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If ESPN Fails It Hurts The Entire Sports Media Industry

Jason Barrett

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It’s been called a bloodbath. The demise of a once great brand. The end of ESPN, and a few other expletives that I’d rather not repeat in this column.

Last week ESPN put into action what had been expected for the past month, a parting of the ways with many talented and dedicated sports media professionals. The total amount of people let go by the company is estimated to be near 100. As a result, a high number of qualified individuals now find themselves searching for future opportunities despite executing their jobs the way they were asked to.

Much has been written about ESPN during the past week due to the immediate shock of these layoffs. Some of the articles have been extremely insightful. From Dave Zirin’s column to Glen Macnow’s to Forbes’ story and the Wall Street Journal’s, every media outlet has shared a perspective on ESPN’s troubles. I’m just the latest to attend the party. I recognize that I’ve arrived a little late, but I wanted to collect my thoughts and make sure I was ready to mingle before putting on my three piece suit and invading the dance floor.

This is a difficult subject to write about because it’s extremely depressing. When stories like this are generated they add to the perception of ESPN’s sports media empire being on life support. That’s utterly ridiculous when you take into account that the current valuation of ESPN is 50 billion dollars and the Disney stock price is closing in on its all-time high. But when negative headline after negative headline invades the digital universe, brands earn labels that aren’t easy to recover from.

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know some of the key people who were affected by last week’s layoffs. In addition to being leaders in their respective fields, they’ve been quality people too.

I understand that this is relevant news that deserves to be examined, but being served a daily reminder that you’ve lost your dream job and are among the unemployed, as others debate publicly whether or not you should’ve been terminated and if you provide any value to potential employers can’t be easy to digest.

We often assume that the news is just news and those who are part of the latest cycle should just “toughen up and deal with it” but when it’s your name and livelihood that have been altered, it’s not always easy to detach yourself and move on. People after all are human beings with very real emotions and these kind of life changing decisions do have lasting impressions.

Upon learning about the cuts while attending the National Association of Broadcasters conference in Las Vegas last week, it seemed that many on social media were rejoicing over familiar names and faces being given their walking papers. Others called for the worldwide leader to expand its list and take a few others.

As I sifted thru the responses, I couldn’t help but be disappointed. I realize that the style of each host, anchor, reporter and analyst is received differently, but rather than rooting for someone to be unemployed, on the street, and permanently barred from the sports media industry, there is another alternative – tune them out.

I love this business as much as anyone but let’s be honest, we aren’t curing cancer. This is simply entertainment. If an individual doesn’t provide you with the experience you’re searching for, it’s OK to change the channel or not click on their story.

The goal of every media professional is to generate reaction to their work. If the audience is moved enough to share a favorable or negative response, then the broadcaster has done their job. It’s when viewers, listeners or readers don’t respond that outlets pay closer attention. It may be tempting to verbally destroy someone on social media who’s content you don’t enjoy, but when you ignore their existence and have no opinion to share of their work, it sends a much louder message.

That’s why I believe it’s silly to play the game of “Why would ESPN fire Ed/Trent/Jayson instead of Stephen/Jemele/Michael?” Unless you’re on the inside and understand the way each person is viewed, paid, and rated, it’s a wasted discussion.

If you’ve read my work over the past two years then you’re aware that I’ve been critical of a few things ESPN has done. I believe that’s an important responsibility for anyone who chooses to write, report, and share opinions on the media industry. No matter how many friendships I hold inside the company or how much I prefer to see people succeed there, when it’s time to tackle sensitive issues my honesty and integrity are not negotiable.

Do I think ESPN has made strategic mistakes in recent years? Yes. Do I consider them as formidable as they once were? No. But if they fail it hurts the entire sports media industry. That alone should be reason enough to hope they solve their problems and create a brighter future.

Since this topic is extremely popular and contains multiple angles worthy of examination, I’ve attempted to break it up into ten different sections. Here are what I consider to be the key takeaways from last week and the questions that ESPN must answer going forward.

Is The Era of Invincibility Over?: In the span of seven days, two of the biggest media giants on the planet were significantly damaged. FOX News dropped its biggest television star (Bill O’Reilly) and ESPN halted the careers of nearly 100 sports media professionals.

It was once considered an impossible task to challenge these two brands, yet both are now showing vulnerabilities. While changes occurred for different reasons, the bottom line is that each company is weaker today than they were last week. Whether or not that continues and their competitors take advantage of it in the future remains to be seen, but these moves remind us that even the best can be rattled when they make a series of errors.

It’d be interesting to run a poll and ask industry folks who gave Jamie Horowitz and FOX Sports 1 zero chance of challenging ESPN if they still feel the same way now. Something tells me many would reconsider their position.

Although ESPN continues to offer more original sports programming and play by play than any other network, and employs the largest group of sports broadcasters in the industry, their public profile has been significantly damaged. It’s not a question if ESPN remains the top rated performer among sports networks. It’s whether or not they can retain/grow subscribers and advertising revenues and lower expenses.

If the company’s current trend continues, and another sports network or new competitor such as Amazon, Netflix, Facebook, Apple or Google enters the mix and snags a play by play agreement in the future, the stranglehold ESPN has held on the rest of the industry could be escaped. That would make things instantly different.

Personalities Matter Most: It was hard to ignore the messages ESPN sent with their personnel decisions last week. The value of writing, reporting, analysis and anchoring pales in comparison to high profile personalities who generate buzz by delivering ear shattering opinions.

To be fair, ESPN still employs many exceptional reporters, anchors, analysts and writers. If the report holds true of Adrian Wojnarowski leaving Yahoo Sports to join the company, that’d be recognized by many as a homerun hire.

But Woj’s situation aside, the majority of people impacted last week were known best for their information and analysis and less for their personalities. Guys like Jayson Stark, Marc Stein, Andy Katz and Ed Werder have been trusted reporters for nearly two decades and their departures instantly weaken the network’s credibility.

For decades ESPN built its reputation off of providing highlights, analysis, and information. When the majority of individuals departing the nation’s top sports network are involved in those areas, and sacrificed before others with a stronger flair for the dramatic, it indicates that the times have changed, and Bristol executives have placed higher premiums on other roles.

Hockey Isn’t Important: The commitment to hockey coverage was already minimal on ESPN, but with the exits of Scott Burnside, Joe McDonald and Pierre LeBrun it’s decreased even more. With John Buccigross’ future also up in the air, it’s hard to wrap your arms around the network’s vision for presenting the coolest game on ice.

At this point, Barry Melrose and Steve Levy are two of a very select few with a passion for the NHL at ESPN. Hockey may not provide the interest that other major sports do, but you’d expect a full fledged sports network to cover the game with more than 2-3 quality people.

It’s possible that ESPN has other people in mind internally who they want to groom and feature more prominently, or maybe they’ll strike a deal with TSN, the NHL Network or NBC to share content as they recently did with the MLB Network. As of now though they are significantly weaker, which isn’t saying much, given their previous standing.

Baseball Coverage Decreases: ESPN has produced some of the finest baseball content on television during its existence, but despite its history of creating stellar original programming around America’s favorite pastime, something clearly went astray. In one fell swoop, the network released analysts Dallas Braden, Doug Glanville, and Raul Ibanez, and other notable contributors Jim Bowden, Jayson Stark, Dave O’Brien and Jim Caple. A few beat reporters were also laid off.

Adding to the overhaul was the network’s decision to partner with the MLB Network to air its daily baseball program Intentional Talk on ESPN. It’s not everyday that the worldwide leader in sports plays the role of an affiliate, but in this instance they did. By securing that agreement it gave ESPN the flexibility it needed to send its longtime baseball program Baseball Tonight to a slow death. BBTN now airs each Sunday prior to the Sunday night game of the week.

MLB Network has certainly developed high quality baseball content since its inception. To think though that they’d contribute to the demise of one of ESPN’s most recognized programs is surprising. This leaves many now wondering, is ESPN a content creator of baseball programming or the MLB Network’s lead distributor?

The Future of ESPN Radio: The once dominant sports radio network is going thru an identity crisis. Is ESPN Radio committed to being a major market player? Is its main function to provide support to small market operators with lesser budgets? Or is the long-term strategy to worry less about terrestrial radio partnerships and focus more on creating television content and on-air programming for the company’s owned and operated radio brands and digital platforms?

As the network attempts to regain its footing, one key challenge it must conquer is offering consistency on its airwaves. Change often breaks up a listener’s routine and in the past two years the company has fed a steady diet of it to its audience and affiliates. That makes it harder to connect to the personalities and shows plus it gives local operators (especially in markets outside of the top 25) anxiety because much of their success stems from the network’s ability to deliver a strong consistent lineup.

Along those lines, the network has almost completely overhauled its entire lineup during the past 2 years. For starters, Colin Cowherd left the 10a-1p slot and was replaced by Dan Le Batard. With Le Batard moving up in the schedule, his afternoon drive slot was turned over to Bomani Jones who had previously hosted evenings. As Jones vacated the evening hours, Jalen Rose and David Jacoby, and Sarah Spain and Israel Gutierrez became fixtures at night. Spain and Izzy were added to the schedule when Jorge Sedano moved to Los Angeles and Jen Lada was switched to a different role. The one consistent contributor to the network’s evening programming has been Freddie Coleman, although even he was switched from hosting solo to joining forces with Ian Fitzsimmons.

But wait there’s more.

Scott Van Pelt left the 1p-4p slot with Ryen Russillo to host the late night SportsCenter. He was replaced by Danny Kanell who was let go during last week’s cuts. Russillo is now hosting solo until the company either adds a new co-host, places the show’s future in his hands or goes a different direction altogether and moves him elsewhere. Noise was made in recent months of Stephen A. Smith being added nationally in the 1p-4p slot (he’s already hosting during those hours on ESPN NY and ESPN LA), and although that possibility can’t be discounted, birds have stopped chirping about it recently.

All of these changes don’t even include the network’s most publicized move. ESPN is expected to break up Mike and Mike and the early word is that Trey Wingo and Mike Golic Jr. will join Golic Sr. for a revamped morning show. If Golic Jr. does in fact move into mornings with his father and Trey, that would explain the network’s decision last week to part ways with Robin Lundberg who recently teamed up with Jr. during the early morning hours.

The lack of consistency has caused concern among numerous affiliates. Those who have adopted the ESPN moniker aren’t likely to change affiliates because establishing a new brand name could prove costly. Others will explore adding local programs to make up for a lack of confidence in the network’s offerings. Some may even drop the network for other options.

It’s understood that the radio business isn’t driving ESPN to profitability. A sharp decision was made recently to add Justin Craig to the programming team, but the network is going to have to work extra hard over the next 12-24 months to convince stations that they’re headed in the right direction and can be trusted to provide consistently great programming.

Wrong Space Wrong Time: It’s peculiar that during a time when ESPN is panicking about its future and trying to reinvent its business model, it continues to invest in platforms that are less valued by their audience. Taking risks and introducing new personalities and forms of programming is appreciated but you also have to take calculated risks. Simply put, you leap during times of strength, not weakness.

As I looked at the list of names who were affected last week I couldn’t help but wonder if some of the departures could’ve been prevented had the company not dumped resources into platforms with less of a connection to their core audience. The work done on fivethirtyeight, The Undefeated, ESPNU, and the Longhorn Network may be solid, but they’re luxuries that the network can afford to live without.

I have applauded the network for taking a chance with The Undefeated. I feel they employ some talented writers and deliver quality content. The other brands I mentioned I have less of a personal connection to. But even if I felt they were exceptional, if my golden goose was in jeopardy of being harmed, I’d focus first and foremost on making sure it was protected before sinking resources into other areas that are less necessary.

It’s convenient to blame all of ESPN’s problems on cord cutting and bad play by play deals. Each have presented real challenges for the company and undoubtedly influenced the latest series of cutbacks. However, we can’t ignore and discount how the network has invested dollars in other niche spaces. Were these platforms more important than retaining key contributors to the network’s most important properties? I’m not sure they were.

Too Political: Sports is supposed to provide an escape from the pressures and negativity of real life. But as we’ve discovered over the past decade, mixing the two has become a reoccurring theme.

Are there times when it’s justified? Absolutely. But when personalities begin to share personal thoughts on issues that can sever a relationship with a loyal audience, that’s where things get complicated. Many would love for ESPN to return to what it was in the 1990’s, but 2017 isn’t 1997, and ESPN isn’t going in that direction whether we want them to or not. In fact, they plan to be even more open about their personal beliefs.

Therein lies one of the network’s biggest dilemmas. How do you balance being open and honest with the audience without causing them to disconnect from your product? If you fail to acknowledge a social interest story that has everyone talking, it can lead to less eyeballs on your content. But if you do engage in discussion, that too can lead to immediate tune out.

Linda Cohn appeared last week on WABC in New York with Bernard McGuirk and Sid Rosenberg, and added that she felt the company was paying the price for being out front with its political positions. Although her opinions don’t reflect how everyone in the company feels, one thing she said in particular stood out.

“Old school viewers were put in a corner and not appreciated with all of these changes,” said Cohn. “They (ESPN) forgot their core. You should never forget your core, and be grateful for your core group.”

ESPN has to decide who it wants to be. Is it a full service sports media company that values its role as the world’s biggest distractor from everyday troubles. Or is it looking to assert social influence and stretch beyond the boundaries of sports?

Here’s the issue with the latter. Sports and politics don’t blend well. This country once enjoyed a deep connection to ESPN even as real events such as 9/11, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a highly publicized white house sex scandal took place. Sports remained the focus, and a necessary distraction from the events of the world that left many of us shaken.

Whether the company loses 5%, 10% or 50% of its audience due to sharing political opinions and exploring divisive content, the question is, why is that worth it? It’s one thing to have the President fill out an NCAA tournament bracket, and another to turn on the ESPY’s and see Caitlynn Jenner receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.

There are certain situations that feel right, and others that don’t. ESPN can help itself by using better judgment, regardless of how large or small the percentage is of fans who are turned off by the company’s current positioning.

Play By Play Deals: Between the cuts in 2015 and this latest series of moves, sports leagues have been put on notice by the worldwide leader in sports. Paying astronomical rights fees for TV programming as media consumption shifts to digital platforms and large amounts of staff are lost, doesn’t appear to be a winning formula. ESPN may be bound by its existing deals, but they’ll be seeking economic relief when it’s time to discuss future arrangements.

It’s always possible that when push comes to shove ESPN caves in and continues to pay exorbitant fees to retain the NFL, NBA and MLB, but to commit over 5 billion dollars per year on play-by-play in the next go around seems like a frightening idea at best.

One thing to take into account is that although the network may not reap the financial benefits the way it once did, it still remains profitable. No matter how much the expenses hurt, ESPN understands that live sports programming is their most important asset.

When their current deals expire they’ll arrive at the negotiating table with the blood of 400-500 eliminated positions on their hands, but whether or not that’s enough to justify a reduction in rights fees remains to be seen. You can bet that FS1, Turner Sports, CBS, FOX and NBC will want in on the action too, but they’ve had a front row seat to ESPN’s challenges and are aware that one poor business decision can cripple their business.

What we don’t know is how valuable these sports networks will consider the television rights as compared to streaming. The digital space is also likely to attract competition from other non-traditional media groups.

While it’s a given that each media outlet will cry poverty and languish over the rising cost of rights fees, it’s hard to believe that when faced with the possibility of losing its most valuable programming ESPN won’t do what professional owners do and find a few extra nickels and dimes at the last minute. The only question is how many will they pony up to retain their rights?

John Skipper’s Legacy: ESPN’s President and co-Chairman has held those titles since January 2012, and been a part of every key decision involving the network’s play by play rights, company layoffs, and the subtractions of some key on-air talent. He’s bright, engaging, forward thinking, and projects a great confidence for the brand’s future.

During his time at the top there have been noticeable changes. The company has demonstrated a strong commitment to diversity, SportsCenter has been redesigned, anchors have been encouraged to share their personal connections to their favorite teams, political influence has infiltrated numerous on-air and online conversations and events (some good, some bad), and the network has included WWE programming in its content strategy. We’ve also seen ESPN become more aggressive when criticisms have been directed at the network’s people and programming.

Some say Skipper was dealt a bad deck of cards. Others say he’s made the most out of impossible situations. The rest remain split on whether his tenure as ESPN’s top executive has been a success or failure. Although the network has received more negative press in recent years than at any point in its history, it’s also remained the undisputed leader in sports media. Profits may be down compared to previous years, but ESPN continues to register in the black which many say is a testament to Skipper’s leadership during tumultuous times.

Providing a letter grade for his performance may not be possible at this time, but the next year will tell us a lot about where the company is heading. If ESPN emerges from the fire with no sign of trauma, the short-term discomfort will be seen as a necessary part of the maturation process towards making ESPN whole again. If though the company experiences life threatening injuries, it could signal the beginning of the network’s fall. Whichever way it turns out, Skipper will earn the credit or blame for it.

Can ESPN Be Fixed? The answer of course is yes, but it’s much bigger than just adding top talent, familiar faces and programming which suits our desires. If tomorrow the company followed up the addition of Woj with an announcement that deals had been struck with Dan Patrick, Peter King, and Rich Eisen we’d say they were making great decisions to improve their quality. But that doesn’t solve their economic challenges or the reality of a world spending less time with programs and splintering their interests across multiple platforms.

As Colin Cowherd mentioned during a radio interview last week with “The Bull and Fox” on 92.3 The Fan, the downward spiral for ESPN began when the company committed massive dollars to rights deals, and the consumption of media content started to shift from television to digital devices. To ESPN’s credit, they’ve built their infrastructure to be attractive across all platforms, but when the majority of income comes from subscriber fees and advertising revenues, it becomes harder to provide the same profitability.

The setbacks that have stunted ESPN’s growth remind me of what the newspaper business encountered over a decade ago. Many in the print industry understood the importance of shifting their content into the online space, but when those daily and weekly subscriptions declined, along with newspaper advertising dollars, an economic blow was impossible to avoid.

Work begins immediately to do more work with less bodies, increase advertising dollars, secure new digital revenue streams, and of course, reduce the costs of future play by play deals. It won’t be easy, but ESPN remains in the driver’s seat because it’s still a massive brand with worldwide appeal and it produces big results.

Don’t think for a second that the major sports leagues don’t understand the value they receive in return for having their programming air on ESPN’s channels too. If they need to be reminded, Skipper and his team can put them in touch with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

We have no way of knowing what the world will look like in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years or 10 years, but for the sake of all of us working in the sports media industry, let’s hope ESPN makes the right choices. One major misstep could lead to a lot more harm than 100 layoffs, and those are bad enough already.

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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