6 keys for getting to yes in contract negotiations

Sportscasters are often great at one thing – sportscasting. They’re often not so good at art, they’re not so good at cooking, and many aren’t so good at negotiating. Shoot – if you are like I was during my own sportscasting career, you’re so happy to have work that you’ll take whatever compensation is offered and not ask questions.

Don’t leave money on the table. You might be able to get more value from your contract than you think.

Here are 6 keys for successful contract negotiations:

1. Ask

It was either in Boy Scouts or in a fortune cookie at Double Happiness in Del Mar, CA where I first heard, “you’ll never know what you can do until you try.” It applies to contract negotiations, too. Attorney Rick Carr has negotiated hundreds of contracts for broadcasters. He says, “In my opinion, ALL contracts have some room to negotiate, whether that means financially and/or in non-monetary aspects of the agreement, which can often be even more valuable than salary.”

There are two caveats to “it never hurts to ask.”

  • In a renewal deal where nothing has changed in your job description, the non-monetary aspects of the contract have already been tweaked, and you have no leverage. The station is not worried about losing you.
  • Any offer from a station in market 125+ except in very rare cases, or if the position being offered is a Monday-Friday Anchor spot.

2. Larger markets offer more wiggle room

A large market station is more likely — and typically more able — to offer flexibility in contract terms when they want to get someone signed. However, Carr says that market size generally matters less than which company owns the station. “Some ownership groups are notorious for trying to force their ‘boilerplate’ contract on just about everybody, while others — Cox and Scripps, for example — are often more willing to work a little harder to get a ‘fair’ deal done.”

3. Leverage

Nothing matters more in your ability to negotiate the best possible contract than leverage. Even if a client has NO interest in leaving their current station, Carr always recommend they consider getting their work out to some other stations, even in the same market, to see what type of reaction it draws. “Crickets often mean you just push for the best possible terms, but don’t do anything to jeopardize the offer, while a bit noisier response generally allows me to get more aggressive in demanding certain terms, while making clear the client’s willingness to walk away.”

4. Persistence

If you’re trying to negotiate your own deal — which usually isn’t advisable because most people have a tendency to back-off what they really want in a contract rather than risking the “greedy” label — don’t take the News Director’s first no as a final answer. “Keep talking about your value to the station, and the benefits of retaining you as opposed to having to hire someone new — which most news directors hate to have to do,” Carr says. “They’ll usually find something they can offer you as a ‘sweetener’ to get the deal done.”

5. Preparation

Consider these three things when prepping for your negotiation. A) Figure out the reasonable value of your job based on the market. B) Don’t believe when co-workers or colleagues tell you “how much so and so makes” because they’re almost always wrong. C) Identify the contract terms that really matter to you and be prepared to compromise on others that are less significant.

6. Creativity

The days of stations offering more money, more vacation, outs, clothing allowance, etc. right off the bat are largely over. Therefore, it is absolutely critical to be able to think creatively about other ways, often non-monetary ones, to improve the overall quality of a deal. After taxes, etc., an additional $5000 per year is only worth about $125 per paycheck. Given that, things like reducing a station’s option to terminate without cause are likely worth more in the long run.

If an employer can’t budge on base salary, Carr suggests four other areas where you can try to increase the value of the total compensation package.

  • Paid time off for “professional development,” such as to attend a journalism conference that might benefit the station, like Poynter or IRE.
  • Cell phone allowance, especially if you are a reporter who uses a personal phone for email and/or to send video from the field.
  • This one doesn’t happen very often any more, but some stations are still willing to consider hair and or clothing trade relationships with local business, in exchange for an on-air mention.
  • Depending on the timing of when you’re signing a contract, some stations may have a little extra money available to give as a signing bonus instead of in salary.

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