One of the real benefits of being removed from the inside of a radio station, is that you can analyze things about the industry without having your judgment skewed as a result of being too close to certain situations.
During the past 10 years, I’ve programmed four radio stations, and during that time I’ve always looked forward to ratings day. Usually once per month on a Monday at 12pm, my station’s would receive their report, and get a better understanding of how the audience was connecting with the product, where the strengths of the brand were, and what challenges needed to be addressed.
For some air talent, this was an important day because a strong performance meant a ratings bonus. For sales people it mattered because a good story could help them in their quest to gain larger investments from clients. And for some like myself, it was an opportunity to learn if the vision and execution for the brand was working.
Having had a chance now to step back, and remove myself from the daily rigors of running a station, I don’t miss that part at all. I thought I would but I don’t.
I know what you’re thinking “you’ve always loved ratings, and you’re not in a building, so that’s why it’s not as big of a deal”. Honestly, my opinion is based on a bigger reason – in its current state, the performance of a personality, brand, and talk show, can’t be measured accurately or receive its fair market value!
I could spend all day railing on the ineffective PPM ratings system, but that’s not my focus. The issue I have is with the mindset of our industry, those who buy and sell advertising, and those who have a chance to influence change but accept the status quo.
One of radio’s biggest problems, is that it’s reactionary. Rather than lead the charge to innovate, and introduce new brands, sounds, and people, the business lives in the past, and present.
How many markets can you think of where a personality who has failed or underperformed in the ratings, gets hired by 3-4 different stations? Rather than take the more difficult road, and introduce something new which will have short-term setbacks, but pay long-term dividends, we default to what we are comfortable with. Someone else’s trash becomes our treasure.
That’s not only an on-air problem, it’s a behind the scenes issue too. Sales people rotate back and forth between various stations in each city, because the talent pool is thin, and scouting, recruiting, and developing people is hard. It doesn’t matter if someone has not made budget multiple times for 2-3 other brands, if they join our team, we’ll get them on track.
That sounds good until the leopard shows their spots and delivers the same exact results as they had before.
I’m not here to single out anyone, but I do want to draw attention to what I believe is the future of impact, and it’s something that should be keeping every single Owner, Corporate Executive, General Manager, Sales Manager, Program Director and Advertising Agency Buyer awake at night.
I’m talking about the power of reach!
There is too much confusion in our business right now about what matters when measuring the performance of a station and/or personality. There’s also a poor understanding of the worth of our products across multiple platforms. More sales people look at the sum total of what they’ve asked a client for, and judge the transaction as a win or loss based on if they get the sale, rather than analyze the entire worth of the package.
Let me give you an example.
If you are in New York, Michael Kay is a pretty big deal. He’s the voice of the New York Yankees, and hosts afternoon drive on 98.7 ESPN New York. His program is simulcast on the YES Network, and can also be heard on SiriusXM, the station’s website and mobile app, as well as through TuneIn and Slacker.
For those who can’t hear it LIVE, audio and video of the program can also be enjoyed via a podcast on the station’s website, Apple iTunes, Player.FM, and on YesNetwork.com. Michael is also on Twitter and has 146,000 followers.
This is what a major brand looks like.
The only question is, does the program receive its full value from advertisers who have their products and messages delivered to listeners on all of these platforms? I want to believe that they do, but I’m not convinced.
Why do I say that? Because in running stations in multiple markets for the past 10 years, sales people are more focused on hitting their number, rather than looking at what the value is of their brand and controllable assets. Advertisers, and ad agencies also have this belief that if they’re going to give you one hundred thousand dollars for three months of advertising, then you better give them as much bang for their buck as possible.
In many cases the sales person will offer “added value” sponsorships before a client even asks for them. Many reps also lack confidence, and a keen understanding of digital and social media advertising, therefore generating large dollars on them becomes nearly impossible.
Now listen, there’s nothing wrong with super serving a client, and hitting the budgeted goal that was set for the sales rep based on traditional radio advertising. But it’s foolish to think we’re going to drastically increase rates and get our worth from advertisers, when our entire history shows we undervalue our brands, and cause our own pricing problems.
This past week in Philadelphia, WIP and 97.5 The Fanatic were engaged in a tight ratings race. WIP won the PPM battle which based on today’s standards means they were the #1 rated brand. However, the Fanatic’s streaming numbers were outstanding, which when combined with the over the air measurement, forced a dead heat between the two stations.
For both brands, they had a story to work with. Based on the existing model our industry works with, WIP is winning. Delivering radio ratings is what the talent are expected to do, and selling those ratings is what their reps are charged with. Except there’s one big problem – if these are the only two areas to concentrate on, how can the industry grow?
Do we really believe that advertisers are only going to care in the future about the way a station performs in PPM? Are sales reps going to only be measured based on how they sell traditional advertising?
We don’t seriously believe that listening through our websites, mobile apps, on-demand, and through other audio providers who we partner with doesn’t count do we? If a PPM meter picks up the audio signal then the listening counts, but if it doesn’t then the listener never really listened to our programming?
I’ve got a better chance of growing a full head of hair than listeners and buyers accepting that nonsense.
This goes back to radio being reactionary, rather than out in front. Who’s fault is it that we have poor measurement? Ours! Who decided to make programming available in all of these other locations yet accepted a system where those listening numbers don’t count towards our proof of performance? We did.
How can we on one hand place our content across multiple platforms, and reward the user, yet on the other hand limit our own ability to demand larger dollars from clients? The system they use to determine whether or not our product performs, doesn’t take into account the total amount of listening in all of these other locations.
You can make a case that the listening being done on all of these other platforms is more reliable than the number you receive in your monthly ratings report. We can tell which days and times a listener clicks on a button and streams the radio station, and which content appeals most to them. Meanwhile, we can’t be sure if we have 100,000 listeners sampling the station on a radio, because that number is determined by 20-30 people carrying a meter.
We also don’t know if those who carry meters have left the device near the radio and walked out of the room, or if they really listen. We have little information about what their content preferences are, and if one meter breaks routine and is unavailable to listen due to a business meeting, vacation, or other distraction, it has a drastic impact on that month’s ratings for the radio station.
How crazy is this, an individual could have their device on, walk into a grocery store which has the radio station playing over the speakers, and if the meter picks up the audio signal for five minutes, that station will get credit for listening. It doesn’t matter that the person with the meter was only exposed to the audio, and not interested in it.
Is this really the best we can do for ourselves, our advertisers and our listeners?
I believe total audience reach and brand association should be priority number one for clients and operators. You can have a great ratings report, and that’ll be part of your story, but as I showcased above with Michael Kay, advertisers are smart enough to recognize when a brand has power to connect their product with a big audience. If you want to reach the largest sum of people, you invest in partnerships with people who have the ability to pull in customers from numerous locations.
If Michael’s TV and radio ratings for the show were low, yet his streaming, podcast, mobile sessions, and audio partnerships were producing giant numbers, then he still has a big audience to offer to an advertiser. Sure it’s better if you have the ratings to go along with it, but listening is more splintered than ever, and the grand total of audience carries much more value than a monthly ratings report.
Think about this, if Michael sent out a tweet to his 146K followers promoting a company, and a bunch of people take his advice and buy the product, don’t you think that satisfies the client? Do they care where the lead came from? No! They simply want more customers, so they can make more money. If they associate with Michael, and their business grows, you better believe they’re going to continue investing in him, and his radio station, even as the rates increase.
If I was spending my money, I’d want to know that my company is reaching the largest audience possible, and providing a return on my investment. I don’t care what report you show me, I want to know that my message has been consumed, and it’s leading to results. However you accomplish it, and on which platform you do it, that’s irrelevant – just help me grow my business!
Voltair has already exposed PPM for having major flaws, and although Nielsen is taking steps to improve their measurement, industry leaders now question whether or not they are reliable. How are you supposed to change a perception when the reality is that the service isn’t 100% accurate? I’m not sure you can.
The most important lesson we’ve learned though, is that it’s the user who has changed the game. People want what they want, when they want it, on the platforms they consume content on, and it’s the company’s issue to figure out how to gain credit for the product consumption, and how to monetize it.
Case in point, look at Katie Nolan of Fox Sports.
In Katie’s case, her reach is way more powerful than her television program. I’ve watched a bunch of her material and I enjoy it immensely, but I have only watched her on television once! I’ve watched her videos on YouTube numerous times, and I’ve clicked links that she’s promoted on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t set an appointment to watch her on television, but I do seek out her content.
Does that mean my viewing doesn’t count or matter? Of course not. It’s Fox Sports’ issue to figure out how to monetize the audience who consume her work in multiple locations, and it’s Katie’s job to simply produce outstanding content that keeps the audiences coming back, and expanding.
If an advertiser is smart, they’ll invest with Katie and Fox, because they recognize they have an ability to reach people. In the end, it’s about brand exposure, influence, and sales. If Katie can put eyeballs and ears on a product, then it shouldn’t matter where it originates from. It’s even more likely to work if that advertiser utilizes her for a personal endorsement. When a talent passionately gets behind a product, the results are often much higher.
There’s another side to this story, and it applies to the advertisers and ad agencies. They need to be part of this solution too. Radio groups have lived and died with Arbitron and Nielsen because it was the system that agencies believed best reflected the interest of the audience in the station’s programming.
Does it have some benefits? Yes. Should it continue to be utilized? Sure. Does counting streaming and mobile help? Yes. But if you’re an advertiser, and you’re utilizing an agency to place your advertising, you should want to see more specifics, results, and total cume across all media platforms, not just a radio and/or television ratings report.
Wouldn’t you want to see what an impact looks like for your brand if you associate your product with a station or personality’s Facebook and Twitter accounts? Wouldn’t you like to know how your brand benefits by being associated with the station’s podcast, and YouTube page?
Maybe your sponsorship includes an association to the brand through TuneIn, Slacker and iTunes. If a show is on radio and television, are you being featured in both locations, and how do you explain it if the advertising is working on the show in one location but not the other?
After all of that has been considered (and there’s many more ways to extend a sponsorship too), then you have to decide, which percentage of your buying should be higher on certain platforms, and lower on others. You also need to decide if you’re willing to invest more in reaching more people. For some clients, that’s not possible.
Is it a lot of extra work with enormous challenges for radio people and buyers? Yes. But we’re not living in a world anymore where television viewing takes place between channels 2 and 13, and radio listening happens only inside of an automobile. We owe it to ourselves, our clients, and our listeners, to do better in showcasing our brand’s true story.
The final piece to this puzzle, comes from the talent side. And this is an area that is going to give some operators and executives indigestion.
Talent today are paid to perform a radio program, which can also be featured on the station’s website, mobile app, and through other audio partnerships. If the program they perform delivers a strong PPM ratings performance, most groups reward them with a quarterly bonus.
Talent are also asked to endorse products in exchange for additional compensation, and most employers require that they contribute to their companies digital efforts either through creating additional written or video content.
But what happens when they start losing out on bonuses because the product is being consumed in other places where it impacts their credit?
What if a program delivers massive streaming numbers or podcasting numbers, but it’s not showing up on the ratings report? Shouldn’t the talent be incentivized for that? If they get behind the strategy, promote it effectively, and the station delivers record numbers on these platforms, which leads to increased interest and business from clients, shouldn’t the talent share in the success? Will bonuses change in the future and include performance incentives across all audio platforms?
I hear radio companies today talk a lot about the importance of being stronger in the digital space, and users have already demonstrated that they will reward those efforts if the content available is good, and presented by personalities they enjoy reading or listening to. However, what I don’t see being discussed is how the talent shares in this space.
If you’re a personality, and you’re hired to host a radio program, deliver ratings, and help advertisers sell their products, and you check all of those boxes, you’ve done your job. However, if you’re willing to add on writing and creating video for the brand’s digital platforms, that’s even better. It shows you’re willing to do whatever it takes to connect with your audience, and support your employer.
But when that added work starts to register, and becomes profitable to the place of business, employers shouldn’t be surprised when a talent is back inside the office with their hands out asking for more. If you want to grow your digital performance you need great performers, and the talent will do the work, but eventually it will cost something.
In your place of business, do you have a bonus system in place for a talent if they deliver a certain number of podcast downloads? Do you have a rate card established for talent who endorse a client’s products on their Twitter account? Is there an incentive strategy for them if they produce written or video content and deliver an agreed upon number of clicks?
I’m not talking about “added value”, “we’ll get you some trade” or “we’ll throw a few bucks your way”. If we can create a radio ratings bonus structure to keep talent pushing to perform, then there should be other systems in place to reward them for taking on additional projects to help the company grow its digital footprint.
The mentality too often in our industry is to demand our people to do more, and fail to reward them for it. When we do that it usually results in them doing what was requested, but not emotionally getting behind it. It’s equivalent to reading a LIVE mention, and delivering a personal endorsement. One pays you, one doesn’t. Coincidentally the talent invest themselves in the LIVE spot, and breeze past the mentions.
This may require bigger conversations with multiple leaders, and different companies, but as the media landscape continues to evolve, this will become a bigger focus, and if we don’t start thinking about it and planning for it now, it could become a bigger problem.
The last thing I’ll leave you with is this. Today, we place the content of our shows into multiple locations, which leads to splintered listening, yet we fail to build a complete strategy to capitalize on all of it. You can offer great content in ten different places, but the user is still only going to consume it in one. If you’re going to do that, and potentially impact your own performance on a platform which may be more important, shouldn’t you be sure that it makes financial sense to do so?
There’s a world out there that craves our content, but likes to choose when and where they get it. It’s our job to figure out how to capitalize on that interest, and promote our effectiveness across ALL channels, not just one measurement system.
To succeed there needs to be additional training, new ideas, and new people. You can’t expect everyone to grasp every new concept, and what they’re preparing for today, may not even be what’s important to your business’ bottom line in 2-3 years.
There is though one thing I firmly believe. If you want to command larger dollars in the present and future, you better have reach on your side. Total audience has more staying power, and long-term revenue potential than any other measurement.
My advice, be everywhere you can, and have a game plan for how you’ll present your data to those who are considering doing business with you. No client is going to reject doing business with you if you have a large audience to offer. Even if it’s built through multiple platforms. You can stick with what you know, and do what radio is notorious for doing, which is waiting for it to become a bigger deal. The only question I have is, can you really afford it?
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.