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Is Radio Still Willing To Pay For Premium Talent?

Jason Barrett

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If you haven’t heard Mike Francesa’s interview with Katie Nolan you need to stop what you’re doing and listen to it. It is fascinating and one of the most refreshing one-hour conversations I’ve listened to in a long time.

Why might you ask?

Because it not only covers every single subject that would be of interest to Mike’s audience, but his unfiltered responses remind us of why he’s been one of the most dominant forces of all-time in this industry. I give a ton of credit to Katie for being well prepared and doing a great job of listening and guiding the discussion into the right locations.

When it comes to Mike, he has a large amount of fans and critics. That’s to be expected when you perform up to thirty hours per week on the air for nearly three decades in the nation’s number one media market.

mikef2Some take jabs at him for being wrong with some of his predictions. Others point out how he once fell asleep on the air for nearly fifteen seconds while interviewing Sweeny Murti. Countless others criticize the fact that he’s not active in the social media space, relies heavily on phone calls, and is a beneficiary of getting into the format early.

Say what you will about “The Pope of New York Sports” but his resume of success is unmatched. When you build the type of brand that Mike has, it’s common to have others poking holes in your performance.

The reality in life is that most people like to see David upset Goliath. It’s why teams like the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, and the Los Angeles Lakers draw the amount of attention that they do. Legions of fans recognize and appreciate their greatness but many love to see them crash and burn.

I grew up listening to “Mike and the Mad Dog” and the show inspired me to pursue working in this industry. I was fortunate to live in New York and watch as the format took off and morphed into the juggernaut that it has become today. WFAN played a strong role in sports radio’s growth because they did a masterful job of making New York listeners feel like they were a big part of the experience.

WFANWhen you listened to WFAN, it felt big and important. The personalities seemed larger than life and when you called in and became a part of the show by sharing your opinion with the hosts, there was a sense that your voice mattered and the local teams took notice. It felt as if the radio station’s airwaves were the place you’d turn to for holding hold players, coaches, teams and executives accountable for their actions and/or performance.

Truth be told, before I ever considered working in in this business I preferred to listen, but after sitting on the sidelines observing for eight years, I finally took the bait and called in one day after the Knicks defeated the Bulls and Phil Jackson was whining about the referees. I thought I had a good angle and when I presented it to Francesa he absolutely crushed me. Just thinking about it still makes me smile.

As the year’s have passed, the radio station has remained one of the best in the business. They’ve dealt with additional competition, changes in ratings methodology, and a loss of some of the industry’s most iconic broadcasters and play-by-play partnerships, but through it all they’ve remained highly successful.

Whether you care for Francesa’s style and show though isn’t what we’re here to discuss today. Instead I want to focus on some of the key points he made during his conversation with Nolan because they touch on a scary reality that is facing our business.

mikechrisWhen asked about the possibility of a “Mike and the Mad Dog” permanent reunion, Mike said “I don’t think we would be the obstacle. I think the business is the obstacle. They don’t want guys like me in this business anymore. They don’t want stars. They don’t want guys who are making a lot of money. They want a bunch of cookie cutter people who they can control that aren’t any trouble. They want a bunch of nameless faceless guys. They want the events and rights fees to carry the day and make the sportscasters interchangeable. That makes it a tough business.”

Let that sink in for a second.

The top performer in the #1 media market in the country who has delivered big ratings for nearly thirty years believes operators are less interested in paying for major brands and top talent.

Is he right? To a certain degree I think he is.

We’ve all heard the phrase “you get what you pay for” and in radio’s case, the future is going to be very unforgiving if the best performers aren’t available to be heard. There are many content options out there now, and new media companies will pay high profile talent and offer them a stage to perform on if they can help them grow their business.

sternDon’t believe me? Just take a look at the way Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have blossomed. Just last month before Howard Stern signed a new deal with SiriusXM, there was talk that Apple/iTunes was considering making a run at him.

When Bill Simmons and ESPN split up in 2015, many thought he’d have lesser options but then HBO entered the picture. When Colin Cowherd’s run with ESPN was coming to a close, he had conversations with MSNBC before agreeing to a deal with Fox Sports 1.

Years ago Blockbuster and Hollywood Video, record companies, and the entire newspaper industry thought they were untouchable but once the internet took off and new media outlets started to emerge and invest in content, talent, and a better experience, things changed quickly.

I could be wrong but when Mike says he doesn’t think a reunion with Chris would be possible based on economics, he’s right as it applies to radio. But if digital media or television enter the picture that could be a different story.

And that’s a shame because few have possessed the ability in radio to draw in listeners the way Mike and Chris did. When you add up their talent, chemistry and ability to inform and entertain, it makes for an incredible program which can make a brand a LOT of money.

rushWould a company prefer to spend less? Of course. I’m sure SiriusXM wishes they didn’t have to pay Stern a king’s ransom. The same holds true for Premiere Radio Networks with Rush Limbaugh, and any great television network which spends big money for top flight personalities who attract a large number of eyeballs.

But if you add up the expenses for any of those shows and compare them to what they generate for ratings and revenue, I guarantee you they’re making money off of their investments. Media companies don’t stay in the business of spending millions of dollars on talent unless they’re making millions more themselves.

The other part of the conversation that I want to examine is the part where Mike discussed how important the ratings are to him. It’s a lesson for every single talent to pay attention to.

rickyWhen asked about the ratings game and how it affects his show’s content, he said that he doesn’t let it change his overall approach but that he does make tweaks and is always aware of how the show is being consumed. His mindset going into his program each month is that they have one job to do – finish first! Not second, third, fourth or fifth which most others would consider a big success, first! When I heard him say that I couldn’t help but think about that classic Talladega Night’s line “If you ain’t first, you’re last“.

But I digress!

That’s a lot of pressure to put on one’s shoulders especially in a market like New York City. Mike mentioned to Katie that he once received a phone call from an executive who told him “I pay you to finish first” after he came in second. It didn’t make him happy but he understood the point.

winningFrom where I sit, I love hearing that. It’s exhilarating to know that regardless of the challenges with PPM and the countless distractions and media options that are available to listeners to pull them away from the show, that Mike makes no excuses and approaches his craft with the expectation of being the best. We need more of that in our industry. Even if you don’t hit #1, that should be the goal every time you grab a microphone and broadcast.

As a matter of fact, you can apply this to every single aspect of your life. If you’re playing sports in school or on a professional level, you should be driven to win the game and be the best player on the field. If you’re in sales, you should want to generate the most amount of money and be seen as the company’s best salesperson.

I can identify with him on this subject because I’m wired the same way. Those who know me well will attest to that.

When I played little league baseball, I won two MVP awards and went to five consecutive All-Star games because all I did was practice and play. Nothing mattered besides being the best baseball player on the field.

lars2As I aged and became more interested in music, I wanted to be the best drummer on the planet and gain a record deal. I’d listen to Lars Ulrich of Metallica, John Bonham of Led Zeppelin, and Neil Peart of Rush and picture myself surpassing them on the list of the best of all-time. I’d practice for hours each day and if I was off on a beat or drum fill, I’d do it again and again until I had it right.

I learned later that you can be the best drummer in the world but you’re not going to land a record deal unless you and the other 3-4 members of your band share the same goal, so when I gave up the chase of becoming a professional musician to work in radio, I once again pushed myself to be the very best I could be.

Throughout the years I’ve been fortunate to have that approach pay off for me. I grew from an intern to News Anchor to Sports Talk Show Host to Producer to Program Director and during that time landed five different programming jobs and produced one of the best national radio programs in the country.

Although I’d like to believe that my talent came into play at some point during each of those processes, I know that my drive and passion to win stood out.

When I was being considered for an opportunity at ESPN Radio, one manager mentioned that I hadn’t had enough major market experience and they weren’t sure if I could handle making the transition from a small market to the big stage. Their point was valid. I couldn’t do anything to change the fact that I lived and performed where I was raised so I decided to put my passion into my pitch and explain why I deserved a look.

parcellsI still have the email I sent and in it I said “Many people were critical when the NY Giants selected a Head Coach named Bill Parcells because he didn’t have any experience and was an unknown commodity. A few years later when he was winning Super Bowl’s they looked like an organization of geniuses. Your next Bill Parcells is right here and waiting to make a difference for ESPN Radio”.

Was it ballsy? Definitely. But I believed in myself and knew I could win for them and I wasn’t going to let a situation beyond my control cost me an opportunity. If they didn’t think I was good enough I could’ve accepted that but I wasn’t accepting rejection over my location.

Luckily I landed the job and produced at ESPN Radio for 2 years. Week after week I pushed everyone involved to make “GameNight” as great as it possibly could be, and in doing so I earned the respect of my peers and my bosses. When a bigger opportunity came up to produce “The Dan Patrick Show” just 13 months later, I was given the promotion.

That same mindset helped me when I interviewed for programming opportunities in Philadelphia, San Francisco and St. Louis. In each situation, I entered the process determined to beat the competition and land the job. I had no idea who I was up against, and in many cases I had no local market connection, but what I did have was vision, passion, and an “I won’t lose” attitude. I focused on articulating my vision, asking questions, and selling my love and passion for coaching and creating great sports radio. By focusing on the things I could control, I was able to gain a few fans and win over a few rooms.

I don’t bring up these examples to showcase my resume. I mention them because they help to reinforce Mike’s point. Winning starts with your mindset. You can’t perform as an elite talent or lead a brand to incredible heights if you don’t set your own bar extremely high.

valueWhen I see brands sitting in 20th to 30th place and just floundering in their markets it frustrates me. It tells me that there isn’t a big focus on the radio station. Why be in the format and spend any amount of money on a product if you’re not going to maximize its potential? I get that not every city has the budget to pay a Mike Francesa but there are tons of great broadcasters out there and if you want to build an audience, attract advertisers, and make money in this industry, you’ve got to invest in on-air people who are worth listening to.

To bring this back full circle to what we originally started with, once you have great talent, it’s your job to find a way to keep them. I had a former boss of mine in San Francisco once tell me “we will pay for performers but nobody is breaking the bank until they prove it”. That’s a fair statement but unfortunately not every broadcast group subscribes to this theory.

During the past few months I’ve talked to a lot of talent and in three different cases, hosts took over timeslots in different cities and led their stations to double digit ratings and/or double to triple the previous ratings performance, only to be told when contract time rolled around that they weren’t due a raise or were only worth a minimal 1-2% increase.

I’ve also watched as some talented people I know have had to take on responsibilities selling their own shows to make extra money, and a few groups in particular have chosen to only hire talent who sell or pay for their air time. Delivering ratings and a quality product matters little in comparison to inflating the bottom line.

imptIn some of these instances it might be necessary to operate that way. If a company isn’t making money you can’t blame them for not being able to do better. But if that’s the case, there are other ways to show your appreciation for someone who has performed and is helping do their part to grow the business. Whether it’s an extra week of vacation, sales trade, a bump in ratings bonuses, a higher endorsement rate, a guarantee number of appearances, or an extra weekend shift to make additional dollars, all of those things tell a talent “we want you to make more money and you’re important to us”.

When you don’t treat your best people with that respect, you end up losing the pieces that are most vital to your operation. Music formats can get away with it more because they can play songs and tell a DJ that the artists are the stars, but when a personality talks 45 minutes per hour, and is the main reason why people come to your radio station on a daily basis, losing them over a handful of dollars isn’t smart business.

That said, this also is an industry that has compensated a lot of talented people well throughout the course of their careers. The format’s top talent wouldn’t be sticking around for decades if the paychecks and additional revenue streams weren’t attractive.

mikefI’ve heard Francesa say that he’s done with WFAN at the end of 2017, and he says it’s not a negotiating ploy. I don’t know him personally to know if it is or it isn’t but it sounds as if he knows a pay cut awaits him in the future and given his performance and place in the industry, I can see why that doesn’t have a lot of appeal to him. That said, WFAN pays him extremely well so we’re not talking about a couple of nickels and dimes in this situation.

It’s a tough spot for both sides to be in because from the operator’s standpoint, you’re paying millions for a host during a time when salaries are declining and no matter how much you love the performer, there has to be a limit to what you’ll invest.

On the flip side, how do you tell your top talent that you’ll pay them one fee to finish 1st, and then when they do, offer half or even less on their next deal? Is the radio station going to sell ads for less and accept making less money during the duration of the talent’s agreement? Heck no! So why should they take less when they’ve performed and helped the company make a lot of money?

Everyone gets their feelings hurt once it’s time to talk business because the offer (or lack thereof) tells an employee what the company thinks they’re worth. Personalities expect to be paid for hitting their target and companies expect to grow their bottom line and reap the rewards of making significant investments.

When talent though start getting treated as if they’re expendable, and the product becomes less appealing to the audience, you’ve got to ask yourself “is saving the money truly worth it if it means losing your most valuable commodity and having your audience and advertiser numbers decline”?

The challenge of course is to keep your listeners tuned in, your advertisers spending the same or more, and hire new talent for less than the previous host made but at a number that they feel comfortable with. While that sounds great, it doesn’t always work out like that. It’s even more of a risk when it involves a top talent with a lengthy track record and loyal following.

espn2Mike made the point that SportsCenter isn’t what it used to be and most people couldn’t name the anchors on the show today like they once did. The show was once a must-watch and the hosts were household brand names. Today the stars have become the highlights, the games, and the packages, and the talent have become nameless and faceless.

In this case, he’s not wrong. I spent my 20’s and early 30’s fully invested in watching SportsCenter each night. Now, it’s become background noise and a show I can live without.

Which brings me back to the question I previously asked “is losing your best talent and damaging your brand in exchange for eliminating expenses really worth it”?

When you have a superstar talent on your airwaves, delivering an impact, and it’s helping you make money, you continue investing and riding that horse as far as they’ll take you. If you choose to get off the ride when you’re on top of the mountain, understand that the next one could leave you face down in the dirt.

Barrett Blogs

Barrett Sports Media To Launch Podcast Network

“We will start with a few new titles later this month, and add a few more in July.”

Jason Barrett

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To run a successful digital content and consulting company in 2022 it’s vital to explore new ways to grow business. There are certain paths that produce a higher return on investment than others, but by being active in multiple spaces, a brand has a stronger chance of staying strong and overcoming challenges when the unexpected occurs. Case in point, the pandemic in 2020.

As much as I love programming and consulting stations to assist with growing their over the air and digital impact, I consider myself first a business owner and strategist. Some have even called me an entrepreneur, and that works too. Just don’t call me a consultant because that’s only half of what I do. I’ve spent a lot of my time building relationships, listening to content, and studying brands and markets to help folks grow their business. Included in my education has been studying website content selection, Google and social media analytics, newsletter data, the event business, and the needs of partners and how to best serve them. As the world of media continues to evolve, I consider it my responsibility to stay informed and ready to pivot whenever it’s deemed necessary. That’s how brands and individuals survive and thrive.

If you look at the world of media today compared to just a decade ago, a lot has changed. It’s no secret during that period that podcasting has enjoyed a surge. Whether you review Edison Research, Jacobs Media, Amplifi Media, Spotify or another group’s results, the story is always the same – digital audio is growing and it’s expected to continue doing so. And that isn’t just related to content. It applies to advertising too. Gordon Borrell, IAB and eMarketer all have done the research to show you where future dollars are expected to move. I still believe it’s smart, valuable and effective for advertisers to market their products on a radio station’s airwaves, but digital is a key piece of the brand buy these days, and it’s not slowing down anytime soon.

Which brings me to today’s announcement.

If you were in New York City in March for our 2022 BSM Summit, you received a program at the show. Inside of one of the pages was a small ad (same image used atop this article) which said “Coming This Summer…The BSM Podcast Network…Stay Tuned For Details.” I had a few people ask ‘when is that happening, and what shows are you planning to create?’ and I kept the answers vague because I didn’t want to box ourselves in. I’ve spent a few months talking to people about joining us to help continue producing quality written content and improve our social media. Included in that process has been talking to members of our team and others on the outside about future opportunities creating podcasts for the Barrett Sports Media brand.

After examining the pluses and minuses, and listening and talking to a number of people, I’m excited to share that we are launching the BSM Podcast Network. We will start with a few new titles later this month, and add a few more in July. Demetri Ravanos will provide oversight of content execution, and assist with production and guest booking needs for selected pods. This is why we’ve been frequently promoting Editor and Social Media jobs with the brand. It’s hard to pursue new opportunities if you don’t have the right support.

The titles that will make up our initial offerings are each different in terms of content, host and presentation. First, we have Media Noise with Demetri Ravanos, which has produced over 75 episodes over the past year and a half. That show will continue in its current form, being released each Friday. Next will be the arrival of The Sports Talkers Podcast with Stephen Strom which will debut on Thursday June 23rd, the day of the NBA Draft. After that, The Producer’s Podcast with Brady Farkas will premiere on Wednesday June 29th. Then as we move into July, two more titles will be added, starting with a new sales focused podcast Seller to Seller with Jeff Caves. The final title to be added to the rotation will be The Jason Barrett Podcast which yours truly will host. The goal is to have five weekly programs distributed through our website and across all podcasting platforms by mid to late July.

I am excited about the creation of each of these podcasts but this won’t be the last of what we do. We’re already working on additional titles for late summer or early fall to ramp up our production to ten weekly shows. Once a few ideas and discussions get flushed out, I’ll have more news to share with you. I may consider adding even more to the mix too at some point. If you have an idea that you think would resonate with media professionals and aspiring broadcasters, email me by clicking here.

One thing I want to point out, this network will focuses exclusively on various areas of the sports media industry. We’ll leave mainstream sports conversations to the rest of the media universe. That’s not a space I’m interested in pursuing. We’ve focused on a niche since arriving on the scene in 2015 and have no plans to waver from it now.

Additionally, you may have noticed that we now refer to our company as ‘Barrett Media’. That’s because we are now involved in both sports and news media. That said, we are branding this as the BSM Podcast Network because the titles and content are sports media related. Maybe there will be a day when we introduce a BNM version of this, but right now, we’ve got to make sure the first one works right before exploring new territory.

Our commitment to delivering original industry news, features and opinions in print form remains unchanged. This is simply an opportunity to grow in an area where we’ve been less active. I know education for industry folks and those interested in entering the business is important. It’s why young people all across the country absorb mountains of debt to receive a college education. As valuable as those campus experiences might be, it’s a different world once you enter the broadcasting business.

What I’d like to remind folks is that we continue to make investments in the way we cover, consult, and discuss the media industry because others invest in us. It’d be easy to stockpile funds and enjoy a few more vacations but I’m not worried about personal wealth. I’m focused on building a brand that does meaningful work by benefitting those who earn a living in the media industry or are interested in one day doing so. As part of that process I’m trying to connect our audience to partners who provide products, services or programs that can benefit them.

Since starting this brand, we’ve written more than 18,000 articles. We now cover two formats and produce more than twenty five pieces of content per day. The opportunity to play a small role in keeping media members and future broadcasters informed is rewarding but we could not pay people to edit, write, and host podcasts here if others didn’t support us. For that I’m extremely grateful to those who do business with us either as a consulting client, website advertiser, Summit partner or through a monthly or annual membership. The only way to get better is to learn from others, and if our access to information, knowledge, relationships and professional opinions helps others and their brands, then that makes what we do worthwhile.

Thanks as always for the continued support. We appreciate that you read our content each day, and hope to be able to earn some of your listenership in the future too.

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Barrett Blogs

5 Mistakes To Avoid When Pursuing Media Jobs

“Demetri Ravanos and I have easily done 50-60 calls, and it’s been eye opening to see how many mistakes get made during the hiring process.”

Jason Barrett

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I recently appeared on a podcast, Monetize Media, to discuss the growth of Barrett Media. The conversation covered a lot of ground on business topics including finding your niche, knowing your audience and serving them the right content in the right locations, the evolution of the BSM Summit, and why consulting is a big part of our mix but can’t be the only thing we do.

Having spent nearly seven years growing this brand, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I just know what’s worked for us, and it starts with vision, hard work, consistency, and a willingness to adapt quickly. There are many areas we can be better in whether it’s social media, editing, SEO, sales, finding news, producing creative original content or adding more staff. Though there’s always work to be done and challenges to overcome, when you’re doing something you love and you’re motivated to wake up each day doing it, that to me is success.

But lately there’s one part of the job that I haven’t enjoyed – the hiring process. Fortunately in going through it, I was able to get to know Arky Shea. He’s a good guy, talented writer, and fan of the industry, and I’m thrilled to share that he’s joining us as BSM’s new night time editor. I’ll have a few other announcements to make later this month, but in the meantime, if you’re qualified to be an editor or social media manager, I’m still going through the process to add those two positions to our brand. You can learn more about both jobs by clicking here.

Working for an independent digital brand like ours is different from working for a corporation. You communicate directly with yours truly, and you work remotely on a personal computer, relying on your eyes, ears and the radio, television, and internet to find content. Because our work appears online, you have to enjoy writing, and understand and have a passion for the media industry, the brands who produce daily content, and the people who bring those brands to life. We receive a lot of interest from folks who see the words ‘sports’ and ‘news’ in our brand names and assume they’re going to cover games or political beats. They quickly discover that that’s not what we do nor are we interested in doing it.

If you follow us on social media, have visited our website or receive our newsletters, you’ve likely seen us promoting openings with the brand. I’ve even bought ads on Indeed, and been lucky enough to have a few industry folks share the posts on social. We’re in a good place and trying to make our product better, so to do that, we need more help. But over the past two months, Demetri Ravanos and I have easily done 50-60 calls, and it’s been eye opening to see how many mistakes get made during the hiring process.

Receiving applications from folks who don’t have a firm grasp of what we do is fine. That happens everywhere. Most of the time we weed those out. It’s no different than when a PD gets an application for a top 5 market hosting gig from a retail employee who’s never spoken on a microphone. The likelihood of that person being the right fit for a role without any experience of how to do the job is very slim. What’s been puzzling though is seeing how many folks reach out to express interest in opportunities, only to discover they’re not prepared, not informed or not even interested in the role they’ve applied for.

For instance, one applicant told me on a call ‘I’m not interested in your job but I knew getting you on the phone would be hard, and I figured this would help me introduce myself because I know I’m a great host, and I’d like you to put me on the radar with programmers for future jobs.’ I had another send a cover letter that was addressed to a different company and person, and a few more applied for FT work only to share that they can’t work FT, weren’t interested in the work that was described in the position, didn’t know anything about our brand but needed a gig, were looking for a confidence boost after losing a job or they didn’t have a computer and place to operate.

At first I thought this might be an exclusive issue only we were dealing with. After all, our brand and the work we do is different from what happens inside of a radio or TV station. In some cases, folks may have meant well and intended something differently than what came out. But after talking to a few programmers about some of these things during the past few weeks, I’ve been stunned to hear how many similar horror stories exist. One top programmer told me hiring now is much harder than it was just five years ago.

I was told stories of folks applying for a producer role at a station and declining an offer unless the PD added air time to the position. One person told a hiring manager they couldn’t afford not to hire them because their ratings were tanking. One PD was threatened for not hiring an interested candidate, and another received a resume intended for the competing radio station and boss. I even saw one social example last week of a guy telling a PD to call him because his brand was thin on supporting talent.

Those examples I just shared are bad ideas if you’re looking to work for someone who manages a respected brand. I realize everyone is different, and what clicks with one hiring manager may not with another, but if you have the skills to do a job, I think you’ll put yourself in a better position by avoiding these 5 mistakes below. If you’re looking for other ways to enhance your chances of landing an opportunity, I recommend you click here.

Educate Yourself Before Applying – take some time to read the job description, and make sure it aligns with your skillset and what you’re looking to do professionally before you apply. Review the company’s body of work and the people who work there. Do you think this is a place you’d enjoy being at? Does it look like a job that you’d gain personal and professional fulfillment from? Are you capable of satisfying the job requirements? Could it potentially put you on the path to greater opportunities? If most of those produce a yes, it’s likely a situation to consider.

Proofread Your Email or Cover Letter and Resume – If the first impression you give a hiring manager is that you can’t spell properly, and you address them and their brand by the wrong names, you’re telling them to expect more mistakes if they hire you. Being detail oriented is important in the media business. If this is your introduction to someone and they have a job you’re interested in, you owe it to yourself to go through your materials thoroughly before you press send. If you can have someone else put an extra set of eyes on your introduction to protect you from committing a major blunder even better.

Don’t Waste People’s Time – You’d be annoyed if a company put you through a 3-4 week process only to tell you they didn’t see you as a viable candidate right? Well, it works the other way too. If you’re not seriously interested in the job or you’re going into the process hoping to change the job description later, don’t apply. If the fit isn’t right or the financials don’t work, that’s OK. Express that. People appreciate transparency. Sometimes they may even call you back in the future when other openings become available. But if you think someone is going to help you after you wasted their time or lied to them, trust me, they won’t.

Don’t Talk Like An Expert About Things You Don’t Know – Do you know why a station’s ratings or revenue is down? Are you aware of the company’s goals and if folks on the inside are satisfied or upset? Is the hiring manager someone you know well enough to have a candid professional conversation with? If the answers are no, you’re not helping your case by talking about things you don’t have full knowledge of. You have no idea how the manager you’re talking to has been dealing with the challenges he or she is faced with so don’t pretend you do. Just because someone wrote an article about it and you read it doesn’t mean you’re informed.

Use Social Wisely – Being frustrated that you didn’t get a job is fine. Everyone goes through it. Asking your friends and followers for advice on social of how you could’ve made a better case for yourself is good. That shows you’re trying to learn from the process to be better at it next time. But taking to social to write a book report blasting the hiring manager, their brand, and/or their company over a move that didn’t benefit you just tells them they made the right move by not bringing you in. Chances are, they won’t be calling you in the future either.

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Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

Jason Barrett

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How many times have you heard this sentence uttered at conferences or in one of the trades; radio has to do a better job of telling its story. Sounds reasonable enough right? After all, your brands and companies stand a better chance of being more consumed and invested in the more that others know about them.

But what specifically about your brand’s story matters to those listening or spending money on it? Which outlets are you supposed to share that news with to grow your listenership and advertising? And who is telling the story? Is it someone who works for your company and has a motive to advance a professional agenda, or someone who’s independent and may point out a few holes in your strategy, execution, and results?

As professionals working in the media business, we’re supposed to be experts in the field of communications. But are we? We’re good at relaying news when it makes us look good or highlights a competitor coming up short. How do we respond though when the story isn’t told the we want it to? Better yet, how many times do sports/news talk brands relay information that isn’t tied to quarterly ratings, revenue or a new contract being signed? We like to celebrate the numbers that matter to us and our teams, but we don’t spend much time thinking about if those numbers matter to the right groups – the audience and the advertisers.

Having covered the sports and news media business for the past seven years, and published nearly eighteen thousand pieces of content, you’d be stunned if you saw how many nuggets of information get sent to us from industry folks looking for publicity vs. having to chase people down for details or read things on social media or listen to or watch shows to promote relevant material. Spoiler alert, most of what we produce comes from digging. There are a handful of outlets and PR folks who are great, and five or six PD’s who do an excellent job consistently promoting news or cool things associated with their brands and people. Some talent are good too at sharing content or tips that our website may have an interest in.

Whether I give the green light to publish the material or not, I appreciate that folks look for ways to keep their brands and shows on everyone’s radar. Brand leaders and marketing directors should be battling daily in my opinion for recognition anywhere and everywhere it’s available. If nobody is talking about your brand then you have to give them a reason to.

I’m writing this column today because I just spent a day in New York City at the Disney Upfront, which was attended by a few thousand advertising professionals. Though I’d have preferred a greater focus on ESPN than what was offered, I understand that a company the size of Disney with so many rich content offerings is going to have to condense things or they’d literally need a full week of Upfronts to cover it all. They’re also trying to reach buyers and advertising professionals who have interests in more than just sports.

What stood out to me while I was in attendance was how much detail went into putting on a show to inform, entertain, and engage advertising professionals. Disney understands the value of telling its story to the right crowd, and they rolled out the heavy hitters for it. There was a strong mix of stars, executives, promotion of upcoming shows, breaking news about network deals, access to the people responsible for bringing advertising to life, and of course, free drinks. It was easy for everyone in the room to gain an understanding of the company’s culture, vision, success, and plans to capture more market share.

As I sat in my seat, I wondered ‘why doesn’t radio do this on a local level‘? I’m not talking about entertaining clients in a suite, having a business dinner for a small group of clients or inviting business owners and agency reps to the office for a rollout of forthcoming plans. I’m talking about creating an annual event that showcases the power of a cluster, the stars who are connected to the company’s various brands, unveiling new shows, promotions and deals, and using the event as a driver to attract more business.

Too often I see our industry rely on things that have worked in the past. We assume that if it worked before there’s no need to reinvent the wheel for the client. Sometimes that’s even true. Maybe the advertiser likes to keep things simple and communicate by phone, email or in-person lunch meetings. Maybe a creative powerpoint presentation is all you need to get them to say yes. If it’s working and you feel that’s the best way forward to close business, continue with that approach. There’s more than one way to reach the finish line.

But I believe that most people like being exposed to fresh ideas, and given a peak behind the curtain. The word ‘new’ excites people. Why do you think Apple introduces a new iPhone each year or two. We lose sight sometimes of how important our brands and people are to those not inside the walls of our offices. We forget that whether a client spends ten thousand or ten million dollars per year with our company, they still like to be entertained. When you allow business people to feel the excitement associated with your brand’s upcoming events, see the presentations on a screen, and hear from and interact with the stars involved in it, you make them feel more special. I think you stand a better chance of closing deals and building stronger relationships that way.

Given that many local clusters have relationships with hotels, theaters, teams, restaurants, etc. there’s no reason you can’t find a central location, and put together an advertiser appreciation day that makes partners feel valued. You don’t have to rent out Pier 36 like Disney or secure the field at a baseball stadium to make a strong impression. We show listeners they’re valued regularly by giving away tickets, cash, fan appreciation parties, etc. and guess what, it works! Yes there are expenses involved putting on events, and no manager wants to hear about spending money without feeling confident they’ll generate a return on investment. That said, taking calculated risks is essential to growing a business. Every day that goes by where you operate with a ‘relying on the past’ mindset, and refuse to invest in growth opportunities, is one that leaves open the door for others to make sure your future is less promising.

There are likely a few examples of groups doing a smaller scaled version of what I’m suggesting. If you’re doing this already, I’d love to hear about it. Hit me up through email at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. By and large though, I don’t see a lot of must-see, must-discuss events like this created that lead to a surplus of press, increased relationships, and most importantly, increased sales. Yet it can be done. Judging from some of the feedback I received yesterday talking to people in the room, it makes an impression, and it matters.

I don’t claim to know how many ad agency executives and buyers returned to the office from the Disney Upfront and reached out to sign new advertising deals with the company. What I am confident in is that Disney wouldn’t invest resources in creating this event nor would other national groups like NBC, FOX, CBS, WarnerMedia, etc. if they didn’t feel it was beneficial to their business. Rather than relying on ratings and revenue stories that serve our own interests, maybe we’d help ourselves more by allowing our partners and potential clients to experience what makes our brands special. It works with our listeners, and can work with advertisers too.

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