5 Ways to Negotiate Media Contracts to Get More Money and Benefits

How to Get a Better Deal on Your Contract

A photo of two people shaking hands after signing a media contract.
Know how to negotiate media contracts so that you get more money and better benefits. Photo © Ariel Skelley / Getty Images

Being asked to sign a media contract is a career milestone. Someone thinks enough of you and your work to want to hold onto you. While that's a flattering gesture, it can also be scary to think that you are committing yourself to a company for two, three, maybe five years when a better job may come along. After learning the basics of a media contract, know the five tips to negotiate a media contract so that you're not faced with disappointment after signing the deal.

Do Your Research

Whether you're about to accept a new job or are simply sticking with your current company, research will lead to a better agreement. If you're working at a local TV station or newspaper, know its position in the market, in terms of Nielsen ratings for TV, circulation for newspapers and sales revenue for either.

In broadcasting, a number-three station doesn't automatically pay less than the market leader. If a lower-ranked station is trying to turn around its fortunes, it may be willing to pay more than the typical salary to get some momentum started with experienced people. The number-one station may be resting on its laurels, paying the least amount possible.

Learn more about the person who will handle the negotiations. Some managers love the give-and-take of hammering out an agreement, others have a take-it-or-leave-it approach. If you walk into a contract meeting using the wrong tactics, you could cost yourself money or even the job.

Try to find the range of salaries at the company. If you have two years of experience, it's unlikely that you will earn more than someone who works in the same position who's been there for ten years.

How to Ask for More Money

No matter what amount is offered to you, it's only natural to want more. Getting it isn't always easy.

It takes patience and usually a willingness to give up something else in the contract.

Let's say you're presented with a two-year contract with a $50,000 salary the first year and $53,000 the second. You want $55,000 the first year and $60,000 the second.

Mention your figures so that the discussion becomes about concrete numbers. Otherwise, you're just saying, "I want more money," which won't get you anywhere. Think of this stage like asking for a pay raise. Plan ahead, be polite but don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

Expect to hear something about the economy being down, the numbers being out of the question or a comparison to what someone else in the company is earning. Don't let that discourage you.

Back up your request by outlining what type of unique skills or experience you bring to the position -- can you take on some additional responsibilities to warrant the extra pay? Sell yourself as bringing extra value to the company, which may be paying more to sign you but also getting more.

If money is more important to you than the length of the contract, that can be a big selling point to the company. Say that you'll sign a three-year contract, which means management won't have to worry about hiring someone new after two years.

When to Ask for Out Clauses

An "out clause" in a contract allows you to accept another job before the contract expires. These types of clauses have to be negotiated before the deal is signed.

You will have to initiate this conversation. A contract will start with no out clauses, forcing you to remain for the entire length of the agreement. Otherwise, you might be put into a situation where you'd someday be tempted into breaking your contract, which would mean leaving on bad terms and possibly causing long-term damage to your career.

Some typical out clauses would allow a person to take a job closer to her hometown, would permit a TV reporter to accept a higher-paying news anchor position or free someone when a big raise in pay is offered in another city.

If an out clause is critically important to get, expect to give up something desirable in return.

You may be forced to take a lower salary or told that any out clauses won't be granted until later in your contract period.

That's a part of negotiation. If a station agrees to lose your services prematurely, then it should be compensated in some way.

Parts of a TV Contract that Usually Aren't Negotiable

You'll find some parts of your contract contain standard language that the company puts in all of its contracts. Avoid wasting time trying to change or delete these items.

You may see a "morals clause", which allows the company to fire you if you do something that would bring bad publicity. By saying you want that paragraph removed, you are implying that you foresee getting yourself into trouble, which may cause alarm.

A "no compete clause" prevents you from jumping to a competing media company for a period of time, even after the contract expires. Accept that management doesn't want to pay you, groom you and teach you new skills just to see you working for the competition.

The media company will retain the rights to a person's name, face and voice to use however it sees fit. In addition, it will own your work and have the authority to decide whether to use it.

You may find it difficult to change the terms of how the company is able to terminate the contract and the amount of severance pay, if any, you would receive. Most employers give themselves a window of time each year to decide whether to continue the relationship for the next year of the deal.

What to Remember During Negotiations

A company wants you, otherwise you wouldn't have made it to the contract negotiation stage. Before you walk into the room, decide how much pay you'll accept and how long you're willing to stay to get it.

No matter the title of the person negotiating with you, that person doesn't have a blank check. The salary you request has to fit into the company's budget and correspond to what the market will bear.

To get something, you likely have to give up something else. Be ready to compromise so that both sides walk away happy. Don't get so carried away with emotions that you turn down what was a fair deal.

Successfully negotiating a media contract is a lot like buying a car. The more information you have, the better you'll be at bargaining. If crunching the numbers doesn't come naturally to you, you'll find that contract talks become much easier with practice.

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