‘Be a Real Leader’

Staff Writer

Paul Dowsley is the Executive Producer of one of the most successful, long-running and listened to Breakfast Programs in Australia – Fox FM's Matt & Jo Show.

This show has more listeners than any show in the country with 649,000 people tuning in each week. To put that in perspective, Fox has over 100,000 more listeners than the #2 ranked Breakfast program in Australia (on 2Day FM Sydney).

So who better to ask for a perspective on how the Content/Program Director and the Breakfast EP relationship should work than Paul.

Here's what he had to say:

Paul Dowsley:

Thank god for Dave Cameron (pictured below). As Content Director at FOX FM he hired me almost six years ago, and he’s the best boss I’ve had in 21 years working in media. We’ve never had an argument, largely because he’s found the sweet spot between macro and micro management.

Our relationship is based on communication and trust. We speak throughout every day about content ideas, clients and dramas, but he lets me run the show with autonomy. No EP wants a CD who questions every decision or talk break, and I know Dave has complete faith in me to have responsibility for Fox’s most important show. It’d be once a fortnight at most that I hear from him in-show, and it’s usually an SMS or email. He backs my judgement to make tough decisions along the way that will get us to the end goal. I only call Dave in-show if we had a significant legal or client issue.

But I know he’s always listening. Always.

Week-to-week, Dave and I have ongoing discussions about the direction of the show, how to keep it fresh, and what elements of the talents’ personalities we can exploit or pull back on. Dave’s the king of short emails and swift decisions. He’s also running the Today Network so he doesn’t have time to be verbose. Except occasionally in meetings. But that’s for another post.

Then it’s up to the EP to use their skill at implementing those priorities with the talent, and keep that non-stop creature of breakfast radio alive and healthy. The EP makes big decisions about show content and placement, what to reject and what to shine the spotlight on. They choose what to promo, how to position the show in social media, chase guests, respond to complaints and about 200 emails a day from publicists, keep across the news and what’s hot in TV/music/movies/events/online, and keep a cheeky eye (or ear) on the competition. Then there’s liaising with the in-house publicist, the sales department, and the rest of the product team so they know what the breakfast show is doing.

All that, plus the EP is the responsible for the day-to-day management of the talent. They have to be able to respond confidently to talent who complain, bicker or lie, and manage other colleagues in the team such as producers, audio producers and web producers.

The EP has to know the limits of the talent and respect their boundaries but get as close to the edge as they can, and occasionally even try to coerce them to step over them.

Clear, consistent, honest communication from the CD is critical. Be a real leader. No panicking. No mixed messages. No playing politics and power games. To me, if the EP isn’t truly inspired and encouraged by their CD, then chances are the talent won’t be either, so it’s going to be a rough ride.

The CD needs to make the EP part of the inner circle – revealing all the information available, from their gut instincts on the show and its talent to the results of phone research, focus groups or ratings break-downs.

Dave consults me on all big-picture decisions for the show and never forces things in without discussion. In turn, the EP needs to have an understanding of the CD’s decisions, goals and reasons – and confidence to push back and challenge them with an alternative.

It’s also crucial that the EP channels key information back to the CD so they know about any frustrations or issues unfolding in the team. When I (rarely, thankfully) have a significant disagreement with someone in the team I'll make sure the CD knows, not just to maintain communication but also for advice about how to resolve it. I’m comfortable to be open with Dave about my own failings, and which skills I need to develop. In turn, Dave offers me opportunities to grow and extra responsibilities to keep me stimulated.

It’s a delicate balancing act for the CD and EP to get right, but focussing on a foundation of communication and trust is the key to our interactions, and I’d suggest it’s the key for all those in the Fox product team.


Paul Dowsley is Executive Producer of the 'Matt & Jo' show on Fox FM in Melbourne. You can drop Paul an email here.

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