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Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

“You may not know John Sawatsky’s name or face but if you watch any of ESPN’s programming, his work is on display every single night.”

Jason Barrett

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During my 20+ years in the sports media business I’ve learned from many great leaders, personalities, friends and rivals. I subscribe to the theory that you should always keep looking for ways to challenge yourself, and one area where improvements can be made in our business is when it comes to conducting interviews.

While spending 2+ years at ESPN in Bristol, CT, I had a chance to sit opposite Dan Patrick on a daily basis. I learned what a good interview should sound like. In my humbled opinion Dan is one of the best of all time when it comes to interviewing people.

Equally as important and even more of a factor on my growth were the training sessions I had a chance to participate in with the architect of interviewing John Sawatsky. Most people won’t know John by name or face but if you watch NFL Live, Baseball Tonight, SportsCenter or any other form of ESPN programming, his work is on display every single night.

John created a workshop built around eliminating what he referred to as the “7 Deadly Sins of Interviewing” and in this blog I’m going to take you through each of those sins and explain why his methods make sense. Most of what’s laid out below is what John passed on during the training sessions but I’ve since changed some of the audio samples and a few of the teachings to make it more adaptable to my style and those I’ve worked with.

Keys To Being a Good Interviewer

Interviewing is one area of journalism that has NOT improved over time. Everything else has, but this is one skill that has gone down. The question and interview are two different things and have different designs. Questions are very powerful and fragile and are in place to generate response and receive information. The interview as a whole is supposed to contain a series of questions which will help us better understand and learn new information about the individual or subject we are speaking with.

Yet often the broadcaster sleepwalks through interviews and throws any questions out there without a specific purpose. In certain situations the interviewer aims to become the star of the conversation and create conflict and visual drama which for the entertainment portion of television or radio may be good but for the purpose of the interview doesn’t deliver what it was intended to do.

Part I: The Question

We look at a car and we don’t know how it works. We like it until it breaks down. The mechanic knows how to fix it. The mechanic is professionally trained and knows about the moving parts. You are the mechanic for your interview. You need to know the moving parts for when your interview breaks down.

Why did CBS fall flat in interviewing Phil Mickelson after the Masters?

We blame the car — it’s a lousy car. “No one can make Phil interesting.”

The answers you get are a function of the question asked.

Every question has two purposes: big and little.

Your question is the only tool. No one HAS to talk to us. We have to rely on questions. We use the question to move it along from Point A to Point B. Each question is moving it forward. That movement is the Big Purpose.

The question’s small purpose is to gather information incrementally. But the big purpose and small purpose are separate. Like the transmission and engine of car. You need both, but they are completely different.

Simply defined: A question is an inquiry into something.

If you can name something, you can deal with it. The name “West Coast Offense” communicates meaning without having to describe the whole system. So we will define terms.

Question = Topic + Query

If you understand that, you can ask questions with amazing precision. Think of a non-digital camera. The lens determines what’s in the picture. The shutter makes the camera operate. Lens is your topic – what you’re looking at. Shutter is the query – what does the work.

DEADLY SIN #1 — NO QUERY

About 20 percent of what we ask doesn’t have a catalyst, an engine.

EXAMPLE – Barbara Walters with “The Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin’s Wife

Q: “You’ve lost him and you feel that you were blessed”

A: “I feel I was so blessed”

The query could be, “How can you feel blessed by losing the one you love most” or “Why do you believe you were blessed when you’ve just lost the one who mattered most to you”?

Both examples put the guest in a position to describe and explain rather than confirm or ignore. The content is a result of the process. Rapport is great, but it’s not necessary. A statement proclaims something. A question creates a demand. We have to make our questions do the work to get people to talk to us.

EXAMPLE – Texas Rangers OF Josh Hamilton on ESPN

Q: “When you were in the worst of the worst it just took over”

A: Consumed me. I was basically killing myself inside.

How could the question have been asked to get Hamilton to elaborate further?

EX: “What led to this disease getting the better of you?” “Why was this disease able to take control of you?” “How did this become as bad as it did?”

Once again, if the question asked is delivered with the intention of getting the subject to describe, explain and inform, we’ll learn more new information and deliver better results.

The query is akin to blocking and tackling. It’s basic to making everything work.

DEADLY SIN #2 — DOUBLE-BARRELED QUESTIONS

This is even more popular as a sin than the first deadly sin. This is when the interviewer elects to present the guest with two questions at once. Almost every time the guest is going to select the less challenging portion of the discussion.

EXAMPLE – Katie Couric with Barack Obama

Q: If you believe Afghanistan is the central front in the war on terror, why was this your first trip there and why didn’t you hold a single hearing as chairman of a sub-committe that oversees the fighting force there?

A: Actually the sub committee that I chair is the European sub-committee, and any issues related to Afghanistan were always dealt with in the full committee. Precisely because it’s so important. That’s not a matter that you would deal with in a sub-committee setting.

Obama goes to the one he prefers. People default to the safest, most favorable, least dangerous question.

EXAMPLE – Keith Olbermann with Hillary Clinton.

Q: What do you think of the draft Gore stories and do you think even after all this time that you’ll wind up facing him still in the primaries?

A: I’m hoping he wins and I’m waiting to hear the announcement from the Nobel committee and I hope that we give that well deserved honor to VP Gore.

We typically do this because we are in rush, want to narrow or broaden focus, want to get the story in, for dramatic effect (especially on TV). A single barrel question hanging out there doesn’t seem like that much. Often it’s because we are trying to overcome our own internal doubt about our first question. Sometimes it’s because we want to hear our own voice. And sometimes we just don’t know what the question is.

Those are only some of the reasons. Sometime you just build up too much momentum. You have to slow down before a stop sign. When we finish the question, our voice drops. Sometimes the second question is just to get the voice from 50 mph to 0. But the damage is done. The double barreled question gives the subject a ramp off the highway. You do not want to do that.

DEADLY SIN #3 — OVERLOADING

A question can’t support a topic that is too broad, or multiple topics. “What do you think about sports?” is just too broad. In the case of overloading, this is when the interviewer tries to jam 3-4 and sometimes even 5-6 questions into one exchange. Once again you’ll find the guest picks and chooses what part they wish to respond to.

EXAMPLE – Bill O’Reilly Interview of Howard Stern

Q:  So 80-100 million a year go into your corporation. You go on Sirius the satellite radio channel. How are they going to make a profit? How many people are going to go over and what are they like, $50 bucks for a subscription?

A: Is it my problem if they make a profit? Is that my worry? They paid me to go there and entertain the people and that’s what I’ll do

Howard gets defensive and answers the first part and never addresses the challenges of expecting consumers to pay for the product or touching on what he believes the future growth of the company will be due to his arrival.

EXAMPLE – Steve Kroft’s interview with Bill Clinton after the Jennifer Flowers rumors surface

Q: You said that your marriage has had problems. What do you mean by that? Does that mean you were separated? You had communication problems? You contemplated divorce? Adultery?

A: I think the American people, at least those who have been married know exactly what that means.

Clinton is bombarded with too many things at once to address anything specifically so once again the guest gravitates to the area that’s easiest to deal with.

Overloading is a cousin to the double barrel. Using the pizza principle: Usually the more toppings the better, for more flavor. With questions, less is more.

DEADLY SIN #4 — REMARKS

This is the most common violation of interviewing. Any time you put remarks OF ANY KIND in a question then you are offering another off ramp to the highway you’re trying to stay on. YOU DON”T NEED REMARKS. If you feel like you need to make a remark, then the question is flawed. You need to break up the question into several questions.

Newton’s Law: every action creates an equal and opposite reaction. There are no neutral remarks. Everything makes an impact.

Think of a fax machine. It has two functions: send and receive. Don’t go into send mode — giving information — when you want to receive information.

EXAMPLE: Mike Francesa with Joe Girardi

Q: Everyone talks about a fast start. It’s been so hard for the Yankees to get off to a fast start in the last 4-5 years. It’s part of being a veteran team. I don’t think it’s that I think it’s just probably being lucky health-wise and also getting your pitching ready to be ready on opening day. When you think about getting off to a fast start which I know you’d like to do I think it’s about getting your pitching ready.

A: I wholeheartedly agree. We have to get our pitching ready and we need to make sure all of our starters are ready to go and our bullpen is healthy and pitching is going to keep us in games.

Francesa simply dominates the discussion with his opinion and doesn’t ask Girardi to enlighten him at all about the club’s lack of getting off to a fast start. Instead he’s looking for validation to his opinion from Girardi which he receives but the end result is :30 seconds of chatter with nothing new learned from the guest.

EX: “Why has this team had such a difficult time getting off to a fast start?” “What adjustments have you made to make sure this team doesn’t come out of the gate slow this season?”

EXAMPLE: Sean Hannity interview with Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska

Q: I am mad at the Republican party. As a matter of fact I am re-registering in NY as a conservative. I consider myself as a Reagan conservative. I predicted year out that they would lose power in 2006 because I believe they’ve abandoned their principles on spending. They haven’t given a solution to our energy dependence. They haven’t controlled our nation’s borders. The earmarks they’ve got worse than the democrats. If republicans continue down this path they deserve to lose don’t they.

A: Well sure because the power is in the hands of the party that controls the congress in the white house.

The final part of the question gives them an out. The power comes from focusing a topic and subjecting it to them. When people want to escape questions, they will resort to a volume answer — they will take on a different premise. In this question, all Hannity did was get Hagel to agree with his opinion. Not once did he ask Hagel to provide insight or opinion on how he viewed the republican’s efforts. He didn’t ask him how he felt they were matching up to the democrats in the eyes of the public. Instead he just sought validation to his opinion. The result = no insight learned from the guest.

DEADLY SIN #5 — TRIGGER WORDS

Often when we interview a guest there are certain stories that emerge that we have to ask about. If we don’t we compromise our credibility. When difficult areas of a conversation arise it’s extremely important to stay neutral. By leading your question in a specific direction you place yourself in a position to have the interview go south!

EXAMPLE: John Stossel interviews pro wrestler Dr. D David Schultz.

Q: I’ll ask you the standard question. I think it’s fake.

A:: [Smacks him hard, Stossel falls down] – You think it’s fake huh?

Who attacked whom? This was a physical attack from the wrestler. But Stossel instigated, and those can be lasting and deep.

EXAMPLE: Andrew Dice Clay on CNN (there is foul language in this clip)

Q: You were a headline guy and now you’re coming back

A: I’m still a headline guy

Q: For a while you popped out but now you’re coming back

A: Coming back? It’s what I do.

Q: You were running a gym for a while. Tell us about that?

A: Running a gym? You’re supposed to be a news guy, where are you getting your information from? This is ridiculous, I come on CNN and the guy doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.

Every question is made up of words that each have independent meanings. Sometimes people will react to the meaning of a word. The trigger word eats the question. It sets someone off. You put a trigger word in your question, and you can just forget that the subject will answer.

DEADLY SIN #6 — HYPERBOLE

What is hyperbole? This is what comedians do. It’s great at driving home a point.

Leno: It was so cold that the accuser at Duke changed her story, she now said it was the ice hockey team.

When you’re hungry, you’re starved. When you’re bored, you’re bored to tears. Really? No one takes it literally. We use hyperbole all the time. It can be useful as long as it does not mislead. Was the shot really heard round the world? No, but this makes our copy colorful and gets the point across, so there’s a role for hyperbole — and that hyperbole is when we are in “send mode. ”

Think about a voice over. It’s job is to paint a picture and excite you BUT Hyperbole is bad if you are in receive mode. If you put hyperbole in a question, you are done. The focus becomes the excess in your question. And that excess is the exit ramp. We are communicators. We receive and send. That’s all we do. The problem is that each are governed by opposite principles. What makes you good in one makes you bad in another.

TV –the journalists who are the most colorful are usually the worst interviewers. They can send but can’t receive. The great exporters are lousy importers.

EXAMPLE: Ed Bradley with Michael Jordan

Q: There were times when you’d elevate to take your shot and it was like you had another gear up there. Like you were flying.

A: Well we all fly. Some just fly higher than others.

What is Jordan supposed to do with that question? It’s small talk with no purpose.

EXAMPLE: Barbara Walters interviewing Jon Benet Ramsey’s parents

Q: They call Jon Benet a six year old Lolita, a pint sized sex kitten.

A: That didn’t come from Jon Benet.

What do you expect a mother and father to say when asked a question like that? If the question was “How does it make you feel when you hear people say that your daughter was a 6 year old pint-sized sex kitten”? This now makes it about their feelings towards the question instead of disagreeing with the characterization of their daughter and based on the question, you’re likely to get a strong response.

If you put hyperbole in your question, you will get understatement in your answers.

DEADLY SIN #7 — CLOSED QUERIES

This is the worst one and as John Sawatsky would say “it has a special place in hell.” We ask twice as many closed queries than open ones. A closed query is a yes/no question. A closed query only works with an absolute topic — a topic that, like a coin, can only be one or the other. Heads or tails. No in between.

EXAMPLE: Larry King Interviews Paris Hilton

Q: Purpose of jail is to teach a lesson. Did it work with you?

A: It was a very traumatic experience but I feel like God makes everything happen for a reason

Q: Think it changed you?

A: Yeah definitely

Q: Read a lot?

A: A lot. I received fan mail from all around the world. So many letters.

Q: Nicole Ritchie. How’s she doing?

A: She’s doing great

This interview with Paris was a classic case of having a flawed plan from the start. The easy response is to suggest that Paris isn’t a good interview but listen closely to the questions and you’ll find that she’s led to pointless places and never put in a position to have to provide detail. Of all the interviews I’ve listened to in my life this one ranks right up there among the worst of all-time!

When interviewers land big opportunities and fail to take advantage of them, it can lead to national criticism from other media outlets. The last thing you want is to be professionally embarrassed for doing a poor job. Take a listen to the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News the following night and how they reacted to King’s interview.

Great interviews are ones that bring surprises, something we didn’t already know or didn’t expect. What is the problem with using a closed query for a topic that is not absolute? First, let’s look at the moving parts inside a query that work together for an effective question. (Don’t think about this in terms of content — that’s the paint on the car. We’re talking about the engine).

Review:
Topic + Query = Question

If a topic is not absolute, it must be relative. Almost all of our topics are relative. What we are trying to find out in most interviews is beyond absolute information. We want people to describe change that is incremental. A relative topic would be the position of a door. It could be open at different stages — half open, barely ajar. If you simply want to know if the door is locked or unlocked, then go ahead and use a closed query. Topics such as fairness, power, freedom, justice are matters of degree. Great reporters listen to what the person values and get them to go further than they have ever gone.

What poor interviewers do: when they don’t get answers, they blame the subject. But it’s the interviewer’s fault. Why not go for the confession? Isn’t that the best story to be gotten?

Here’s the danger of using closed queries with relative topics: The tougher the topic, the more your subject feels backed into a corner. You have given them only one extreme or the other. Morality is really good or really bad? No, there are many shades in between.

If you are trying to understand someone, especially on a sensitive subject, you must use an open query to create a safe zone for your subject to explain their side. With a closed query, a subject often answers a closed query with one of the two extremes offered. But once they have chosen their extreme — the yes or no — they can’t move. They’ll lose face. They are going to deny to protect themselves. They are not going to feel safe to explain themselves. This can even damage gathering information on a fluffy subject.

Conclusion

Have a game plan and ask open ended questions and put your guests in positions that require them to share their insights with you. The goal is to create an atmosphere which is neutral and invites the guest to speak about themselves and what they know while steering them in the direction you wish to take them in. Remember, you can still be tough with your questioning while being fair and you will always get a better response when asking questions that request an answer.

This is a game of percentages and while nothing is guaranteed, you will win more times than not by following these methods. Nobody bats .1000 but if a hitter could bat .400 instead of .300 they’d use the advantages every time up to the plate, interviewing is no different.

Here are two interviews that contain great questions and a smart strategy. You’ll find the momentum continues moving forward with each question, the guest is put in position to describe and explain and each interviewer keeps a neutral position which leads to gaining the information they seek.

Suzy Kolber of ESPN with former Cincinnati Bengals Wide Receiver Chad Johnson

John Sawatsky’s classic Beaver Interview example from Canada

Keys to being a better interviewer

The Primary Impulses
Safe
Favorable
Easy

The Intruders
Social
Professional
Personal

Communication/Journalism
Inputter                                     Outputter

Interviewer
Micro    Macro

Question = Topic + Query

Deadly Sin #1 = No Query
Deadly Sin #2 = Double Barreled Question
Deadly Sin # 3 = Overloading
Deadly Sin # 4 = Remarks
Deadly Sin # 5 = Trigger Words
Deadly Sin # 6 = Hyperbole
Deadly Sin # 7 = Closed Question

Verb Non-Starters = Do, Does, Did, Have, Has, Had, Is, Are, Was, Were, Will, Would, Can, Could, Should

  • Chart a Path
  • Set a Goal – Choose a direction
  • Locate the starting point – Before change/conflict/contrast
  • Connect the dots – struggle/reason
  • Select a route – When/What
  • Do It – Forward/Backward, On/Off, Enhance/Advance
  • Mop Up – U-Turns, Tangents, Less Important Stuff, Hunches, The Left Overs

Goal = To discover and scrutinize the change

Top 10 Questions 
10. What’s an example?
9. How did you deal with that?
8. What were the options?
7. What was the turning point?
6. In what way?
5. How would you characterize that?
4. Why is that?
3. What is it like?
2. What do you mean?
1. What happened?

Honorable Mentions
What is the effect?
What are the implications?
What do you make of it?
How does it manifest itself?
How did you feel?
What went thru your mind?
What was your reaction?
How did you arrive at that?
How does that work?

Barrett Blogs

Barrett Sports Media To Launch Podcast Network

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

Which brings me to today’s announcement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Barrett Blogs

5 Mistakes To Avoid When Pursuing Media Jobs

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

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Would Local Radio Benefit From Hosting An Annual Upfront?

Jason Barrett

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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