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Managing Difficult Talent – Mike McVay

Updated: Oct 17, 2023

The conversation started with the Market Manager telling me how difficult the talent was and why this person was not enjoyable to have on their team. The Program Director opined that the ratings for the show were really good, but there was a big question as to whether this personality was worth the headache that they caused to management. The two ping-ponged their comments and complaints back and forth. If you were making a list, you would say that the negatives outweighed the positives.

They shared that this talent was quick to complain, pushy to others around whatever involves their show, ignores respectful boundaries by calling or texting the PD all hours of the day or night. They’re the first to raise their hand asking for digital marketing, billboards, television support or cash for on-air giveaways. The name “Me” is bantered about a lot by this personality. When it comes to their art … great performers are selfish.

You know the type of talent I’m referring to. They’re always finding a way to slide into the promotion meeting Zoom. They take ideas to the sales department and then they pout when no one takes their sales suggestions seriously. All of these “attributes” make this personality liked by the other talent on their show and disliked in the hallways by everyone else. The station leadership wanted to “dump them.” Everyone has had enough. Except that their ratings are good, and they help the station generate revenue.

The talent described, providing they’re not a despicable human being and they’re not disrespectful or inappropriate in their demeanor & behavior, is not a talent that I would shy away from let alone consider terminating. Ratings are fragile. It is not your birthright to be #1. It’s not easy to grow an audience. Especially in today’s overly crowded media market. Being faced with such a decision warrants a lot of thought. It often requires an outside view to provide objectivity to the situation.

Determining your level of tolerance should begin with an investigation into what and why a personality is acting out. I don’t believe that anyone wakes up in the morning with a plan to be disruptive or to ruin someone else’s day. I’m willing to give almost everyone the benefit of the doubt. If their intentions are good and their approach is respectful. If they have a reason for their actions. If their frustration is because of their drive and the lack of help in overcoming obstacles. If they truly want to win.

Reparation and behavior change necessitates listening to the talent. I like to know who they are, and I like to hear their frustrations. Communication is key. Allow their story to be told. Ask lots of questions. Give the personality the attention they deserve and the time they feel they need to be heard. The audience likes this talent, or they wouldn’t be highly rated. Ask what you can do to help to make their job better and more enjoyable for both them and the station’s management. Repeat the ascertainment process with management. Discovery to include a discussion around what are realistic expectations and what expectations are unrealistic.

Present the stations’ objectives. Talk about the talent’s objectives. Look to where they align and embrace those points. Explain why those objectives that are misaligned with the stations need to be addressed, discussed and changed. Always explain why what’s being directed or requested is important. The very best managers are coaches. They find a way to lead, encourage, direct, and guide on-air personalities with a mutually beneficial goal in mind. They aren’t “bosses.” The best talents are the ones that are successful. I’ve never met a successful talent that wasn’t smart. Teach … and learn. You and them.

Ten Steps to Managing Difficult Talent:

  1. Communication is key … listen.

  2. Give them time … to speak.

  3. Be objective about objectives … yours and theirs.

  4. Make talent a priority.

  5. Be reasonable. Ask them to be reasonable.

  6. Don’t let your ego be greater than theirs. The best talent has some level of ego.

  7. Help your talent win. When they win … you win.

  8. Do not define parameters with negatives. If you only tell a talent what they cannot do, they’ll do nothing versus something and risk being in trouble.

  9. Reward good behavior. In many ways, managing is like parenting.

  10. Things that are unacceptable to HR shouldn’t be accepted … ever. Be clear about that.

The odds of long-term success increase significantly when you can create a great working relationship with the on-air talent at your radio station. Respect their craft and desire. Earn their respect and you’ll have a respectful relationship. Managing difficult talent, who have strong ratings and generate revenue, are worth the investment in time to solidify a dominant position. Suck it up.

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