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Has Sports Media Content Become Too Serious?

Jason Barrett

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Growing up in Brooklyn, sports were a huge part of my childhood. My first memory involved the New York Yankees winning the World Series in 1977, when my entire house erupted after Reggie Jackson crushed three home runs in Game 6 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. I wasn’t old enough to vividly recall any particular part of that series, but the jubilation inside my home, told me something good was happening.

Soon thereafter I became fascinated with Reggie, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage and my personal favorite, Thurman Munson. The Yankees were atop the baseball mountain and their success produced great benefits for an adolescent including new shirts, baseball caps and trips to The House That Ruth Built.

But in the summer of 1979 I experienced my first taste of sadness. My five year old heart was crushed as I sat in the living room watching television with my grandfather and learned that Munson, the Yankees captain, had been killed in a plane crash. Reggie may have been the straw that stirred the drink, but it was Munson who was the team’s heartbeat. Needless to say, tears flowed like a waterfall that night.

At the age of five, I was given my first baseball glove. I would head outside to toss my blue rubber ball off of the wall of the auto body shop across the street, and let my imagination run wild thinking of different scenarios involving my beloved Yankees. As my passion for exerting energy outside grew, so did my interest in participating. I convinced my father to sign me up for little league, and for the next eight years I’d play every season, winning two MVP’s and being voted an All-Star six times.

The passion I developed for baseball stretched beyond playing too. I discovered the joy of collecting baseball cards, and each week would hit up my father for a quarter to run up the street and buy a new pack. Over the next thirteen years, I purchased every single Topps set, and that was followed by gaining interest in meeting players and acquiring autographs, many of which remain in my personal collection today.

When I reached my teenage years, the passion to play subsided but watching games still consumed me. Much like many teenage New York Yankees fans, I had Don Mattingly’s “Hit Man” poster on my wall. I experienced every joyless moment watching the New York Knicks get their collective throats stepped on by Michael Jordan, and I suffered thru every New York Rangers season, hearing the chants grow louder about the franchise not winning a Stanley Cup since 1940. The only saving grace were the New York Giants who produced multiple Super Bowl championships.

It was during my teenage years that I began to dabble in listening to sports radio. The format was new and unproven, and AM radio wasn’t appealing to listen to beyond the games, but because I loved the New York teams, I took a liking to hearing other people talk about it. My listening early on was very sporadic, but as the years passed by it became a bigger part of my life, especially once I started driving.

After completing high school, and entering the real world, I found myself in the car quite often. That increased my connection to my local sports radio station WFAN, particularly the Mike and the Mad Dog program. Mike Francesa had built a reputation on being smart and forceful with his opinions, but it was Chris Russo’s energy and passion which I connected to most. That was odd for me because Mike loved the Yankees, and Chris carried a huge disdain for them.

As I performed dead end jobs to pay bills, the fan in me remained alive and well. I continued to watch Yankees, Knicks, Rangers and Giants games, suffering thru a number of heartbreaks, when the tide finally turned in 1994. That year I witnessed the Rangers end a fifty four year drought, eliminating the Vancouver Canucks to bring the Stanley Cup back to New York. It’s why Mark Messier will go down in my book as the most important player in franchise history. If you wish to debate it, save your energy, you’re not going to change my mind.

Even more important to me were the Yankees championship teams of the late 1990’s. Derek Jeter’s arrival pumped new blood into an organization which had desperately needed it. After being named the team’s opening day starting shortstop in 1996, the fortunes of the Bronx Bombers began to change, and the euphoria surrounding the team became so contagious it was impossible not to get caught up in it.

In fact, when the Yankees knocked off the Texas Rangers to advance to the 1996 World Series, I was working a 10p-6a part-time job as a security guard at a local infirmary. I relied on my radio that night to hear the game. When the final out was recorded, and John Sterling announced tickets for the World Series would go on sale the following morning, I made a decision to abandon my post, and get into the car and drive to the Bronx. I had suffered thru enough bad seasons that I wasn’t going to miss out on an opportunity to be in the building when something special was taking place.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived in the Bronx a little after 1am and discovered thousands of people already in line. I was ready to give up hope and drive back home, but a fight broke out on the line, leaving a big hole in the middle. Myself and two others who were sitting on a patch of grass quickly took advantage of the situation, and eased our way in. The reward the next morning was purchasing 4 tickets to Game 2 of the fall classic, a game which left every Yankee fan miserable thanks to an October gem from Braves pitcher Greg Maddux.

As we left the stadium and made our sixty mile trek home, WFAN provided much needed noise. My father bitched and moaned the entire time about how pathetic the team had played, and wrote off any possibility of the Yankees battling back to win the series. It was hard to argue, given that they had been outscored 16-1 in the first two games, but the optimist in me held out hope that David Cone could save the season in Game 3.

Luck was on the Yankees side in Game 3, giving fans a renewed energy and confidence, but the euphoria started to dissipate when Kenny Rogers laid an egg in Game 4. The Yankees trailed 6-0 at the end of five innings, and every New York baseball fan was mentally preparing to hear the fat lady sing later that night.

But then the baseball gods decided to intervene.

Jim Leyritz, who had been a hero in the 1995 playoffs against the Seattle Mariners, stepped to the plate and delivered one of the most clutch home runs in franchise history, sending a Mark Wohlers slider over the left field wall, just beyond the reach of Braves left fielder Andruw Jones. That tied things up at 6-6. Quickly the momentum had shifted, and when Wade Boggs battled Steve Avery to earn a bases loaded walk in the 10th inning, Yankees fans lost their minds, and began to believe that destiny was on their side.

The next two games would be close and intense, but fortunately the Yankees prevailed. Their 4-2 series win brought a world championship back to the Bronx for the first time since 1978, and a ticker tape parade down the canyon of heroes, one which I was in attendance for.

By now you’re either asking yourself, what exactly does Jason’s recollection of New York sports moments have to do with this article? Or you’re screaming at your computer or phone, “I don’t give a damn about the Yankees or any other New York team.”

Allow me to explain why I took you down my personal memory lane.

Each of us have these kind of sports memories stained in our minds. They evoke emotions that run thru us and are part of what makes sports special. For many of us who choose to pursue sports media work professionally, these celebratory and devastating moments fuel our desire to tell stories, connect with fans, and experience excitement in each venue.

But as you distance yourself from high school and college, and settle into a career, joy and fandom start to wane. The pressures of paying bills, raising families, battling everyday issues, and tackling work responsibilities become your priority and the time you spend in front of a television or radio decreases. Suddenly the little kid in you who lived each day to throw a ball outside or open up a new pack of baseball cards is pushed aside, and the new adult version of yourself takes over.

Many in our audience work a full-time job that they don’t enjoy. They do it to put a roof over their families heads and food on the table. They’d prefer to make a living like us playing in the toy department of life, but being broke, living longer at home with mom and dad, and feasting on ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches doesn’t have great appeal.

For those of us in the sports media business who have paid our dues and been fortunate to escape low paying jobs and earn opportunities on larger stages, what’s our excuse? We’re not digging ditches, operating on patients, selling insurance or welding metal. We are talking sports, on radio, on television, on social media, and in print, and part of our job description includes watching games, reading stories, and conveying our honest thoughts to form a deeper bond with an audience. That should elicit excitement, passion, curiosity and fun in each of us.

But sadly when you look around the industry that isn’t always felt or presented on the air.

It’d be unfair of me to suggest that every sports media personality has silenced their inner fan. There are exceptions. Play by play announcers would be one of them. But, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to point out that a large majority of talk show personalities have distanced themselves from the teams and players they once loved.

In many cities and buildings, show units work together to identify topics and angles, and line up callers and guests who can fuel conversation and provide additional entertainment value. The host opinions are delivered from a neutral or antagonistic position, and the thought of being labeled a professional fan with access and a microphone is quickly rejected.

And the teams don’t make it any easier.

Inside every press box, media members are encouraged to cut the chord to their teams. If a player makes a great play or the team you’re covering rallies to win an important game, you’re reminded to avoid cheering or expressing yourself in a positive manner.

It’s easy to see why many in the media become jaded. After spending years developing a deep love and passion for sports and those who cover them, you’re immediately met by neutrality and negativity once you start covering them. It was OK to root, love, and support players and teams when you were younger and not a working professional, but once you earn a paycheck from a media outlet and enter an arena or stadium, a burial for your fandom is scheduled.

Another  problem which causes broadcasters to disconnect is the way they’re treated by those they cover. Many players are cynical of the media, and at times, even disrespectful. They view writers, reporters and personalities as potential enemies, and although the good ones may squeeze out solid information from time to time, the willingness of players, coaches, and executives to be candid, conversational, and unguarded is rare at best.

It’s no excuse, but when you’re treated poorly or disrespected, it’s going to show up at some point in your work. Rather than giving a player or coach the benefit of the doubt after a tough game or offering praise for a particular feat, the media gravitate to pointing out flaws, selling concern, and pouring gasoline on the fire. It becomes the one way they can fight back against individuals who play the game and think they’re invincible. It also reminds those players, coaches and executives just how powerful the media can be in shaping public opinion.

If you read a sports website, listen to sports radio, or watch sports television, you may notice that the majority of content is supplied by media members who are over 35 years old. Coincidentally, the content appeals better to the older part of the audience (35-64) than it does the younger demo (18-34). If a media member is mature, experienced, and able to reduce their fandom and handle egotistical, sensitive and guarded sports personalities, then it allows the outlet they’re working for to maintain a more neutral position.

But is that really what drew us to wanting to work in sports? Didn’t we become interested in doing this line of work because we appreciated great players with unmatched skill and larger than life personalities? Weren’t we enamored watching two teams or individuals compete to find out who was better? If they failed to execute or made bad decisions, we held them accountable, but we attached ourselves to teams and players and emotionally invested in their success.

That connection enabled us to invite conversation with others who shared similar interests. It allowed us to be kids again, and forget about life’s responsibilities and pressures for a while.

Which is why I wonder if the sports media business is hurting itself by becoming too serious. I see a lot of parallels today between the presentation of sports/talk and news/talk, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.

News is about reality. It’s our wake up call. It’s serious conversation, and what we need to hear, even when we don’t necessarily want to hear it. It’s often negative in tone, but helps to put life and its day to day challenges into perspective.

Sports is supposed to pull us away from that reality and negativity. We rely on it to make us feel good. It becomes a conversation starter, and the link between childhood and adulthood. Whether we’re with our families or complete strangers, it brings us together and gives us hope, joy, and something positive to look forward to.

But we don’t always hear, see or feel that from those who lead the sports conversation across the airwaves. Instead, there’s a strong journalistic approach, and the intent is often to dissect stories, provoke thought, and generate emotional responses, rather than share any genuine semblance of joy, passion, love or appreciation.

Are audiences really clamoring for neutrality and cynicism? Have they demanded broadcasters possess black hearts and icy veins and shun the idea of expressing their true passions and love for the teams that inspired them to want to earn a living in sports media?

The last time I checked, they had not.

Didn’t America’s best broadcasters grow up watching sports, loving them, playing them, and wanting to be around them? Then why have we silenced that part of our personalities now that we’ve become adults?

It’s OK to be excited to talk to a guest who you once cheered for and display that vulnerability to the audience. Expressing joy when your favorite team wins makes you human and more relatable. Sharing your personal memories and feelings, opens the door for further discussion and deeper attachments with your listeners or viewers. If we can’t take these qualities with us to the air, then we’re robbing the audience of half of who we are.

Many in sports media have become so disenchanted with the organizations and people they cover, that it’s rubbed off on areas of their presentation. Maybe the travel, long work hours, and interactions with delusional listeners and arrogant players can be a drain, but talking about sports and watching them for a living should lift us up, not bring us down.

A question we should all be asking ourselves is, how does being jaded, angry, detached and emotionless help us? Certainly there are times when tough conversations and negative stances are warranted, but is it to much to ask that our best on-air voices also display a little bit of love, joy, excitement and vulnerability?

It’s been said before that the sports media cares more about what takes place outside the lines than what occurs inside of them. I think that’s true. If you watched or listened to 60-minutes of any show last week, you heard much more discussion about Kyrie Irving demanding a trade, Colin Kaepernick not being signed, Tim Tebow deserving a call up from the Mets and the selling of hate between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, then you heard about athletic performances or any team’s progress.

But is that really good for our business? Does sports programming need to continue being served in a similar way to news?

If one of the few joys we share in life (sports) is presented in a neutral or negative fashion, and the personalities discussing them aren’t personally excited or invested in a team or individual’s success, it becomes harder to connect with the audience. I don’t think the airwaves need to be full of cheerleaders and apologists, but having fun, showing you care, and experiencing the same euphoria and agony with an audience shouldn’t require a sales pitch.

In life, people turn to sports because it makes them happy. They believe in its power to unite. I just wonder if the direction we’ve headed in is doing more to divide.

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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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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