone too far.

- How much do you think a brand is affected if its celebrity endorser suffers bad press in their private lives?

Brands are robust enough to bounce back, although, of course, there are some that just can't. It depends on who the celebrity is and what exactly they've done. However, one brand's loss can be another's gain - hiring Andy Gray and Richard Keys so quickly after the Sky debacle was a smart brand move by talkSPORT. What I do worry about most is talent that is linked to a brand Tweeting the wrong thing. It can be so effective but, at the same time, so dangerous.

- What is the cleverest talent/brand tie-up you recall?

The current Daz ad with ex-soap stars and Fern Britton with Ryvita. But, recently, my artist Scott Mills held the press conference to launch JLS and Durex condoms - three words I never thought I'd have in a sentence: Scott, Durex, JLS.

PAUL SYLVESTER - executive producer, Absolute Radio

- What's your main responsibility as a talent manager?

On a strategic level, it's all about spotting talent and the development and coaching of our newer and younger presenters. We have a programming strategy and plans for the Absolute Radio network of brands. We currently have six services. I work with presenters across our brands, making sure everyone knows what we're looking for and then providing them with the tools to be world-class broadcasters. We want to inspire them to be their most creative.

- How easy is it to manage talent? Is it all strops and divas?

No, it's not all strops and divas - that's a common misconception. The fact is that at the heart of almost all disagreements with talent is a difference in opinion about what will make the greatest radio. The more passionate the presenter is, generally the better the broadcaster they are. But if you're open-minded, fair and - most importantly - consistent, then everyone knows what the situation is and you can get the right result for everyone. It's crucial you don't over-promise because if you can't deliver, that's when people lose confidence in you and the station, resulting in them not doing their best work.

- How has managing talent changed in the past ten years?

I think expectations have changed on all sides in the past decade. I think the changing shape of the industry means people expect more from presenters now than they used to and there's more competition for work. What's more, your show isn't just the time that you're actually on-air. Today, presenters are expected to get involved with social media outside of the time they're in the studio, which, as well as building their own brand, is also great show-prep. In a multimedia world, we're asking presenters to get involved in more digital content such as video interviews and content that is just online or podcast.

- When does talent go 'too far'?

It's usually just the result of a communication breakdown. It's the programmer's responsibility to ensure the presenter and their agent knows what is expected of them.

- How much do you think a brand is affected if its celebrity endorser suffers bad press in their private lives?

I don't think there's a one-rule-fits-all for this. It depends on what happens and what role the "celebrity" plays at your station, what your brand values are and how you respond. Sometimes it's better to act quickly and decisively and sometimes it can be better to ride out the storm. I think the public are more savvy now to celebrity scandal and understand how things shouldn't always be taken at face value.

- What is the cleverest talent/brand tie-up you recall?

In 2010, Absolute Radio won the rights to broadcast Barclays Premier League football commentaries. We wanted to make the show all about "sport entertainment", tapping into the armchair fans who love their team and love talking about them. We brought in Ian Wright to front our coverage and he's been an absolute revelation.

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