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Visiting Professor - Day 5 - Creativity at Work

“They didn’t even know these jobs existed,” Temple graduate Alex Petyerak said of his classmates. Alex is referring to the creative services positions at local television stations. Many students have a preconceived notion of what occupations exist in the media world. Students don’t seek these positions out because many overlook them. Professors are partly to blame because these jobs are not discussed in class. Writing short promos, shooting image spots, and editing varieties of material requires the same skills of the film student. If the latter comparison makes you uncomfortable then maybe you need to talk to Alex. Alex’s job is evolving beyond cutting promos and topical spots.

Alex is one of those go-getter students you find in many universities. He knew what he wanted early and found the straight path to his goals. He proudly affirms his eagerness to get his hands on equipment and he shakes his head at his peers who were less motivated. He’s the kind of student professors like to have in class. Alex says he interned a few Philadelphia stations and it landed him a full-time job at WPTV-TV in the Creative Services department. He’s extremely happy and loves his job.

Alex’s boss is James Griffel. Griffel is the Creative Services Director for WPTV-TV and WFLX-TV. WFLX-TV is the local FOX affiliate sharing their building. His department produces promotional work for both stations. Griffel is supported by the promotions manager Steve Tubb and under them their staff consists of six highly creative people in their department. There are two promotions and one commercial producer for each affiliate.

Griffel has worked in the television industry since the early nineties and has seen a lot of changes. He believes social media has changed television and his job. His staff tries to keep up with promoting news at the pace of the 24/7-news cycle. It is difficult to keep up. News promotion used to be on a regular schedule but that is not the case any more. Griffel must make sure the news is promoted on Facebook with updates and live shots, when news crews are in field covering the news.

The creative services department is busy working on campaigns such as the Back to School Expo and Food for Families Drive. These campaigns require preplanning and thoughtful promotional video work. Writing, shooting and editing are a job requirement for his staff. He likes to hook people with emotion and not the usually “proof of performance” spots local stations gravitate toward.

Griffel doesn’t sugarcoat the work required of his staff. “It is very challenging and we love younger producers who make creative work for us.” A new hire must know new technologies and have excellent social media skills. Griffel will admit he has to keep up with the latest tech and doesn’t apologize. “It’s good for me.”

Tech skills don’t seem to be a problem for younger hires. “Soft skills” seem to be the biggest hurdle for the recent graduates. Soft skills can range from work ethics to initiative. These skills are hard to teach. Over lunch, we discussed how to teach those skills and we really didn’t come up with answers. Soft skills may be the difference between a successful career and none at all. Learning to navigate a business with proper professionalism is essential. Classrooms need to incorporate behavior as much as knowledge. A student who knows how to deal with hierarchy, personalities and politics will do far better than a well-skilled student who is socially inept.

Setting soft skills aside, writing skills are extremely important for anyone in television. Griffel wants writers who write compelling content that isn’t clichéd. He doesn’t want writers over-writing promos but wants them to be able to turn a phrase that catches the viewer’s attention. To him, writers provide a customer service that informs and advertises.

Today, WPTV-TV’s studio B was busy recording the first Take 5 segment. While it may not be a film production, the crew is using the same gear you find at Georgia Southern University. Shooting a student project is a lot different than shooting a promotional spot with a client. Students may not understand the tension that can exist when shooting with a client. In the studio, the client rules and production reflects their needs or desires. Today’s client is a law firm that deals with Nursing Home litigation and Boating Accident claims. The crew is expected to be almost invisible in their professionalism. Everything must go so smooth you wouldn’t know there was a potential for anything to go wrong. Students need to know that there is only one shot at this video opportunity. Asking to re-shoot costs money, time and credibility. You have to get it right the first time.

Gregg Hepp, Sales Coordinator/Commercial Producer, directs the pilot segment. He’s attempting to find the right formula for this regular feature. Today, photographer Kristen Wolfe joined him. Kristen used a Canon 5D and a Sony A7 with a green screen background. Audio was recorded on a Zoom recorder.

Most of our Georgia Southern University students could re-create Kristen’s setup but it doesn’t mean they could do the job. According to HR Director Erin Sadler experience is necessary. Salder suggest that students take entry-level positions to get their feet in the door and get experience. WPTV-TV offers an entry-level studio technician position. The job is low paying and part time but it is a good way to get into the company.

Many stations are less likely to hire a news photographer than an MMJ but Sadler is looking for photographers. She wants to recruit news photographers who have a creative eye, are good editors and understand lighting. Her words are music to my ears. I keep harping on my MMJ students that they need all three of those factors to get a job. I was surprised that stations at this market level are looking for photographers. It makes my feel good to know that there are places for students who may want to cover news but don’t want to be on camera. There are jobs out there for different types of students. Hopefully, we will be graduating students like Alex Petyerak and find them jobs they may never know existed.

Tomorrow, I will list Erin Sadler’s list of Do’s and Don’ts plus a job search site she uses to find candidates for the creative service positions.

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