Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mightier Than the Consultant

Frank Magid passed away a couple weeks ago.  He started a company that "consults" television stations across the country.  The goal of a consultant is to tell you what to do to increase the ratings.

We all benefit when an outsider casts a critical eye on our work.  Feedback is good, and there are times when it's important to get another point of view.

Consultants, and not just Magid, are often reviled for their cookie cutter, one size fits all, simplistic approach to the news business.  For example, dozens of tv stations around the country use the "Live, Local, Late Breaking" slogan.  There are many others.  Consultants see what works in one city, and they spread it across the country.  The consultants would come to town.  We would watch tapes of broadcasts from other stations.  Of course, the tapes contained the best stuff, the things that would make the consultant look like a genius  I always wanted to see what the "other" days were like.

I've been exposed to these people several times, and I've generally been left alone.  There is one story that illustrates how silly they can be.

A consultant watched one of my anchor tapes, and she didn't like that I keep a pen in my hand at all times.   She referred to it as a "crutch."   She asked me to stop.  I did.  For a couple weeks.  I wasn't comfortable, so the pen returned.

When the consultant paid another visit a few months later, I confessed that I went back to the pen.  She said it was okay, and that it was no big deal.

What happened?

One month, pens were banned.  Forbidden.  Absolutely.

In the space of several weeks, the pen was given the green light.

I never asked for an explanation.  I just grabbed my pen and left the room.