I’m a fan of a variety of music and one group who’s style I’ve grown fond of the past 7-8 years is the heavy metal band Avenged Sevenfold. Initially the band’s earlier songs lacked flow from start to finish. They’d feature some excellent riffs, lyrics and instrumental parts but when the songs were completed they felt like they were missing something. I could tell the band’s talent was there but they hadn’t figured out how to put it all together.
As the years passed, I’ve noticed how the group has matured and become more focused and serious about the song writing process. Their songs now sound well organized and have a much stronger flow and the lyrics and melodies have become much stronger. Coincidentally they’re selling more records now than they ever have before.
Now you’re probably thinking “what the heck does that have to do with sports talk radio” and actually there’s a specific reason why I’m bringing it up. Make sure to read the question and answer exchange at top of the article. In it you’ll notice some of the feedback from Guitarist Zacky Vengeance who talked to Revolver Magazine about the involvement of a producer in the band’s music making process.
This is important because it’s no different than what occurs in radio. In this case, the “talent” went in with a closed mind and initially rejected the idea of coaching and constructive criticism, only to discover later that when they embraced it, they made better music. When people collaborate and keep an open mind to the content creation process, more times than not the result is better than when one tries to go it alone.
I’m not pointing this out so you’ll enter your building tomorrow and give your producer a big hug and tell them you’ll listen to them in the future. Doing that and changing your approach isn’t going to unlock some magical formula that is going to assure you of having a kick ass show that dominates in the ratings.
Instead I’m bringing it up to illustrate the value in having a strong producer involved in the daily process. In many cases, this individual is another supporter and believer in your abilities and they’re willing to be honest, candid and helpful to seeing you reach your full potential as a personality.
One thing that always stands out to me is how similar the responses are when I talk to different talent about how they measure their growth or improvement. Most will say stuff like “we chat as a show about what we thought worked and that determines if we’re making progress or not“, “the ratings tell us if what we’re doing is working” and my personal favorite “you can feel when it’s good or when it isn’t“.
While there’s some validity to those responses, how can anyone truly show performance improvement if these are the ways talent go through the improvement and coaching process? If I asked you as a host to show me a clear difference of something you’ve worked on and improved upon over the past 90 days could you do it? Maybe some could but I guarantee most couldn’t.
Call me old fashioned but I still believe there is an art to creating great radio and it starts with preparation, shared vision and a game plan to track success. If those things aren’t in place or don’t matter and regular feedback isn’t provided, then how can you tell if you’re any better or different than from when you first spoke to an audience on a microphone? Aside from a possible voice change or different PD opinion, you’re going to be hard pressed to prove you’ve grown as a broadcaster.
Think for a second about professional sports and how it relates to this situation. I’ll use Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw as my examples since they’re both at the top of their games. Each spends a few hours watching video to study their own performances as well as their opponents tendencies and they’ll seek out further opinion from their managers, coaches and fellow teammates in order to make sure they’re set up to have success. Why do they do it? To get better and help their teams win.
These guys spend 9-10 hours per day at their jobs, they travel constantly and juggle media, fans and sponsor requests plus find time to sleep, spend time with their families, work out and do some things to take their mind off the game. Still they find time to evaluate their work and the competition. Oh and they do this while making millions! They’ve got plenty of excuses to be lazy but they don’t use them because they’re focused on always getting better.
Sports isn’t the only industry that’s relatable. Let’s use an example from the movie business. Leonardo DiCaprio makes millions to shoot a movie and I’m sure some directors would probably just let him walk into a room and say “do whatever you want and we’ll film it and make it great” but instead a guy like DiCaprio seeks out top notch directors like Martin Scorsese who are going to challenge him and cast him in roles that help him be his very best. There’s obviously a respect and trust between director and actor and due to that connection, the product on the screen is usually strong and movie fanatics show their appreciation by filling up theatres to watch their work.
Most radio talent have more time available, less distractions and a lot less money than a professional athlete or film star yet most don’t make time to assess how they’re performing, what they’re going to do to get better going forward and how they’re going to measure it. Some personalities never listen back to their work or embrace hearing what’s less than stellar on the show and it baffles me because if you’re not willing to hear honesty from those who care and appreciate your talents then how do you expect to grow?
This is why I chose today to focus on the producer-talent relationship. If a show truly wants to grow and find its groove, it starts with those two individuals and then it extends to the Program Director. No full-time show tandem spends more time together than Host-Producer so if that combination isn’t clicking, the rest of the product can be in big trouble.
Those who have worked for me have heard me use this following example. Inside any radio station, I see the Program Director as the Head Coach, the Producer as the Offensive Coordinator and the On-Air talent as the Quarterback. We must all to agree on what style of offense we’re going to play before we hit the field but once we’re out there, we need to trust our training, work together on the game plan and respect, understand and utilize what each other does so we can have individual and team success.
If you’re a producer and you think you’re going to instruct your talent to “do as they’re told“, good luck getting anything done. They’re the star the audience is paying to see and you need to respect that, appreciate it and remember it. You can put things down on paper and beat someone up for every small detail that gets missed but if you don’t enjoy the wins and remind your on-air talent of when they do something outstanding, you’ll never get the full support you’re seeking.
Some producers think that doing a talk show is easy and formatics should never be missed but that’s not realistic. That’s like expecting Peyton Manning to never throw an interception. Clearly he has the talent to make every throw on the field and his intention isn’t to make a mistake but people are human and they screw up sometimes.
I remember meeting once in St. Louis with a group of producers and when I raised the question of why we weren’t supplying our talent with more information to further support their opinions on the air, I was told that it required a lot more work and the talk show hosts were paid a lot to know to sports so they should know it all.
I then asked the group “can you remember the 5-6 bullet points to one of your topics from earlier today“? After being told they could, I took a group of producers down the hall to a production studio, turned on a microphone and had them each try to do a 10-minute segment recalling what they thought they remembered from earlier that day. Not one lasted 2 minutes.
The purpose of the exercise wasn’t to demonstrate that they couldn’t host a show like a personality could, it was to make them aware of just how tough it is to remember everything inside your head. When you have the benefit of information in front of you on paper or on a screen and when you know you have someone in your corner who’s trying to give you details to help you along, you’re going to be more likely to place your faith in them. If the producer maintained the initial mindset that existed when we first entered that meeting, the talent would have lost respect, trust and interest in working with him in the future.
What people off the air sometimes lose sight of is that doing a 3-4 hour radio show 5 days per week and being entertaining, compelling and interesting to an audience is very hard! Even the best in the business have off-days and off-segments. The challenge is getting your people past those bumps in the road and not letting it become a consistent issue.
On the other hand, if you’re a talent, you need to be cognizant of the fact that your shit does stink some time and the one who’s going to tell you, is the person who’s in your corner the most, your producer. If you really care about being great, then you have to be open minded to feedback and criticism. It comes with the territory. If Peyton Manning can face millions of people after an off-day in the Super Bowl, then you should be able to handle some dialogue with your producer.
Most producer’s have good intentions and want to earn the trust and respect of their hosts. If they’re being hard on a host for breaking late, blowing off a tease or asking bad questions during an interview, they’re doing it because they know the host can do better and they want to help that person reach their full potential. They take pride in the show just like the host does and they want to see their hard work pay off in the eyes of the audience, their peers and their bosses.
One misconception I’ve seen and heard too many times in multiple markets from a number of hosts is what they believe a producer’s job is. Many think the job is to book 2-3 guests, print a few stories off the internet, answer the phones, grab coffee and stay out of the way. That is not a producer. That is called a “yes man”. You can break it into other parts too such as “booker”, “information gatherer”, “call screener”, “runner”, etc.
A producer is going to work with you to “produce” content and shape the vision for the show and do everything in their power to see that the vision becomes a reality. They’re not there to sit back and wonder where the show is going or why it’s going there. Having a plan and an agreed upon destination that both people are aware of shouldn’t require pulling teeth.
If someone is working on a show with you and they’re not challenging you on where things are going or asking to be more involved with the layout then that’s when you should be concerned as a host. Anyone who cares about the program and helping you deliver a great product is going to want to work with you on the show’s creation. They’re also going to look for ways to add to the presentation while the show is in progress because having an idea of what’s going to take place fosters more creativity.
For those who produce shows, think of the way you approach your show each day and ask yourself “what’s the one thing I’ve worked on with my host in the past 30-60 days to make them better“? If you can’t identify it, then it’s something you’re going to want to work on.
Maybe you’re waiting for the feedback to come from the mouth or email of your PD but if you want the respect of your talent, then you can lead the charge too when you hear an opportunity for something to improve. If the only time you speak up to offer advice is when the PD is present, how do you expect the host to trust your evaluation of their work?
If you’ve thought about the areas where your personality can improve but haven’t been able to come up with a plan for how to make it better that’s ok. In that case, talk to your PD and let them know what you think could be tighter on the show and give some examples to support your beliefs. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it and then work with you to come up with a strategy for how to measure improvement.
I’ll wrap this piece up with this, if your future earning potential and length of stay at your current place of work was measured on your ratings growth or being able to demonstrate improvement in what you’re doing, what would you put your faith in? One system is flawed and out of your control, the other is in your hands and only takes your commitment, creating a detailed plan and holding yourself accountable.
If you produce a show, listen to it closer and think of the places inside of it where you can help. If you’re on the air, think of the advantage you have by having a trusted colleague working next to you to help you create a great show. In some markets, personalities are producing their own shows and I know a few who have also had to host while producing and running their own board. That’s not fun but neither is the flip side, paying for great support, only to have the host not value it or utilize it.
Here’s a challenge for you. Host/Producer, identify one thing you both agree could be better on the show and spend the next 30 days trying to make it better. Whether it’s your teases going to break, resetting the show during segments, improving the pace of the show, shortening your interviews or diving into content faster at the start of segments. There are a ton of other possibilities too but that gives you some things to get started.
Pull some audio to show how it sounds when it works or fails and come up with a game plan for what you’re going to do differently to make it better. Step back in 30 days to see where you’re at and continue the dialogue with one another to keep finding ways to make the show feel better and more fulfilling.
Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t be in your position if you didn’t have ability to do the job. However, a lot of people have talent and those who push themselves to continue improving go further. Great ones like Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan and Derek Jeter didn’t need to be told to accept coaching, work with their teammates or find ways to measure and improve their performances regularly, they did it because they wanted to be the best at what they did.
If they could do it then there’s no reason you can’t. Measuring your improvement isn’t difficult and it’s not a bad place to start when showing your bosses why you’re worth a larger investment down the road. Then again, if you don’t want to go that way, you can always put your fate in the hands of the Nielsen gods. Please be sure to let me know how that turns out for you.
Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas
“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”
Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.
The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.
It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.
For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.
Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.
But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.
I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.
Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.
Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.
Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.
Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.
You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.
With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.
Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.
Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media
“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”
Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.
As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.
As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.
I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.
But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.
Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.
I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.
Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.
These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.
If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.
I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.
Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure
“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”
If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.
When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.
Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.
It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.
In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.
I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.
We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.
Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.
This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.
Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.
Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.
I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.
For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.
That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.
But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.
Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.
How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.
The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.
Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.
Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.
You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.
I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.
Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.
One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.
Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.
It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.
Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?
I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.