BY LAWRENCE THODHLANA
Following my article on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) last week, I received a lot of feedback from professionals in various sectors with the overwhelming sentiment being that something has got to give at Pockets Hill. A friend and former workmate expressed surprise at how well I articulated the issues.
“I am you sure nguwe owabhalayo?,” [You are the one who wrote that?] was their sentiment. I engaged her in a bid to understand why she would doubt my writing skills upon which she expresses that creatives, particularly camerapersons, are bad writers and speakers not to mention how rough they are around the edges when it comes to grooming and deportment. These insinuations were quite thought-provoking!
The exchange reminded me of numerous conversations I have had around the relationship between corporates and broadcasters. Through this article I will attempt to explore corporate communications from a broadcasting perspective and a bit from other media forms. Corporate executives often express frustration with the level of unprofessionalism exhibited by some scribes particularly technical operators (camera operators and photographers). Journalists and creatives equally bemoan the condescending attitude of most executives, which in some cases translates to reluctance or outright refusal to pay for services rendered.
As a multi-media professional with a strong bias towards broadcasting, particularly camerawork and editing, I have had my fair share of frustrations over the level of respect we command from colleagues within the media sector as well as corporates. Despite the critical role we play in news gathering, commercials production, documentary documentation etc, we always seem to get the short straw as far as respect and remuneration is concerned.
The lack of recognition starts from within the media organisations whose grading system values reporters and producers higher than technical operators. This is because for a long time, reporters and producers would be required to have a minimum of a diploma or degree from the polytechnic colleges and universities across the country. Many a camera operator or photographer had mere Ordinary Levels qualifications. However, times are changing, creatives are proving their academic prowess and as such media institutions should revise their approach.
The media industry, particularly the broadcasting side is dogged by opportunists due to lack of barriers. Unlike other sectors where one has to invest in qualifications and skills training, photography and video filming are considered a talent-based pastime like sector where anyone with some talent and access to a camera can set up a “studio” and get going. This has led to the industry degenerating into a breeding ground for opportunists, with anyone who can afford a camera standing a chance in the creative industry. The market has caught on to this fact and uses it to its advantage in negotiating down prices. The professionals who have invested in education, equipment and expertise are often frustrated when they lose out on bids based on price.
Corporates are concerned about the bottom, hence they will go for the cheapest quotation for expected services. Since there are no set operational standards, services vary from world class to mediocre. The proliferation of substandard broadcast media products is exacerbated by the fact that a descent number of marketing, PR executives and advertising agencies who sometimes, due to limited budgets and pressing deadlines, are forced to settle for cheaper available options at the expense of quality pictures and videos.
Turning to the issue of grooming and deportment, I have often heard executives expressing annoyance at the lack of decorum exhibited by some camera operators and photographers. The accusations include lack of general hygiene, shabby dressing and failure to dress in accordance with the dress code for events they attend. I have contributed my fair share to the unfavourable reputation by appearing at suit and tie events in ripped jeans, tee shirts and sneakers.
A tale that made rounds in the industry is about how after a crew from a leading TV station had set up for an interview with a CEO, the firm’s corporate secretary walked into the office and asked that windows and doors be opened first before bringing the CEO in. The expression on her face displayed her disgust and the rest was history.
Dressing is a form of expression for creatives and that is understood by most, but when it comes to events that require a dress code or when dealing with top executives, shouldn’t we at least try to make an effort on our presentation? We might choose to ignore this issue or come up with all sorts of excuses as creatives, but the reality is that we live in a world that has standards and judgements are easily passed when we do not abide by set standards. Consequently, we often miss out on opportunities due to how we present ourselves. Whether we like it or not — impressions matter!
My favourite story is when, during my time at the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC), a news crew attended a corporate event that was punctuated by food, drink and dance. The cameraman devised a plan where he would use the metal camera box as a beer stash such that when the event ended he would leave carrying the box as the reporter carried the camera. The plan would have been executed to near perfection had the crew not got so drunk that they forgot the camera at the venue and also left the booze filled camera case at the office. The elaborate plan was exposed when an executive of the parastatal phoned the then CEO of ZBC and informed him how the crew had sacrificed equipment on the altar of alcohol.
The industry is awash with similar stories that have contributed to the bad reputation we have as technical operators. We need to do better. Yes, we are in an industry which does not pay well but our love for the wise waters has become legendary. I have heard PR practitioners organising events assuring their bosses of a considerable journalist turnout simple because booze will be on the menu. “Majournalists anombonetsa here? Vakangoziva kuti kune doro remahara vanouya”. Lest I am accused of self-righteousness let me confess that in my formative years I earned a reputation of being rowdy and violent after taking one or two. Close colleagues will tell of the numerous fist fights I engaged in due to drunkenness. I am ashamed.
The predicament of the camera operator or photographer is that you are easily identifiable by the tools of your trade. When everyone else is seated, you are standing pacing the room for camera angles. Everyone’s attention is on you and so people have time to scrutinise your dressing and conduct. By the time, we queue for food and drink everyone can identify you. It is, therefore, imperative that we dress well and go about our business of filming, photographing, eating and drinking stealthily. Sadly, our reputation has become synonymous with uncouthness and freebies.
Former scribes who have crossed to the corporate sector as Marketing and Corporate Communications executives often express frustration with trying to convince management on the value of maintaining cordial relationships with the media. They report that during event planning the media are often last on the list of areas to be considered. The media are so critical that the government recognize them as the fourth estate and during these times of Covid 19 induced locked the media are classified as essential services.
The jury is out on Marketing and Corporate Communications executives on their failure to effectively give briefs to content producers they will have engaged. Since some are not broadcast media literate they fail to articulate themselves leading to a disconnect between expected and actual outcome. This breakdown in communication has led to the demise of many relationships as corporates are left frustrated with products and services that fall short of expectation. Clear and concise written instructions should precede any content creation process.
A discussion with a colleague opened my eyes on the need for those of us in the sector to come together and set up a body that will influence the regulation of entry to the industry. We can only begin to maximize on our trade if we ring-fence it and bar fly opportunists. The medical, law and accounting fields are apt examples of sectors that have ring fenced their industries. A medical doctor doesn’t just wake up and set up a practice before satisfying the stringent requirements of the Zimbabwe Medical Doctors Association.
After spending four or more years at university, a lawyer still has to abide by the regulations set up by the Law Society of Zimbabwe. Any violation to the code of conducts of the society will attract a penalty which can be as severe as deregistration. These representative bodies are central in regulating fees and protecting members from abuse and engaging government and law makers.
l would like to urge corporates to show more respect for content creators as we make you and your products or services look good. Develop a culture of paying for quality not always negotiating down. So often viewers including corporates express despair at the quality of broadcasting services and products produced in Zimbabwe compared to countries like South Africa or Botswana. The impression this creates is that we are not capable but they do not realise the role they play in encouraging mediocrity. When big corporates refuse to pay for world class concepts and settle for the average as a cost cutting measure they contribute in killing the industry.
My rallying call to my fellow comrades in the creative sector is, always remember that you are an extension of the service or product you supply. The service industry is about creating and maintaining impressions with presentability at the core. We are the chef who prepares a meal. The chef is usually behind the scenes and the few times we have an encounter with him/her should strengthen our confidence in his food. Our dressing and conduct should inspire confidence in clients. I come in peace and good faith.
The writer is a freelance multi-media practitioner with over 20 years experience in broadcasting and various media forms. He writes in his own capacity drawing inspiration from his experience and knowledge of broadcasting.
- The writer is a freelance multi-media practitioner with over 20 years experience in broadcasting and various media forms. He writes in his own capacity drawing inspiration from his experience and knowledge of broadcasting.