I’m not talking the autopen at corporate that signs your check, or the suit behind the glass that gives you marching orders every day. I’m talking about the person you work for every day.
Here’s a hint. It’s not the lensmeat that grumbles every time you ask them to carry something.
I’ve got a buddy who tours the country talking to businessmen for a living. His message is a simple one for which he gets paid quite handsomely. “The only thing that separates you from the competition is how you treat the customer.”
In most businesses, the customer is the guy who pays the bills. That’s the guy you want to keep happy. In TV, that definition doesn’t quite work. Advertisers keep the keylights on. Sure, we gotta keep them happy. That’s more a function of the pairs of eyes on the program and how much it’s gonna cost him to reach them.
Getting the most eyes on Chet Dimplechin means serving more than just the advertiser. It means appealing to Mr. and Mrs. Sixpack. The Sixpacks are a fickle klan. Keeping them all happy is can be harder than herding cats.
So who is it, as a journalist, that we must serve? Satisfy? And hope to leave with a pleasant “customer experience”?
For me, it’s the people in the story.
Think about it. We bumrush the unsuspecting on the best and worst days of their lives. We expect them to let us into their world and emote on cue. Being on TV is a scary ordeal if you don’t do it every day. It’s up to us to make folks comfortable, and help them through the experience.
It’s an old business adage. Treat people right, and they’ll keep coming back.
It’s about treating people like people rather than sources, or victims, or experts.
Then, it’s up to us to get their story straight and treat them fairly. It really is as simple as that.
Every day, we have a different boss, just like in retail. We work for the people who stand before our camera, just like the car salesman works for the dude with the combover looking at the candyapple convertible Mustang.
And just like the salesman looking for a sale, our story depends on the customer. To make a sale and keep the customer happy, a good salesman wants the product to fit his customer. He needs to take the time to get to know Mr. Combover. What features mean the most to him? What is is about this particular car that lights their fire?
It should be the same time anyone sits in front of our glass. Who is this person? What makes them tick? What is it about this issue that lights their fire? Why should everybody else care? What lesson can their experience teach you?
It’s our job to tell their story, not the preconceived idea from the morning Fantasy Meeting.
And just like the one honest used car salesman in town, when you treat your customer’s right, word gets around.
But more importantly, when you begin treating customers like the boss, telling stories about them rather than ideas, or politics, or programs, you begin seeing things differently. You begin asking different questions — questions they might ask rather then the one’s the suits or insiders think important.
So before you hit the door grumbling about the next tax election story that’s passed your way, think about your real boss — the tax payer in your story. Work hardest for him, and you’ll begin to connect with your advertiser’s customers because they’ll see that you’re working for them too. And that’s gonna make the autopen very happy.