Managing highly talented personalities is a balancing act. It feels like you’re always building up their confidence so they feel bulletproof to perform, then dealing with an inflated ego from even moderate success. It’s enough to drive any programmer or manager crazy and can be particularly challenging for inexperienced programmers dealing with high-ceiling personalities. Some personalities require more attention, while others always test the boundaries. Navigating talent problems is one of the most challenging parts of a programmer’s job. That’s where the PITA factor comes into play.
Managing high-profile radio personalities requires a delicate balance between offering flexibility and following guidelines that help them succeed. Recognizing the unique value of each talent gives them room to grow and flourish. However, to reach their potential, personalities must be aligned with programming goals and objectives.
There will be inevitable conflicts, and it’s a Pain In The Ass. That’s the PITA factor. How much PITA should you tolerate?
The PITA Factor
Have you ever seen a brilliant artist paint with a straightedge? Or a rockstar without an ounce of rebellious spirit? Great radio personalities often come with a few quirks. That’s what makes them great. But let’s face it, managing them can sometimes feel like herding cats – except these cats host prime-time shows and can significantly boost your ratings!
Every worthwhile personality is disruptive in some way. There’s always baggage. They don’t fit into nice, neat boxes. Great personalities are artists and deserve some freedom to create. However, that freedom has limits.
Imagine if Michelangelo had been given a drawing of what the Sistine Chapel should look like and be judged based on management’s vision for the project. Yet there were restrictions. Pope Julius II, who commissioned the frescoes in 1508, guided the project by limiting the space in which Michelangelo was allowed to paint. He was also given directions on the intent of the project.
In radio, as in art, every personality brings unique value. Each should be treated fairly, but not every personality is equal. Some have a higher PITA factor. That’s not to say all rules should fly out of the window, but recognizing that not every rule should apply to every personality is key. Tolerance should be proportional to ability.
The hard part is knowing how much freedom to allow and when to rein them.
Setting Boundaries To Avoid Chaos
Here are a few guidelines to help navigate turbulent times:
Set Non-Negotiable Rules: Think of these rules as the dome of the Sistine Chapel with instructions to paint only on the dome and not on the walls. Certain principles should be etched in stone. Consider it table stakes for playing the game. There should be relatively few rigid rules, but they should be strictly enforced. Typical rules include music/talk balance, executing format guidelines, and preparation expectations.
Feedback Sessions: Creative people need to understand why boundaries exist, even though they may see the rules as restrictions. They don’t see the entire picture, but regular communication helps them understand how and why demonstrating their brilliance within a structure will lead to greater success for them and the brand.
Listening To Concerns: Every personality should trust their management team enough to know they can express their concerns and be heard. They may not always agree, but they should feel respected. In return, management should expect personalities to perform within the guidelines whether they agree with it or not.
When The Line Is Crossed
Open communication, regular feedback, and strategic handling of egos can make the process smoother for everyone involved, but problems are unavoidable. Here’s how to navigate difficult situations:
Evaluation Time: First, decide how serious the problem is and how much PITA factor you’ll tolerate. Then, involve the personalities in the evaluation process through the lens of the brand values and previously established rules. A small misstep from a high-value personality might warrant a conversation, while the same mistake from another might need stricter action. Some don’t have the talent to justify breaking the rules.
Open Dialogue: Before taking action, understand their perspective. Find out why they behave and hold them accountable to justify their process. This ensures they feel valued and could lead to productive conversations that lead to breakthrough changes. The best ideas often come from those on the front lines.
The Ego Battle: Some problems arise from an ego tug-of-war. Most personalities have a big ego. That’s okay! It comes with the territory. But some managers and programmers are so protective of their “turf” that mild skirmishes can become major battles. For personalities with large egos, don’t confront them head-on. Instead, use positive reinforcement, show them data (ego hates data), and remind them of the non-negotiable rules.
Managing the colorful world of radio personalities is tricky. It requires great judgment and the ability to be flexible within boundaries. The difficult part is knowing when to relax the rules and when to enforce them with authority.
The irony is that the most difficult personalities usually have not established a track record to justify their behavior. Talented singers with a hit or two often act like superstars and are hard to deal with, while true stars with a history of #1 songs are a pleasure. The difference is that the established star understands what it takes to be successful and continues to work to earn it day after day.
For managers: Remember, you’re not managing employees. You’re cultivating stars!
For personalities: Your management team isn’t out to get you. They want you to succeed, but your success path will be faster and smoother by leveraging the strengths of the station brand and performing your art within the established guidelines.