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Covering LaVar Ball Has Created An Avalanche of Hypocrisy

Jason Barrett

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The daily grind to crank out compelling content can be exhausting. Hosts and reporters are under constant pressure to locate superb material that will instantly drive clicks, views and listens which will become top of the mind discussion that can breathe life into the next day. More times than not the industry succeeds, but every now and then we’re handed a lemon.

In that pursuit for locating relevant stories worthy enough of the audience’s attention, we stumble across a few questionable characters. The thought of dedicating content time to them turns our stomachs but they also serve a purpose in generating buzz and higher ratings. We may question our own standards and journalistic integrity when highlighting a rotten apple but as long as the public is eating it up, we keep putting it on the plate and telling ourselves it’s a good meal.

But while there are plenty of people willing to sell their soul to generate an extra tenth of a ratings point, there are also a large number of hypocrites sitting on the other side of the fence.

By now you’ve heard the name LaVar Ball so much that it’s likely caused you to increase your purchases of Tylenol or Advil. The more people pay attention to the sounds pouring out of this man’s mouth, the more he pushes the envelope to increase his celebrity. He may make your blood boil and cause you to question the media’s rationale for giving him air time but what he’s doing is nothing new. It’s what sold a lot of fights for Muhammad Ali. The only difference, Ali had real talent, Ball doesn’t.

As foolish and outrageous as LaVar may be, my issue isn’t with him as much as it is with the hypocrisy I’m seeing in sports and media. Let’s start with the folks who have a problem with Ball being given exposure for his ridiculous commentaries.

Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle was upset after learning of Ball’s criticisms towards Lakers head coach Luke Walton. The president of the coaches association said, “I view the recent ESPN article as a disgrace. They should look at their sources and do a better job of determining whether they have any merit or validity. Printing an article where the father of an NBA player has an opinion that is printed as anything like (it’s) legitimate – it erodes the trust we’ve built with ESPN and our coaches are upset because Luke Walton does not deserve that. To have to deal with these kind of ignorant distractions is deplorable.”

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr also had a problem with the story. The leader of the NBA champions added, “Somewhere LaVar is laughing at all of us. People are eating out of his hands for no apparent reasons other than he has become the Kardashian in the NBA. That sells. That’s what is true in politics, entertainment and now in sports. It doesn’t matter if there’s any substance involved with any issues. It’s just, ‘Can we make it really interesting for no apparent reason?’

“This is not a ESPN judgment. It’s a societal thing more than anything. We’re going away from covering the game and getting closer to sensationalized news. It’s really not news. It’s complete nonsense. If you package that irrational nonsense with some glitter and some ribbon, people are going to watch.”

Taking it one step further was Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy who said the article upset him so much that he was going to offer less access to ESPN when the network aired his team’s games.

“I don’t have a problem with LaVar Ball. He’s a grown man. He can voice whatever opinion he wants. I got a problem with ESPN deciding that’s a story. I’m not meeting with their announcing crew before the game, I’m not doing the in-game interview. I’m not going to participate in the thing.”

Van Gundy’s brother Jeff, who works as ESPN’s lead analyst on NBA games agreed with the three coaches and took his own employer to task.

“Instead of focusing in on the real issues, Jeff Goodman and ESPN got what they wanted,” said Van Gundy. “They started a little fire and now everyone’s talking about it. The whole process is wrong when you write an article that doesn’t have one attributable quote — like the Patriots story.”

Upon hearing the reactions of multiple NBA head coaches, ESPN reporter Jeff Goodman, who wrote the Ball story, defended his piece.

“News has changed. I’ve been covering it for a long, long time now. What’s news today is not what was news five years ago, even two years ago. It is completely changed, and now, LaVar Ball saying what he did about Luke Walton is newsworthy. Nobody can doubt that.”

Goodman made it clear that he disagreed with Ball’s assessment of Walton and understands the public’s perception of him being a jackass, but that doesn’t mean his comments aren’t newsworthy.

“I understand thinking that LaVar is a buffoon, and that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. But I’ve seen it a lot with college basketball and NBA coaches. They always protect their own. Do they have any more knowledge of the Lakers situation, and whether Walton has lost that team, than LaVar does? The answer is no. LaVar could be dead on, we don’t know that.”

Having now absorbed the information, I have a few thoughts I want to share on both sides of the issue. Let’s start with the defense of Ball being given air time and whether or not his comments are newsworthy.

The last time I checked, this is a free country right? We’re all entitled to freedom of speech and Ball just happens to speak a little louder than most. In some ways, he’s doing what so many talk show hosts strive to do each day – deliver a strong opinion, make a connection and generate a reaction. You may not like what he’s saying but if it wasn’t of interest to people it wouldn’t be given the frequency of air time that it’s received. By the way, we also have the choice about whether or not to pay attention to him or tune him out.

Secondly, when did we rewrite the rules to only feature credible individuals and hard hitting news on sports media shows and websites? I must have missed that memo.

We didn’t seem to have a problem building up P. Diddy’s interest in buying the Carolina Panthers. When Kate Upton sounded off about the voting for the 2016 Cy Young award because Justin Verlander didn’t win it, that seemed to be newsworthy. How about Katy Perry making college football picks on College Gameday, Chris Pratt eating toasted grasshoppers on SportsNation, and stories being written about what rapper Paul Wall would give the Astros if they could deliver a championship for the city of Houston?

Just this morning I’ve seen multiple media outlets run stories on Dr. Dre talking to Golden State Warriors players. Was that really newsworthy or were brands simply using the popularity of Dre’s name to drive clicks?

On Tuesday afternoon I was driving to pick up my son from school when I landed on Stephen A. Smith’s show on ESPN Radio. What Smith said about the situation was right on point. It’s worth your time to listen back to it. I even convinced my fifteen year old to pay attention for a whole segment without checking Instagram, YouTube or Snapchat. That’s a whole other column though.

Stephen A. mentioned that he didn’t particularly like that ESPN was covering the Ball’s in Lithuania but he took issue with Kerr, Carlisle and Van Gundy over their criticisms of the network’s decision making on news stories. Smith reminded them that they’ve been very outspoken on the political climate in our country which has zero to do with basketball. Yet when they’ve had something to say, ESPN has covered them. Some fans may agree with their political views but others don’t and would rather see them focus on basketball and avoid creating division.

Continuing on, Smith pointed out that whether you like it or not, LaVar Ball is the father of the number two overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft who is now the starting point guard of the Los Angeles Lakers. He may be obnoxious, annoying, distasteful and classless but what he said about head coach Luke Walton is newsworthy. Smith even made the point, if LaVar went on the record tomorrow saying that Lonzo wanted to be dealt from the Lakers because Magic Johnson is inept at his job, would that not be something ESPN should share with fans?

We may agree that Kerr, Van Gundy and Carlisle have much more professional credibility than LaVar but that doesn’t mean his comments aren’t news. The Lakers knew this was a potential issue when they drafted Lonzo and when the outspoken and arrogant father goes on the record suggesting Walton isn’t good enough to lead the Lakers to success, that’s a story worthy of airtime. It’s certainly much more relevant than some of the examples I mentioned above.

I also think Jeff Van Gundy is way off track on this issue. I’m a fan of Jeff’s analysis and candid style, and I loved when he coached my beloved New York Knicks but if all stories required attributable sources the entire sports news cycle would be drastically altered. Off the record conversations happen frequently and are vital in addressing problems and creating solutions. Using the Tom Brady story as an example, it would be professional suicide for any member of the Patriots organization to go on the record blasting the greatest quarterback of all time.

However, in the case of the Ball story, LaVar did go on the record. The disagreement from these coaches stems from their belief that he shouldn’t be given a platform. The media outlets get to make that call, not the head coach of a basketball team with no knowledge of a brand’s content strategy and no personal investment in the success or failure of the company. Their one option is to choose whether or not to read and react to it.

So that’s one side of the discussion. Now let’s flip the script and look at the other side.

If you’re sitting in your studio or office defending the coverage of LaVar Ball and citing the ratings spikes, web clicks and Facebook views as your evidence, stop it right now. Seriously, stop it. Remember this and never forget it, the media has a HUGE influence over people. If you feature someone repeatedly on television, radio and online, and tell the public they should care about it, eventually they start to follow it. The expression of the world being full of sheep and following the media’s message isn’t exactly untrue.

Case in point, think back to the coverage provided towards Tim Tebow’s quest to be an NFL starting QB, Brett Favre’s problems with the Packers, Barry Bonds’ steroids allegations, Mike Tyson’s fights and real life problems or the latest case, the world according to Lavar Ball. When networks and websites sink their teeth into coverage of an individual or issue, they don’t let up until they squeeze every last drop out of it. That doesn’t mean the public is salivating over it, it means they’ve been beaten down enough to pay attention to it.

Do you honestly think one hundred thousand people would give a rat’s ass about watching a basketball game in Lithuania on Facebook featuring LaVar’s kids if the media wasn’t firmly behind it? In the words of Chad Johnson, child please!

The reason LaVar draws huge interest from the public is because he’s bombastic and flamboyant and the media loves to showcase personalities who operate that way. If an individual is willing to say controversial things which entertain us and cause mixed reactions, there’s always going to be a reporter on standby with a microphone, camera or pen.

How many times have you put on a radio station and heard a new song that you didn’t like? A few days later after hearing it five or six times your opinion switches to ‘maybe I rushed to judgment, it’s not that bad.’ After a couple more days, you start to actually like the song and tell others about it, and before you know it you’re either buying it on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify or in a store. The reason that happens is because the exposure to the content eventually wears you down. Whether it’s been LaVar Ball, the NFL’s TV ratings, Anthem protests or Colin Kaepernick being blackballed, if a story is told over and over again on every platform, eventually the public interest grows.

The other issues which are much more complex are determining what is news, what your professional standards are, and how much you’re willing to allow the pressure of increasing ratings to shape your editorial decisions.

I’ve spent time inside a number of radio station sales departments and I’ve often heard them say they don’t sell ratings. What’s ironic about that is the people in the programming department inside the same building are working under the assumption that the ratings are vital to the station’s success. What you discover as you go along is that some brands can make a ton of revenue without numbers, some enjoy ratings wins but can’t scratch two nickels together, and others are exceptional at both.

During the first ten years of my career I never went to work thinking about the ratings. That changed when I became a programmer. My focus then was to use my time and energy to develop topics, book guests, create production, events and ideas, meet the expectations of my bosses, and concern myself with what mattered most to my station’s audience. I didn’t stress over the sales department meeting their budget, the company needing to grow its stock price or anything else unrelated to content.

I suspect that there are many of you working in your station’s programming department reading this who operate the same way. If your program director never discusses the ratings and says they’re irrelevant to your performance, don’t build your show and make your daily content decisions based on whether or not they’ll generate a higher number. Do what feels right and interests your host and audience. If the ratings are a huge internal focus and a content strategy has been developed to help you be successful, then follow that game plan, ask questions, and analyze what is and isn’t working.

The reason that’s important is because the brand vision will influence how you make your editorial decisions. In the case of the LaVar Ball story, there are many outlets featuring his antics because it helps them capture an audience. Those brands have made it clear, the ratings DO matter. But you can also ignore the story and focus on other things and still have success. If you go that route though be consistent. Otherwise you’ll be called out for being hypocritical. That was the case this week with The Athletic who claimed to have a policy of ignoring LaVar Ball yet have wrote about him on multiple occasions.

I think it’s important to remember that disagreement is an essential part of life. There’s a growing problem in our country where we want to hear what we like and silence what we don’t rather than educating ourselves, welcoming an opposing view and increasing dialogue. There’s a need for both sides of a story to be presented. Steve Kerr, Stan Van Gundy and Rick Carlisle may not like LaVar Ball and ESPN’s decision to feature him, and they’re entitled to feel that way, but nobody forced them to read it or watch it. It’s not their place to dictate what ESPN should cover, and given the amount of money spent by the network on airing NBA games, I’d be all over the commissioner’s office if I were a Bristol suit making sure problems with the Pistons are solved before airing their next game.

The beauty of covering sports is that the majority of the content we work with focuses on things that most of us love or find interesting. We watch and attend games, talk to high profile people, and dissect what those individuals say about newsworthy material. We then form our own conclusions about the information we have at our disposal and invite further conversation with others over it. In that process we laugh, learn, love and loathe, and are left with something to think about before reconnecting.

There are many who will change the channel when LaVar Ball and his family get mentioned. Others will turn up the volume to hear what he has to say. Personally I could care less about Lonzo, LiAngelo and LaMelo or if they have distant cousins named La Bamba, La Familia, and La Cucaracha.

Rather than trying to decide who deserves air time, we should be thinking more about our brand’s identity and content strategy, and if the story fits and is one we can get behind consistently. It’s easy to sell the flavor of the month for a quick ratings surge but eventually a lack of substance will wear you out.

The power you wield sitting behind that microphone is strong. People will invest their time in your content if you tell them it’s relevant, worth their time, personally important, and in line with your brand’s standards. It’s the process of arriving at that point that’s complicated. Good luck finding your solutions.

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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