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The Talkers’ Heavy Hundred Misses The Mark

Jason Barrett

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On Thursday, Talker’s released its 4th annual Heavy Hundred of Sports Talk Radio, and as you’d expect it’s creating a lot of noise. Lists are very effective in terms of generating debate and discussion. When the focus becomes sports radio personalities and radio stations, that stirs even more emotion. Having created a few pieces like this myself, I know how subjective these things can be. So I recognize how difficult this project can be for the Talkers crew.

talkersTo assemble a piece like this and generate buzz is very easy. It’s the evidence though that supports each decision that determines if the list carries any weight. The outlet behind the piece also is important. There’s no question that Talkers has been a reputable source for talk radio for a long time. That’s why the “Heavy Hundred” creates interest throughout our industry. People in radio want to feel like their work is being recognized and measured by those who understand the challenges of doing it. Not by those who are uninformed or wearing rose colored glasses.

When I clicked on the link yesterday to review the list, I hoped to be pleased with the final result. I wanted to believe that quality research was done to showcase the industry’s best but once again I was left with more questions than answers. There also seems to be a bias directed towards certain shows, stations, and cities.

On Wednesday, Talkers posted on their website what some of their criteria was for the “Heavy Hundred”. They stressed that the final results are admittedly subjective and a number of factors determine who makes the cut. Which qualities mattered most though was not clear.

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I thought it was worth researching to find out which criteria was most important and if the decision making was done in collaboration with different radio companies and programmers or if it was done independently. Many stations and industry professionals have been led to believe that there is a group of industry executives determining these results.

I started my investigation by reaching out to more than 50 Program Directors and Corporate Executives. I asked them how involved they were in sharing feedback with Talkers for their process. Only one Program Director said they had shared their input with the company. Whether Talkers asked for it or even considered it is unknown.

Next, I reached out to Talkers to get an idea of how they handle the process. The three questions I posed were:

  • Who takes part in the selection committee for deciding the Top 100? (Are they strictly folks from the magazine/website or are managers from different radio groups included)
  • Which factors matter the most in determining where you slot a show? (Ex: Ratings, Revenue, Market size, Longevity, etc.)
  • If ratings are taken into account, are you looking at 6+, 12+ or the format’s key demo Men 25-54?

harrisonMichael Harrison, the company’s Editor and Publisher, didn’t address the questions directly but he did offer the publication’s perspective. He said “putting this list together is based on as much art and subjectivity as it is objective and empirical. In other words, this is not an “official” PPM-style ratings project based on a hard methodology – but rather, an impression based on a combination of information and opinions and that’s the way we want it to stay. Lists like this are thought-stimulators and not to be taken TOO seriously.”

What Michael said in his last line is very important to be aware of. The list is meant to be a fun, thought provoking piece, that highlights the best in the format through the eyes and ears of the editors at Talkers Magazine. It’s not industry involved by design and whether a show finishes 1st or 100th, simply earning recognition from an industry resource like Talkers should make a talent and radio station feel good.

But therein lies the issue. Talkers has done a great job at building a brand that the radio industry values. They have a larger responsibility to showcase the industry properly. A fun subjective list that’s not to be taken seriously is something we should expect from our friends on Facebook. Not from one of the radio industry’s leading publications.

Yesterday after the list was released, I received five different press releases from radio stations pumping up their people who were on the “Heavy Hundred”. That tells me that the industry takes this list very seriously. One particular quote stood out. David Dickey with 680 The Fan in Atlanta said “We are thrilled that experts in the sports industry recognize The Fan as the most credible and most consumed sports station in Atlanta, airing some of the best sports-talk shows in the country”.

There’s one problem with that quote. Experts in the sports industry did NOT participate in this project. It was done independently by the editors at Talkers.

Being a former Program Director who studies this format as intently as I do, there are a couple of issues I believe need to be addressed. Most of the Talkers group are based on the East Coast. Call me cynical but I don’t believe they are listening to sports stations in the South, Midwest, or West Coast on a regular basis. Nor do I believe they are in tune with how impactful, successful or not successful, some of those brands and personalities are.

nielsenI also know that gaining access to a station’s ratings and revenue is very difficult. Especially when you take into account that the key demo for the format (Men 25-54) isn’t made available to the public. You can dissect 6+ and 12+ numbers but those are not what accurately reflect a sports station’s performance. You can also see total revenue for a brand but that doesn’t tell you which personalities bring in the dough and which ones don’t.

As I analyzed the list, my initial impression is that many of the shows selected were chosen based on reputation of brand and longevity of show. I don’t believe ratings and revenue factored heavily into the equation as previously suggested. It feels more to me like “The Reputation 100” than a review of the best of 2015.

One other thing that I noticed that is very troublesome is that this list rarely changes. There’s no way in the world of radio ratings and revenue (where things change constantly) that you’re going to convince me that these shows have produced the same for the past 3 years. The only time you’ll see major changes are when shows no longer exist or guys who recently started with a station are lower one year and higher the next. Take some time and look at the lists for 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015. You’ll see a lot of the same results. Here is some photo evidence.

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A few years ago one of my shows made this list and at that time the program had been on the air less than six months and was rated 17th in the market. Another show on my station which didn’t make the list, had spent 2-3 years together and was consistently rated in the Top 5. They were also our highest generating revenue program. I wasn’t asked nor was my General Manager for any information about our station or personalities ratings or revenue.

While that was then, let’s take a look at now.

damonbruceIn San Francisco, Damon Bruce not only generates revenue for 95.7 The Game, but he’s been a Top 5 rated program throughout the past year. If you’re a Top 5 performer in the 4th largest market in America, how can you not be included as one of the industry’s Top 100?

Talkers also said that in addition to ratings and revenue, a few other criteria were important. They included “effort, courage, uniqueness, recognition, impact and doing a show at the time of the list’s release”. Once again, Damon checks all of those boxes. So does Greg Papa and John Lund who work at the same station and have been in the Top 5 for the past 3 years and just finished #1 in October.

But that’s my former radio station so clearly I’m biased right? Well let’s switch coasts then.

Mark Madden does afternoons on 105.9 The X in Pittsburgh. He’s not on a full-time sports station, but he hosts a sports talk show for 4 hours a day in afternoon drive and delivers HUGE double digit ratings and revenue. He also possesses many of the attributes that Talkers said were important. He too though is not on the list. Three of the market’s shows on 93.7 The Fan made the list (deservingly so) so that eliminates any argument about the market being smaller.

innes12Staying in Pennsylvania, Josh Innes hosts afternoon drive on WIP in Philadelphia. He started in that slot in February with Tony Bruno and quickly the show was leading the afternoon ratings battle against Mike Missanelli who’s ranked 15th on the Talkers list. Bruno left the show in July which many thought would hurt the show. But WIP never lost momentum. Innes continued to win afternoons with a new crew.

If I were to ask Andy Bloom who runs WIP, I’m sure he’d tell me their station is making a lot of money by finishing in the top spot in Philadelphia. If Innes is winning in afternoons, and doing so with two different versions of his program during the past calendar year, that should only further help his standing right? Nope. He’s rated 49th.

Missanelli is an exceptional talent and deserves to be in the Top 15. That’s not the issue. A host who’s on a heritage brand and in the same conversation for afternoon ratings and providing many of the qualities that the publication said were necessary shouldn’t be 34 spots away.

That same issue exists in Chicago where Waddle & Silvy (58th) on ESPN 1000 have won multiple months against Boers and Bernstein (18th) on The Score and in Kansas City where “The Drive” with Danny Parkins and Carrington “CDot” Harrison aren’t even on the list, despite doing a great show and leading the ratings against Kevin Keitzman (42nd) from WHB. How Michael Kay of 98.7 ESPN New York is relegated to 56th (third year in a row 55th or 56th) is another head scratcher.

1053Moving south to Dallas, G-Bag Nation airs on 105.3 The Fan and is an incredible program. It beats The Ticket and ESPN 103.3 in middays and is often The Fan’s highest rated show. But once again, the show isn’t on the list. Their competitors who they beat consistently each month are. Norm Hitzges and Donovan Lewis from The Ticket are 79th and Steve Dennis and Mark Friedman are 83rd.

Ben & Skin (who are a really good show) work on the same station as G-Bag Nation and they finished 43rd despite delivering the same or lower numbers than the midday show. If G-Bag Nation produces the top ratings on their station, and beats the two shows (Hitzges & Lewis and Dennis & Friedo) that they line up against, then how are they left out?

Finally, I don’t need ratings evidence, only a good set of ears to know that Bomani Jones, Adam Schein and Dan Dakich are three of America’s best on-air talents. There’s no defense for them not being included. They are way too good to be left off.

In the grand scheme of things, this is only a list. We’re not dealing with a life threatening illness. But shouldn’t we expect some transparency when it involves voting on our entire industry? Is that too much to expect?

aiI remember when sports media people voted for MVP awards and made terrible decisions but couldn’t be held accountable because we didn’t know how they voted. Then two specific situations occurred and it’s been very different since. Fred Hickman voted for Allen Iverson as MVP over Shaq in 2000 and Keith Law placed Javier Vasquez above Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter in the 2009 NL Cy Young voting. Both men received a ton of backlash for their selections and with social media a major part of people’s lives now and accountability being important to the general public, it’s much harder to place a vote and hide.

What frustrates me most is that people in our format really do care about this. They want to be measured fairly and some checks and balances would go a long way towards getting it right. Furthermore, there are stations using this information in local marketplaces to create confusion and present a false narrative for their brands and personalities. It’s similar to when a radio station runs a promo touting itself as America’s #1 sports station, when the truth is that they’re not even rated #1 in their own market. Just because you say something is factual doesn’t mean that it actually is.

The last part I want to draw attention to is SiriusXM. I recognize that the focus of this type of list is going to be on ‘terrestrial’ radio but if we’re identifying the Top 100 sports hosts in America, then shouldn’t they be included? Stephen A. Smith, Evan Cohen and Mark Packer aren’t good enough to make the Top 100? Chris Russo, despite having an entire channel named after him is only the 35th most important? Really?

JBRadioInkIn talking to a number of Program Directors, they’re disappointed because they’re not asked about their shows and stations and they feel that Talkers aren’t privy to key information. I’ve often wondered why Program Directors weren’t interviewed as part of this process. Why consultants like Rick Scott, Tom Bigby and myself who follow the format nationwide and interact with stations and personalities aren’t asked to share a perspective. Why executives like Bruce Gilbert and Scott Masteller weren’t asked for feedback when they operated ESPN Radio and Fox Sports Radio and had regular communication with local stations across the country.

I’d think that Program Directors, Consultants, and Executives like Bruce, Mark Chernoff and Mike Thomas at CBS, Steve Cohen with SiriusXM, and Don Martin with Premiere/Fox Sports could lend some extra insight and information that would be beneficial. Some will say that by talking to them they’ll be biased towards their own people and while that’s probably true, they still have information that’s important. I’m not suggesting they be part of the final decision making process. That should absolutely belong to Talkers. But without knowing key details about many of these stations, it leaves a lot of industry people feeling like the list is very skewed and not well researched.

hiremeIf you’re an On-Air talent and you made the list, be appreciative towards the folks at Talkers who have highlighted your show and clearly value your work. However, just because you made the list, doesn’t mean you deserve a raise or that you should start bombarding other Program Director’s for bigger jobs because you’ve clearly established yourself.

I had one talent reach out to me two years ago and explain why I needed to hire them. They told me that based on their ranking on the Talkers Top 100, it was clear that the entire industry knew they were a difference maker. This individual didn’t finish in the Top 30 so when I responded by asking them “why should I hire you over all of the other shows that finished ahead of you” they didn’t take too kindly to my sarcasm. Now knowing that the survey is done independently by Talkers and without the involvement of the top radio minds in America, that same person may want to craft their wording a little differently.

I’m glad Talkers does this piece each year to give our format and our people some exposure. I know it’s a very hard list to assemble and everyone involved at the publication has to view this project as a love/hate assignment. No matter what they put out, there’s going to be some disagreement with it. By not providing transparency though with their process it leaves them open to additional criticisms.

wfanFrom where I sit, I don’t think you can find much room to argue with the Top 15-20. Personalities like Mike Francesa, Boomer & Carton, Jim Rome, Colin Cowherd and Dan Patrick deserve to be high on the list. In many ways this list reminds me of the NFL Draft. You can identify who the top prospects are but after Round 1 it’s a crapshoot and the great organizations do their homework and strike gold, while others miss the mark and ultimately pay the price for it.

To those that made the list, congratulations. Whether you take it seriously or with a grain of salt, it’s a nice honor. The last thing I wanted to do was rain on Talkers parade but the process and research that goes into this should matter and industry people deserve to know who determines the results and what criteria matters most. Many assumed that top executives and programmers were involved in this process. But they’re not. They’ve also not been spoken to. If some additional conversation takes place, this list could become excellent and one that all groups look forward to being a part of.

For now though, the Talkers Heavy Hundred has become our Santa Claus. It started as a good idea that made us feel good inside, but the more we choose to believe in it, the more disappointed we become.

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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