For years, drones have brought new possibilities within reach of broadcasters, journalists, filmmakers, and entertainment media companies. Crews can quickly deploy a drone to capture new perspectives at very low cost. They can take shots at 15, 50, or 100 feet without the noise and danger of a crewed aircraft. They’re great tools for scouting potential film sites. And they can substitute for a camera crane or steadicam while offering unrivaled flexibility of use.

But you can’t just hand a drone to your camera crew and expect them to operate it safely and successfully. You need to establish standards for training, certification, and safe use. As you expand drone use, you’ll want a centralized program to keep track of all your flights and operating details.

It’s a lot to think about, which is why I love helping companies stand up drone operations. In my experience, I’ve seen companies encounter some common pitfalls along the way. These are a few of the mistakes your news or media company should avoid as you’re starting out.

Mistake 1: Failing to make a strong business case for adopting drones for media

It’s easy to make the mistake of focusing on how cool drone technology is while underselling its full value. Especially in media operations with tight budgets, leadership will want to see costs, savings, budget and ROI estimates, and a solid approach to operating procedures.

You’re confident a drone program will be worth the investment, so it’s your job to persuade key stakeholders to agree. Consider how you’re going to:

  • Network with leaders so they know about your program
  • Gain initial funding
  • Measure the value of your results
  • Communicate your ROI story to stakeholders
  • Track your data to improve your ops over time

Pro tip: Not sure how to communicate ROI? Read this article to find out how West Virginia Dept. of Transportation proved their drone program saved $340,000 in a single month.

Mistake 2: Waiting too long to involve legal teams and risk managers

Count on involving your legal and risk management teams as you start your program. Whether you’re a news crew in the city or a film crew on set, you’ll need to comply with airspace regulations, local ordinances, and privacy restrictions. And that’s not to mention your company’s own policies for safety and privacy.

You want your legal and risk teams to be allies, not opponents. Involve them early on in the planning process. Get their input on appropriate standard operating procedures and initial use cases. And as with other stakeholders, clearly communicate results back to them. Don’t wait for something to go wrong before you call your legal counsel.

If you’re looking for a place to start with your policies and procedures, check out Skyward’s Take Flight package. Our professional services consultants can help you tailor these standard operating procedures to your company’s particular policies and use cases.

Pro tip: Often, drones can actually reduce risk. This is especially true for breaking news — crews can stay at a safe distance while getting close-up shots of the action. And drones can replace helicopters in many situations, keeping more people on the ground and out of potential harm’s way.

Mistake 3: Picking the wrong drone for the job

Some companies purchase a drone before they’ve even identified an initial use case. Make sure you’re asking the right questions as you choose your aircraft: 

  • What performance requirements do my use cases entail? 
  • What sensors and payloads are compatible with this drone?
  • How safe and secure is the drone?
  • Will the drone manufacturer provide ongoing support, such as firmware updates and equipment repairs?

Choosing an aircraft that can support the proper payload is critical in a media operation. You may have to pay a little more up front for a drone with a swappable camera gimbal. But that’s far better than getting a few months into your program only to realize you’ve wasted your budget on a drone that can’t carry the camera you need.

If the choices seem overwhelming, don’t worry. Our professional services consultants can help you define what’s right for your organization. And be aware that drones are a rapidly advancing technology. It’s smart to plan on regular upgrades as new capabilities become available. 

Mistake 4: Getting the wrong software to manage your drone program

Whether you have one drone or a whole fleet, you’re going to need a system to manage your drone ops. At minimum, it needs to include things like:

  • An airspace map
  • Flight logging
  • Crew management
  • Maintenance logging
  • Risk management features

You’ll also need a LAANC provider to help you quickly get permission to fly in controlled airspace. If you’re filming near a major city, chances are there’s controlled airspace overhead. LAANC can provide access to many areas of controlled airspace within seconds. It’s a can’t-miss feature.

Skyward’s software platform offers all of the features listed above, including LAANC access — and much more. To learn more, check out our Drone Management Platform.

Mistake 5: Failing to get buy-in for drones across your media company

It’s important that your corporate leadership knows about your drone program, but it’s smart to educate fellow employees, too. Gaining buy-in for a drone program needs to happen around the water cooler as well as in the C-suite.

If you only have limited interest across the company, you risk becoming siloed into one department. That could mean fewer use cases, less interest, and lower budget to work with. On the other hand, the more enthusiastic people you have behind the program, the more likely it is to maintain interest — and funding.

Mistake 6: Underestimating drone team training needs

Getting pilots certified under Part 107 is just a starting point. A drone program is an aviation program. It requires skills and protocols that aren’t part of most crew members’ everyday business.

Hands-on flight training with an experienced pilot from your program or an outside instructor is a good next step. You’ll also need to make sure your pilots are versed in your standard operating procedures and company policies. And schedule regular refreshers — it may be a while between flight operations, and bad habits can creep in.

Interested in learning more? Download Skyward’s Guide: Drones for Media

Skyward Drones For Media Guide