When the economy is rocked the way it has been in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, radio stations can’t afford to not be a good partner to their clients. It’s not a lesson that anyone needs to teach Kelly Hannah and her team at 101 ESPN. The station’s local sales director has always emphasized the importance to treat clients as advertising partners.
As the realities of social distancing and the coronavirus started to set in, Kelly knew she had to gather her staff. Many were going to lose accounts as advertisers braced for severe economic hardships. Before she could address those fears though, Kelly had to make sure her staff was out of harm’s way.
“We would not be successful without the dedication of our employees and the strong partnerships we have with our clients,” Hannah told me in an email. “The focus of our meetings as the reality of the pandemic set in was, first and foremost, about making sure our employees were safe and able to make a seamless transition to working remotely in order to accommodate the needs of our clients.”
Every advertiser has different needs. The very same economy can mean very different things from business to business. One thing Kelly was sure of is that the businesses that stuck with 101 ESPN during this time were going to need to change their messaging in their spots.
One of those clients is the local St. Louis brewery Urban Chestnut. In better times, business and marketing operations manager Ashley Troutman says the benefit of partnering with 101 ESPN is that the station that lives and dies with the Cardinals and Blues enforces the fact that Urban Chestnut’s beers are locally brewed.
“Our sales rep reached out and offered great advice and guidance,” Troutman says.
So much about Urban Chestnut’s business has changed in recent weeks. They’re now focusing on take out for both food and beer at their two St. Louis locations. They’ve also pulled back on advertising for the time being. Troutman though has many good things to say about working with 101 ESPN’s parent company Hubbard Broadcasting.
“Hubbard has been a great partner. They are proactive about finding ways to work creatively with our budget and resources. They often keep us posted on opportunities that are perfect fits for our brand.”
“We are in unprecedented times, and our clients are relying on our marketing expertise,” Hannah says. “We are committed to helping them not only survive, but thrive, as their business operations evolve.”
When I say that the same economy can mean very different things from business to business, I’m thinking about grocery stores. It’s a business that is thriving right now. Ideally, we would only be using them to get the essentials and spacing out our trips as long as we can. The reality is, going to the grocery store has become a welcomed reason to spend significant time outside of your house.
“What we’re experiencing is unprecedented. No severe winter weather warning can compare,” says Schnucks Markets brand manager Zach Collins. “The meaning of ‘we’re all in this together’ couldn’t be more evident than in a grocery store right now. From our teammates that are making sure our stores are stocked and clean while almost everyone else is required to stay at home, to our shoppers that are being calm and looking out for one another — we’re really seeing the best in people.”
Collins says that the company, which is headquartered in St. Louis, values the image that comes along with advertising on the market’s top sports station. It says that the people that work inside of Schnuck’s stores are as passionate about St. Louis teams as the people that are shopping there. The company is a part of the community, and that’s an important message and image to own right now.
“We started evaluating our advertising, across all channels, as soon as we started seeing the rush to the stores. We didn’t reduce our levels. For us, it was more about deciding what our messaging should be,” Collins says. “As a grocery store that has been a part of the fabric of St. Louis for generations, we saw our advertising as an opportunity to address what was happening, to thank our teammates for their tireless hard work in the stores, and to assure our customers that we’re here, we’re open, and we’re all in this together.”
The company’s advertisements don’t include grocery prices right now. Instead, Collins says the messaging is about how Schnuck’s can help. They advertise how they are keeping stores safe through social distancing measures, and make sure that people who have lost jobs are aware that Schnuck’s is hiring. Most importantly, the ads are thanking the people that have to be at work right now to serve the needs of others.
Tracie Bibb is an Allstate Insurance agent and runs the Bibb Agency. She stands out to 101 ESPN listeners, because most of her advertising is built around call-ins and endorsements, all of which end with her shouting out the Stanley Cup champs!
“Yes, people know me as the ‘Go Blues Girl,'” she says. “It can sometimes be a curse because I can’t even go to the doctor without people recognizing my name. They’ll strike up a conversation with me about the guys on the radio.”
There may not be as many people looking for insurance right now, but there are still some. Tracie though told me it’s long-term thinking that has her remaining on 101 ESPN at this time.
“I need to be consistent in my marketing. If I’m not, the phone will not ring now. If I stop, it will take me months to get things rolling again. If I stay consistent, when things open up the phones will too.”
So what do the ads sound like? Well, just like Schnuck’s, the Bibb Agency has stopped pushing product for the moment. Tracie says that her sales rep from the station has helped her craft the right message for the moment.
“Barb works hard to think of how best to market my business, and that is exactly what she did in this moment of need. We brainstormed the message we wanted to convey, mainly being their for people during this time of need.”
I’m certainly not the first to write about the importance of relationships in the advertising business. Kelly Hannah knows the relationships she and her staff have nurtured for months/years are a big factor in 101 ESPN and Hubbard being able to weather the storm, and keep their business alive.
That isn’t a fact that just the sales staff understands. Hannah credits the air staff of 101 ESPN for building relationships with the advertisers too. Those are even more important right now in some cases.
“They routinely go above and beyond, just like our ownership does, and it’s been wonderful to see our on-air crew working with clients to tweak messaging and do everything they can to support our partners through this crisis,” she says of the station’s hosts. “It’s a partnership in the truest sense of the word and it absolutely makes a difference as clients are evaluating where and how to spend their money.”
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.