The "Ideal" Production Director

by John Dodge

Last month I hired a Production Director, and before the process began, I wrote down the important qualities and prerequisites for the position so I could hand it to each new candidate at the start of the interview. "How do you do, here's what I'm looking for. "Too often in business, people fail not because they lack the talent and the ability, but because the manager or the PD doesn't clearly identify the objectives and priorities. They let a lot of assumptions fly around and leave lots of things unsaid. So, I thought it would be smart to define this Production Director position right from the start. Spell it out. Make a checklist. These are the things we value. And I thought this month I'd pass that list along to you, with comments on each basic point. I hope it helps in your present gig, or better yet, on your way up, up, up the radio ladder of success.

*The Ideal Production Director understands the nature of the radio station, its mission and its target. This sounds like a no-brainer, but then, nothing is obvious to the uninformed. You need to know who you're aiming your communication toward. If it's a promo, then make certain you know the target is Men 18-34 or Adults 25-49. Targets change, so don't assume anything. If it's a spot, get the Account Executive to help you learn the client's market so you can tailor your pitch. You address different sex, age, and social groups differently, and one size does not fit all. Regarding the station's mission -- if you don't do so already, attend the airstaff meetings because in well-run stations, that's where the mission is stated over and over again: who are we, where are we going, and how are we gonna get there?

*The Ideal Production Director has superior marketing and advertising sensibilities. Your role is to get inside listeners' heads and, by hook or crook, get them to notice, recall, and respond to your message. And boy, do you have stiff competition. Your work runs next to a Coke jingle with $100,000 production values and a frequency budget to match. If you just whammed your spot together and filled it with clichés, which ad do you think wins the recall battle? You're the station's in-house advertising agency, so rise to the occasion.

*The Ideal Production Director has the creative writing skills to match. You know me, I worship good writing. Every great promo, spot or bit was born in the typewriter or the word processor and then refined and realized in the production process. Much as I love tricks and digital gizmos, they're just sweetening; it's your imagination that does the heavy lifting in radio. If your writing skills aren't anything to write home about, or if they're under-developed because somebody else handles those tasks, you're not as diversified and valuable as you could be. Take a course, check out books on writing and advertising, revisit the monthly Radio And Production Cassette for ideas and inspiration, then...get scribbling.

*The Ideal Production Director has sufficient technical knowledge to turn ad concepts into sophisticated agency/network quality audio. You don't have to know how to engineer hit records like Bob Clearmountain or Jimmy Iovine to be a great radio producer, but you better know your way around the studio. Learn your console and its signal path; learn about acoustics, about different mikes and which ones are best suited for which applications. You need to know the basics of signal processing -- compression, equalization, reverb, delay. Get computer literate. And read the trades and stay current because many of the analog tools you're using today will be obsolete tomorrow.

*The Ideal Production Director likes dealing with a variety of clients and personalities, and wants to thoroughly understand their needs, goods and services. Notice the verb is "like" and not just "tolerate."As a production person, you're in the center of the radio universe -- sales, talent, the PD, the clients, the listeners --everybody expects excellence from you and they want it right now with a smile. Can you handle that kind of pressure? Or are you most comfortable alone in a studio insulated from the distractions of insistent PDs, sales dweebs and other sub-humans? Be honest.

*The Ideal Production Director is a self-manager. Who wants to work with a guy whose favorite song is "Start Me Up?" Nuff said.

*The Ideal Production Director refuses the traditional adversarial relationship between programming and sales. You might work for the PD, according to the flow chart, but as I mentioned before, you're really in the center serving all sides of the station. The Big Picture shows that "Us and Them" is an illusion. It's simply different divisions with different styles serving the same end. Sure, sometimes "they" don't understand the bullets you sweat to get a brilliant piece of work on the air. To them it looks easy, like the way Fred Astaire dances. And sometimes you think "they" have no loyalty to anything but their own commissions. But then, sometimes they think "you" are a whiny flake who has to be handled with kid gloves and triple-checked to make sure you get their important jobs done professionally. I think you understand that both perspectives are way out of whack. Play team ball or don't play.

*The Ideal Production Director is as thorough and detail oriented as Detective Columbo. Part of your gig is pure administration, and unfortunately, that talent doesn't always coincide with creativity. Train yourself to read every production order, every script, every cart label like a hawk. Nothing gets by you because there's an awesome built-in traffic manager in your head.

*The Ideal Production Director treats multiple deadlines as challenges and not sources for anxiety. It gets hot in the radio kitchen, so if you sweat too easily, best know thyself and get into some lower stress line of work.

*The Ideal Production Director understands the importance of the end goal and doesn't overly "ego-associate" with their work. Face it, not every idea you come up with is great. Some are great, some are serviceable, and some stink. Learn to generate lots of ideas and not attach too personally to any of them -- the way fish have kids. That way, math will work in your favor. Sure, pride matters, attitude matters, heart matters. Results matter most.

*The Ideal Production Director understands that customer service is the key to repeat business, whether that customer is a client, a co-worker or a listener. We tend to talk about the "product," but, in reality, ours is a service business in which the people and radio stations who stand out and succeed are the ones who give the best service to everyone they come in contact with. This goes way beyond "the customer is always right. "This is more like "the customer is God."

*The Ideal Production Director has an "appetite" for work, for learning, and for success. You wouldn't punch a time clock except in anger. They have to kick you out of the studio at night. You sign up for every skills-related course you can get the company to spring for -- even some they won't. You eat the trades for lunch. You crave professional growth. You take excellence personally! And you're the one that always gets the highest recommendation from your managers and co-workers because you just read to the bottom of this long list and recognized yourself in almost every paragraph.

Hey, it turns out you are the Ideal Production Director! At least mentally you are. Don't worry, your habits will follow your attitude. Pick one of these points and polish it this week. Pick another next week. Add a few that I missed. Rewrite this article. Stretch to grow. Good luck, and remember -- you've got the best job in the business.

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