It’s one of the oldest clichés
in the professional world: “It’s not WHAT
you know, it’s WHO you know.” I can’t
say for sure, but I’m guessing whoever coined the
phrase worked in the broadcasting industry. Think about
it, in what other profession do so many bright, upwardly-mobile
people reset their professional and social networks with
such regularity? From small market to medium market to
(if you’re lucky) large-market – your television
“family tree” can multiply faster than Shawn
What does this mean for the aspiring
TV personality? For starters, if you can’t love
thy neighbor… at least consider faking it. You have
probably been advised as much, something along the lines
of “You never know when you’ll run into so-and-so
down the line.” Yes, even that dumb-as-a-post news
director who made your life miserable in market 167, he
too might resurface in a more desirable place. He might
work at a station where you aspire to work. He might KNOW
someone who works at a place where you aspire to work.
And that’s just the tip of the
iceberg. The math is simple, but astounding. You have
10 on-air friends. They move on to bigger and better things,
which means you have a potential “in” at 10
stations. You get that second job, make 20 more friends
there. And they move on, and so on and so on. Those of
you who have been in the business for awhile have undoubtedly
marveled at what a “small world” it is. Forget
Kevin Bacon; try playing Six Degrees of any TV personality
who’s worked at more than 2 stations. There are
45 anchors at ESPN, and I’ll bet I’m within
six degrees of just about any of them. You probably are,
I need not explain the “needle
in a haystack” possibilities of a news director
picking your tape out of a stack of 200. But have a friend
hand your tape directly to a news director, odds are pretty
good you at least get a shot at the VCR – not to
mention the potentially-huge “tie-breaker advantage”
that comes with a personal reference. Case in point: I
got a job in Utica, NY largely because a former colleague
from my Panama City, FL station had moved there, and handed
my tape to the News Director. I found my agent because
a friend with whom I did college radio got me a look.
My agent was instrumental in getting me to ESPN. Now I
have friends in high places.
So before your weather-anchor leaves
for that sweet gig in St. Louis, don’t forget to
get his contact information. Put him on your email list.
Keep in touch. Maintain professional relationships. It’s
not what you know, it’s who you know.
Scott Reiss can be seen regularly
on both ESPNEWS and ESPN's Sportscenter. The California
native joined the "Worldwide Leader in Sports"
in mid-2001 after stints in Sacramento, CA and Utica,
NY. Scott is a graduate of Stanford University.
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