An experienced broadcast journalist and presenter, Marverine Cole has worked as a Newsreader with Sky News, ITV and the BBC. She is currently a Live TV Presenter with QVC and runs her own online mentoring service for wannabe Broadcast Journalists, TV Presenters & Expert Presenters: Ready For TV.
Mediargh put some questions to Marverine which she answered in video format (the Q&A can also be found as text further below):
You graduated with a BA (Hons) in Business Studies from De Montfort University in 1993. What was it like transitioning from being a business student to taking the first steps in building your broadcast media career?
Marverine: I've been interested in the media from about the age of 12. Loved TV News and listening to the radio. I managed to wangle some work experience at radio & TV stations in the summer of my 16th birthday – allowed out alone on the bus and didn't get lost! I needed to see what was going on – whether it was as exciting as it looked and sounded.
So, essentially, I started building my media career the minute I became passionate about it. There was just a feeling in my bones about it and I couldn’t even quantify it. It was like it almost led me. So I went to Uni but didn’t study Broadcast Journalism because at the time a) I ruled out newspapers (thought they weren’t that friendly towards black people, so how would I cope working there as a shy teenager?) and b) I can’t remember seeing Broadcast Journalism courses around. I wasn't brave enough. I thought, "do something, anything", then headed for Hospital Radio as soon as I graduated in 1993. Ever since that time I "tinkered around the edges" – i.e. did bits of media work here and there for little or no money. I enjoyed it, but wasn’t truly satisfied. So I took the plunge – a calculated risk – to study a PgDip in Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University in 2003 – 10 years after I graduated from my BA Hons Business Studies degree.
Your first job in broadcasting was as a TV Reporter with ITV News Central in 2003. What were some of the key things you learned and what attributes and skills did you have to develop during these early years ?
Marverine: I learned to find and use my initiative, my nous and be proactive. News is driven by ideas. News bulletins are like hungry animals that need to be fed with a constant churn of ideas. I sat in a corner looking scared for weeks on end at Central News. The enormity, the speed, the scale of what was happening was a little frightening. And I was a little too consumed by the "What can I do here that is going to make a difference?" and things changed the minute I became proactive.
I learned fast - one thing people hate more than anything else in a busy newsroom is having to sit the newbie down and keep telling them the same thing over and over again. How to use the systems, what buttons to press... I wrote my own training manuals for everything. Tell me once – I’m on it. So I just asked people to show me stuff, I did it the right way, and could just crack on and be self-sufficient – don’t read that as not being a team player. You can try that in a newsroom but it won’t work. You can’t work alone. I asked people to show me stuff, then I did things. I was fast, efficient, always listened and learned quickly. I wrote down everything people told me. And suggested ideas for stories, not predicated on "Oh, I hope I’m allowed out to go and film this" – but just for the satisfaction that I’d made a meaningful contribution.
I learned not to walk before I could run. So I went from cowering in the corner of the newsroom to producing 10:30pm bulletins, Good Morning Britain bulletins, going out and reporting on stories where I recorded pieces to camera and live two-ways in the newsroom into bulletins. I was chuffed when I was asked to work on an investigative series with the top correspondent in the Newsroom – taken off shift so I could be his right-hand woman assistant, and do interviews about the plight of asylum seekers. I was stoked - I felt so honoured, I was bursting with pride, and was presenting early morning bulletins very occasionally. In the end, I was producing 15 minute bulletins alone and sitting in the gallery guiding the Presenter on-air.
I also learned that in early stages, every time you move somewhere, you’re only as good as the skills you prove in the new place.
In the years you spent working as a Presenter and Journalist with the likes of Sky News and the BBC, what were some of your key highlights and learning experiences?
Marverine: A whole new skill: Presenting. Wearing a nice suit or a pretty dress with a face full of make-up is absolutely not the be-all and end-all of presenting. But a lot of people think it is.
At the BBC, in regional news presenting - when I felt the time was right - I asked for News Presenter training. I did a course which taught you how to handle an earpiece and talkback (distilling and acting upon the voices coming from your Producer/Director in the live Gallery, and acting upon them without letting the viewer know you’re hearing something). It’s a massive shift in my skillset.
You have to double-triple check the scripts that have been left for you the night before, know where to look to update any stories, find new ones, make judgements on whether a new one should be added to the bulletin, write and then record the bulletin. Plus, check for major travel issues that need reporting. Make-up is the last thing to be thinking about. Plus, I had to operate my own autocue with a foot pedal or button next to me – so you have to judge your own speech speed so you don’t go too fast, and the words don’t shoot off the screen before you’ve read them – weird. You learn to be hyper-present in the moment and self-aware.
In Sky News – it was a huge leap. But I learned to harness my inner calm and trust in the production team.
I've always had inner calm in a situation of life uncertainty, but I’ve had to harness it like a wild horse on a daily basis when working in live TV. It’s my personal coping mechanism – you might think this sounds weird, but I almost have to picture calmness as an object that needs handling and pulling towards me: I reach out, take hold of it and go: "Come here, I need you now, because I need to think straight".
Be prepared for anything and help yourself – have back up. What happens if the autocue goes down – knowledge, up to date on the news, current stories of the day that you can talk about, have a set format on how to handle anything uncertain.
The second shift to Producer was new, as fresh as me in the role of International rolling news. During the Free and Fair elections in Kenya, the British Ambassador to the UN was live straight off the back of it – he dumped reams of PA copy onto my autocue. There was NO point in relying on a cue anymore - I knew my story on a deeper level. Not everyone wants to tell you stuff, some want to see you fail, so they won’t help you. For whatever reason. So you’ve got to help yourself.
Double and triple check scripts and spellings, pronunciations, read everything through OUT LOUD. Some people don’t do it. Sheer madness, especially when it’s someone else’s scripts. Don’t write in a long-winded way - be more colloquial, and in the newsroom style.
Quick thinking – questions written down are not an option – follow the conversation, ask the obvious. That’s what got me through a live interview with the President of Georgia when given only 5 mins notice as the country was in the middle of a civil war with Russia. It didn’t matter to me if he was on the phone or in vision – just ask him stuff.
You've been working at QVC as a Presenter since 2013. What does a typical day involve for you, and what has your current post taught you?
Marverine: QVC is Britain’s biggest shopping channel, it’s beamed into 27 million homes each day. It’s been on air in the UK for 22 years. It sells massive brands like Apple, Sony, Bose, Bang & Olufsen, Elemis, Decleor, Benefit, Dyson, Samsung, Miele. Fashion and jewellery, homeware, bedding etc., etc. Their trust scale is up next to John Lewis. Live product demonstrations include expert guests from those brands. On Sky 650 and Freeview 16, we’re like a retail department store without a store for you to walk into - you can find the store on your screen!
Preparation is the key – a good TV Presenter makes everything look easy and effortless. But 9 times of 10, we’re in that job because we’re super experienced and we know how to handle any given situation. The massive difference between QVC and being a Newsreader is that we have no script and there’s no autocue to read. So we’re freewheeling the whole time, as I like to call it. We’re anchoring a whole show with one guest, and sometimes up to 7 different guests if it’s a show with different products, like Friday Night Beauty. Shows like that will have hair products, make-up and skincare in them - all different brands.
A typical day at QVC starts with getting in 2 hours before I go on air. I double-check my running orders for the shows I’m doing – I know the brands I’m working with 3-4 weeks in advance. I go and visit the Guest Presenters I’ll be working with in that time. If we need to talk about the entire running order step-by-step, I make time for that, too. I’ll go and look at everything backstage. If it’s fashion or jewellery, I’ll choose something to wear from the range. I also meet with my Producer and Director. I also, of course, have to check any last minute email updates from the Buyers on items in my show. There's a lot to do.
My current job has taught me that I can be ‘me’ on TV – which I couldn’t be as a Newsreader. You cannot show emotions or express a personal viewpoint – because balance and the facts are your priorities, and Broadcasting regulation keeps you in line.
You have recently launched Ready For TV, a coaching service for people who are interested in TV Presenting, Radio Presenting or becoming a TV/Radio News Reporter (Broadcast Journalist). Can you tell us a bit more about it?
Marverine: Throughout my entire career I’ve had no one to talk to, or confide in about my ambitions, who really understood the industry and wouldn’t think I was an idiot asking questions about it. So Ready for TV is my way of offering aspiring media professionals, Presenters and Broadcast Journalists a sounding board. It’s split two ways.
A) You can buy a 1-on-1, private and confidential, online-only mentoring session from me. I’m not the friend who doesn’t ‘get’ you or your passion for the media. I’m not your Mum, Dad, brother or sister or member of your family, or your Manager, who roll their eyes every time you talk about your desire to work in the media. And I’m definitely not the Teacher or Lecturer who tells you something because they’re paid to do their job.
I offer straight-talking and realistic advice. I don’t offer overnight success. I’m not offering to be your Talent Agent either. But if you want honest advice and top tips from someone who’s been in the industry for over 25 years, and who’s presented over 3,000 hours of live TV and Radio… For the BBC, ITV, Sky News, QVC, BBC Radio – as a Journalist, Celebrity News Reporter, as a Shopping TV Presenter and as an Expert… And someone who won’t preach to you… Then talk to me.
Subscribe to my Email Newsletter and YouTube channel. Email me for costs of the Mentoring Sessions.
B) I’ve just started the READY FOR TV video blog series of free advice – I’ve explained HOW I started out in radio, how I moved from Radio to TV, and then into Journalism. There’s behind the scenes stuff from QVC and tips and advice from fellow Presenter friends of mine. Episodes 1-12 are online now and the tips are great for anyone and everyone who’s interested in getting into presenting – whatever subject or expertise. You can also ask me questions online and I’ll store them up to answer each week. I need your media-career-related questions!!!
Thinking back to your University days, what advice would you give to your younger, student self, or to anyone else who is looking to work in roles similar to those you have worked in throughout the years?
Marverine: If you’re passionate about the media, prove it.
Keep striving, never give up.
Don’t let the words and actions of vicious, unkind and ignorant people set you back – they’re probably jealous that you’ve got an idea of direction and a vision for your life.
Learn fast, write things down, speak up when you feel you want more opportunities for learning something new, be persistent and kind to everyone; ideas are all around you, so keep your eyes and ears open.
You can follow Marverine on Twitter via @TVMarv.
You can follow Ready For TV on Twitter via @ReadyForTV.
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