How To Negotiate an On Air TV Contract
The Initial Offer
So you've been shopping around for a new TV job (or your first TV job), and the news director has offered to send you the contract to look over. It's important to keep in mind the job is not officially yours until the contract has been signed by both parties. Your first instinct may be to sign the contract and get it done with--but there are a few items in the contract you may be able to further negotiate in your favor.
Note: This article assumes you are not represented by an agent during the job search process. You by no means need an agent to get a TV job, and in many cases can get a more favorable deal on your own.
Important Parts of the Contract
While all on-air TV news contracts are different, they all essentially say the same thing. In most cases, the contract states in flowery legal terms that the station can terminate you at any time, for any reason. You, however, are usually not able to terminate the contract for any reason, at any time, unless you and the station come to a mutual agreement.
In most cases, there is what's called a non-compete clause. For on-air personalities, this states that you can't leave the station and go to work at another station in the same market (or in some cases, nearby markets). If you wish to do so, you must wait a specific amount of time after your contract is up. In many cases the time frame is a year, but for long-standing anchors it may be much longer. This is to prevent you from jumping ship and taking valuable viewers with you to a competing station.
In some cases, a contract may come with what are called 'outs'. These are conditions under which you're allowed to legally get out of your contract with no repercussions. For instance, a reporter in market 50 may have 'outs' for a top ten market. This means if she is offered a job in a top ten market, she may leave her contract early to accept this position.
However, usually contract 'outs' are not this broad and are not designed to be easily achievable. In my most recent contract I was able to negotiate four market 'outs' after two years. Meaning--once I had completed two years out of my three year contract, I was free to leave IF I received an offer from one of those four specified markets. This is considered a pretty good deal as far as outs go.
Parts That May Be Negotiable
Your first thought may be 'salary', however in many cases that is not negotiable. Or, it may be negotiable only within a few thousand dollars. You're taking a risk here. If you are thinking of negotiating salary, you should have a good idea of what a reporter/anchor in that market can reasonably expect to make and how many years' experience they have. Two reporters in the same market at the same station may have a salary difference of tens of thousands of dollars.
The bottom line is, if you're not afraid to play hardball or salary is a make-or-break aspect of whether you take the job, go ahead and ask for what you hope to be making. The worst that can happen is they say no.
There are other parts of the contract that are much more negotiable that many newer reporters and anchors don't even think to ask for let alone negotiate. Number one is the cost of your move.
I was reimbursed in full for the cost of the move to my first TV job, simply because someone told me to ask for it and I did. After speaking with the other reporters, I learned I was one of the only ones who had asked for moving expenses to be paid and consequently one of the only ones whose move was paid for. (These expenses include gas, hotels needed while you get to where you're going and possibly a moving company).
Another part of the contract you can negotiate is a hair/beauty/clothing allowance. Once again, someone told me what to ask for going into my first job and lo and behold, my hair upkeep was paid for as part of my contract. My second job I was not so lucky, but they ended up saying yes to a clothing allowance which turned out to be even better.
What this means is the station will agree to a certain amount per year you're allowed to spend on clothing/hair/etc., perhaps $500 or $1,000, and you will be reimbursed up to that amount.
You may be able to negotiate better benefits or vacation time. A station will usually tell you up front their vacation policy is non-negotiable. Many times that's not entirely true. Some companies offer a 2% trade, where you take about a 2% pay cut (equal to one week's pay over the course of the year) and in return you receive an additional week of vacation time. A pretty nice trade if you prefer time off to a few more dollars each paycheck.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is, don't sign anything before clearly reading over each and every part of the contract, and if you have any questions whatsoever, ask the news director. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want. You may be surprised at what you're able to negotiate.