In my work life as a documentary producer, I never have a problem striking up conversation with neurosurgeons, politicians or gang members, for whatever programme I happen to be making, writes Producer Elena Mourey. Elena is being sponsored by Raw TV on the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme 2018.
But for me, no amount of hard liquor can make networking easy. All poise and confidence vanish when I’m forced to introduce myself and blow my own trumpet. My body malcoordinates, my hands turn to cack and when channelling my inner Beyoncé, somehow instead Mr Bean comes out to say hello.
Being chosen for the Media Parents Back to Work Scheme was a massive confidence boost, and the first step was a trip to the Edinburgh TV Festival…to network.
Networking, blurgh – so let’s just call it a ‘chat’
In our first Media Parents session, Amy Walker gave us some much needed tips. First of all, forget that word ‘networking’. Instead, think of it as chatting. It seems so obvious. There’s something quite vulnerable about shouting your assets at someone you have a career crush on. Amy reassured us that finding some common ground will pave the way to easy flowing career conversation.
I immediately skipped off to a toilet cubicle, practised some power poses and contemplated who my first chat victim could be.
After the ‘Edinburgh Does…Question Time’ debate I spotted panellist Fiona Campbell, Controller of Mobile and Online BBC News, lingering by the door. I pounced.
“Fiona, hi. I love your trousers,” I blurted. Her trousers, previously hidden behind the panel desk, were shiny shocking fuchsia, teamed with silver plimsolls. Bam, we were off. Selfies were taken and after a quick chat about work and motherhood in the lift, she was whisked off for press photos.
Other chats I had involved Pat Younge at Sugar Films, Jonathan Meenagh from Shine, Anna Bonaddio from Expectation Entertainment and the new gang of series producers on the Creative Skillset scheme.
I think I found some common ground and have gone some way to shaking my fear of networking.
Having a child can up the career stakes
I’ve always been a woman, yes. And I’ve always been a ‘yes’ woman. So I found the ‘Legendary Women of Television’ panel utterly inspiring.
Olivia Lichtenstein of Storyvault Films told of her unapologetic approach to motherhood. She admitted to feeling Imposter Syndrome and terror at work, despite winning numerous awards as the only woman on the BBC’s flagship documentary series World in Action. When she decided it was best to be on home turf for her kids, rather than roving the world as a producer/director, she went straight for the jugular and applied to be the editor. It meant working harder but not being so absent.
In television, we’re taught to bleed to succeed. We thrive on it in fact. We think it’s seen as a measure of our success if we can be the last person at night to send out an email, or the first person in the morning to arrive at the office. This doesn’t make us good at our job. Being good at our job does.
So how can we be the best person at work and the best parent at home? I like Dorothy Byrne’s (Head of News and Current Affairs at C4) tip,
“Just don’t try to be so perfect.”
It’s an exciting time to jump back into the industry, when no one is sure what’s next, not even the people at the top.
“The old rules of how things work in TV are being thrown out,” said Kelly Webb Lamb. When TV is competing with Netflix, Instagram and Snapchat, it’s vital that people with different influences, experiences, struggles, fashion sense and music tastes make and run telly. And if new and fresh perspectives are to be valued, that can only be a good thing.
After all, it’s when the rules are broken, that magic happens.