How to get the most out of consultants when they come to your station.

At most stations where I worked, people dreaded when the consultant came to town.  The seminars, extra meetings, temporary changes in news philosophy and execution just seemed to be a waste.  But I really liked when the consultants came to town.  It was a chance at perspective.  The consultant knew my station’s philosophy but could also tell me about what other stations were doing.  Since early in my career, many newsrooms where I worked had no EP or a weak one, so a consultant visit was my chance to pick someone’s brain a bit.

Here’s what I did to use a consultant visit to my benefit, and here’s what you can do as a reporter as well.

Since my I was a producer, I would dub a newscast I liked and have it ready to hand over.  I would also ask management for a preview of what the would be in the seminar the consultant had planned.  Usually it was writing of some sort.  So, I would print samples of my work that related to the subject.  Then after the seminar I would mingle a bit and ask if I could have the consultant look over my work.  Now, I did not hand over a huge pile of papers, just a small handful or one section of a newscast.  Often the consultant would look over my work and give me critiques.  I would also ask about trends in larger markets so I could try to “practice” more sophisticated elements in my own newscasts.  Occasionally the consultant was really snooty and would blow me off.  But most of the time the person was very approachable and willing to share information.

This is good in terms of pushing yourself to the next level when you aren’t getting training elsewhere.  There is another benefit to also consider.  Never forget who hired the consultant.  It’s either the GM or corporate.  It never hurts to have a consultant tell those bosses that they met a very conscientious producer (or anchor/reporter etc.) that seemed driven to push him/herself.  Let’s face it, the only time I saw a GM for any length of time was a quarterly meeting, previewing a big political special for the station or being told the numbers in the newscasts sucked and we better kick it into high gear or else!  So it’s nice to have someone like a consultant tell the GM you are eager to do your best.

As I got to know my station consultants better over the years, some also started giving me career advice.  The kind of advice you rarely get, unless you have am agent who’s really on the ball.  I got calls sometimes when a job came open at a station the consultant called on.  It was a consultant who sat me down and told me I was ready for management and to aim for a medium-large to large market when I did apply.  A consultant reviewed my writing samples to make sure I was well rounded before I made a large market jump as a producer.  When I went to a large market, the consultant there (he was with another agency than my previous station FYI) worked with me on the side to get ready to become an EP.  Why?  It makes the consultant look good to be able to place you in a good fit and help you move up.

Reporters, don’t overlook this option for yourselves as well, especially when talent coaches come in and work with you one and one to improve your look and performance.  Most of the time you are given a business card and told to call with any further questions:  Do it!  Yes, your current station will probably hear that you called.  Don’t bad mouth the place.  Do ask if you can send more current work samples to find out if you are on the right track.  Again, these consultants meet a lot of big time bosses.  They can and sometimes do put a word in about the talent they get to know.

It should go without saying that you don’t want to badger these potential mentors and ask too many questions or get too many reviews of your work.  Once in a while it is okay, and might even help your career.  So listen to the seminars, ask questions, show you are committed to the station where you work and improving your own worth.  That consultant could help your career in ways you’d never expect.