The Western industry is exploding. With new media companies, new apparel companies and new events bringing fresh faces into this legacy-space, those of us who’ve been at this “a while” have learned a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.
For those of you graduating in a few weeks with a degree in ag business or ag communications or journalism with a dream of running social media or writing stories or working in TV or at events, here’s a list—in no particular order—of secrets from some of long-standing members of the Western industry.
· Carry a lot of chargers. If your phone dies at an event, you’re up the creek without a paddle. Keep AT LEAST one extra phone cord, with a wall and car charger, in whatever backpack you carry. This will also help you win favor with other humans who forget their phone chargers, like event producers, stock contractors, announcers, cowboys, wives… Invest in an external charger, as you will be places without a charging port and this will save you more than once.
· Charge everything overnight no matter how tired you are. Plug your camera batteries in (carry at least one extra of those), your laptop, your phone, your Apple Watch, your charging cube… anything and everything. No matter how tired you are at the end of a photo shoot or at the end of an event, it’s a must do.
“Be ok with climbing the ladder, don’t expect to be great overnight, bust your ass to be great but know that there is a process and you should… say it with me.. “trust the process” recognize every job as you make your climb as an opportunity, change your perspective and watch your life change. And as I always say.. hard work ALWAYS works.. hard work is undefeated.. period.” — Anthony Lucia, announcer, team roper and ProRodeo personality
· Be early. If you’re not 15 minutes early, you’re late when it comes to call time at a video or photo shoot. If you’re covering an event—the WCRA, the BFI, the Timed Event—you need to be at least one hour early if not two. Being early allows time to find out stories related to the draw, horse stories, horse changes, collect extra content like Bit Junkie, etc.
· Play by the rules. No matter how much you think they don’t make sense. Those of us in rodeo media have outlasted nearly every event organizer, rodeo media relations crew, etc., from the top down. With new staffers usually comes new rules. That’s fine—they’re doing their jobs. We can do our jobs within the parameters of what they set. We are not doing brain surgery. If they don’t want you to watch the rodeo from a certain spot, cool. Just watch it from the stands. We’re flexible and we don’t unnecessarily make waves.
· Know your photo formats! There’s nothing worse than not knowing the difference between a high-res photo and a low-res photo. Always ask for high res! Which means at least 8 in x11 in at 300 dpi. That provides maximum flexibility. If a photographer gives you a photo in a RAW format, that’s fine, but you need to pull the image into Bridge to use it, which is less convenient. A high res JPG is best! Ask your photographers to send you the image that way.
“When at an event… go ahead and take the ibuprofen with breakfast.” — Audrey Hart, marketer, real estate agent and elite horse owner
· Don’t show up anywhere without a case of water. If you’re going to a photo shoot, stop that morning on the way at a Walmart or grocery store or 7-Eleven and grab a big case of water. People will be thirsty. If you’re going somewhere you’re unfamiliar with, grab a Styrofoam cooler and ice, too, in case there’s not a fridge handy to throw water in. Offer said water often throughout the day.
· Bring coffee! If you’re going to someone’s house for a shoot, always ask them their coffee order via text so you can bring Starbucks, black coffee, no coffee… the key is to be considerate! After all these years I even know the orders of the wives of most of the people I shoot with regularly. And the same can go for event producers or marketing reps running events (like Joey and Dan at the Lazy E, Kyle at WCRA, etc.). They’re super busy
· Plan lunch. You’re so busy at shoots, you need to know where you’re getting food because inevitably people will be hungry. Some people won’t be hungry—i.e. ropers who don’t eat carbs or whatever—but camera people are always hungry, and chute help is often hungry. Know where you can get food from, have someone designated to get food, or build in a break (usually on a horse change) to feed humans AND let camera guys dump footage. Door Dash is your bestie. But if you’re way out in the boonies, they might not come your way. So google to find little diners that make sandwiches, Subways (because they’re ubiquitous), truckstops… something ahead of time. Don’t order sushi—the guys rarely like the sushi.
“1) You never know who you might be talking to or sitting next to. Be mindful. 2) Relationships are everything.3) Take notes. You will forget.” — Anthony Scholl, Senior Account Executive at Levi Strauss
· Know your film crew. Make your arrival time at least 30 minutes to an hour BEFORE you would like to start filming. Creative people do not move quickly, and they like to tinker with gear. This additional time will allow you to talk about filming ideas, locations etc. and give them the extra time to tinker. Better to be sitting around waiting than have talent waiting on you. Filming days are 10 hours, anything over we get charged overtime, so plan ahead. AND don’t forget coffee, water and snacks for your crew. Our producer Mariah gets really huffy when her guys call her to complain.
· “I don’t know, but I will find out and get right back to you.” That’s basically the answer that needs to come out of your mouth to every question unless you DO know the answer. Be HELPFUL. Being helpful across the industry is critical.
· Book your travel early. It makes your bosses cranky when you know about travel but wait until the last minute to book it. We have to approve that nonsense, but when we’re spending triple on travel that we should be, that affects the bottom line and makes us grumpy and makes our bosses grumpy and we have to explain. SO be on top of your travel.
“Respect your elders who worked their way to the top, and follow suit. The back door is never in your long-term best interest, and at minimum your sense of self-satisfaction will suffer.” — Kendra Santos, TRJ Senior Editor and long-time rodeo and roping reporter
· EAT BREAKFAST. THIS IS IN CAPITAL LETTERS FOR A REASON. Nobody can afford for your blood sugar to crash at an event, and there might not be time to stop and eat (especially if you didn’t do a good job planning lunch). Often overlooked, however, is that whether you’re in the hotel lobby eating breakfast at the La Quinta in Guthrie, Oklahoma, or in the Coronado Café at the South Point, breakfast is where you’ll find the industry legends drinking their coffee and discussing the most pressing issues in our industry. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day and of your career. This is where you’ll earn the respect of the old timers for being up early and present. Make friends. Get them another cup of coffee. Listen. Learn. Also if you’re traveling with a team, use this as a place to get together and make a strategy for how you’ll attack the day even if you don’t think you need to. This will pay off in the long run I promise.
· Save the drama for your mama. And maybe not even your mama. Drama won’t serve you, and this industry is WAY. TOO. SMALL. to maintain a beef of any sort with anyone. Someone stabs you in the back in a business deal? Just take note and know better the next time. And KEEP THE DRAMA OFF THE FACEBOOK/INSTA/SNAPCHAT/ANY YET-TO-BE-CREATED PLATFORMS. Nobody wants to do business with someone who creates or feeds into drama. Stay professional always.
· Say what you mean, and mean what you say, but don’t say it mean. That goes for basically every interaction you have—with your coworkers, with athletes, with industry counterparts. Keep your emotions in check no matter how mad you might be. I promise—whatever injustice you feel you’ve faced, everyone’s been through it too. You’re a professional first and foremost.
“1. When you call someone and leave a voicemail, say your name, who you’re with, give your number, why you’re calling, and then close with your name and number. 2. It’s ok to go to the party, just don’t be the party.” —Brian McNamee, NRS Marketing
· Back it up! Your external hard drive is your best friend. Keep a backup to your hard drive, too. Travel with your external hard drive and that will be your superpower. You’ll have access to all your images, old stories, etc. on the road, because you’ll never know when you’ll need a photo of Luke Brown losing his hat at a photo shoot or Anthony Lucia falling off or… You get it.
· Make friends with the drivers! Drivers, marketing assistants, chute help… There are a million moral reasons for this. But practically, you never know when you’ll need to know if Cory Petska or Brady Minor is napping in the trailer after an all-night drive or just choosing to ignore you (they are not rude—this is just an example, settle down.).
“This industry is very social and just as much business is done in the casino or behind the chutes as in board rooms. Remember you’re always representing your company and yourself wherever you are!” —Sarah Hendrix, The Cowboy Channel
· Dress comfortably AND presentably. If you want to be fancy, that’s fine. But fancy isn’t always comfortable, and being uncomfortable will affect your work and your ability to bust your butt for a long period of time in a dusty arena. So—recommended attire is comfortable boots or professional looking loafers, jeans and blazer or comfortable but business-casual top at all events. You’ll be versatile, you’ll be professional and you’ll be COMFORTABLE. At photo or video shoots, know your crowd. If you’re at a new place with an unfamiliar group of guys/gals, dress as professionally as possible while still remembering you’ll be on your feet all day running back and forth across the arena. In very comfortable settings in hot Texas humidity, you CAN wear shorts as long as they’re not overly revealing or unprofessional. Tank-tops are acceptable within reason, especially if it’s hot as sin. Always wear shoes you can handle horses in because you’ll undoubtedly need to hold a horse for someone sometime.
· Rake the boxes, wrap the steers and work the chutes. Most always nobody will need you to do this. But err on the side of being overly helpful always! People let us come to their homes, take up their time and use their horses and stock. Be gracious and helpful. Even if you don’t know HOW to wrap steers, you can at least hand people wraps. Also you rarely will have to work the chutes, but always stand near the chutes if you’re needed.
· Step up! If you see your boss might need a hand, offer it! If you see your art director needs help, your coworker, anyone. 90% of life is showing up, and that “showing up” can mean stepping up, doing a menial task that takes stress off someone else, just being present with the team when possible.
· Not being able to complete a task is not a problem. What IS a problem, though, is when that comes as a surprise. Budget your time, bust your butt. If a ball is going to be dropped, the team needs to be able to see it coming to pick it up for you.
· Backpacks are better than fashion bags every single time. This took me years and years to learn. Check out the hardest-working, most successful people in this industry, and they’re rocking a backpack. So much more comfortable, easy to toss around, protects your stuff, easier to get through airport security… Get ya a backpack.
“This may be obvious, but I didn’t learn it until a couple years ago. You can swipe up on a photo or video on your iPhone and put a caption. Ex. If you are filming a bunch of runs- to keep them straight after you get done filming you can quickly put the times and names” — Hannah Macy, Macy & Co Marketing
· Buy new socks before the NFR. There’s nothing like a pack of new Hanes socks to keep your feet comfortable during the toughest 12 days of work of the year. Fresh socks will make or break you as that week winds down.
· “If you can’t handle it, don’t do it.” —Derrick Begay. That means if you cannot handle going out after a long day’s work to be up and at ‘em early the next day, don’t do it! If you can’t handle a drink or two without acting embarrassing, don’t do it! If you can’t handle yourself in a situation, stay out of that situation.
“Be willing to pitch in and do what needs to be done to pull off an event/deadline/job—even if it’s not on your to-do list. Being a team player is critical, and helping hands are always appreciated.” — Joey Niebrugge, Lazy E Arena
· Pack snacks! That backpack I told you to have? Make sure it’s got an apple, a water bottle, some gum, some whole grains… most all of this you can find for free at the hotel breakfast bar. You never know when you’ll need it and being hungry is NOT a reason to be grumpy and unproductive.
· Do what you say. If you say you’re going to do it, follow through! That means helping out the moms who come to you looking for copies of the pictures of their kids at the roping (always refer them to the official photographer!) or the advertiser needing a copy of the magazine or fulfilling a marketing responsibility… People will remember the times you did not follow through whether they tell you or not.
· Have fun! If you are not having fun, you need to shift your perspective. We get to write about horses! And cowboys! And cowgirls! And we get to work with truly fun people who are generally very laid back. If you aren’t enjoying this, you just might be missing something. TRJ