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Playing The Game Without Coaches

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Imagine this scenario. It’s the fourth quarter, less than a minute left, your football team is down 1 point, and your offense is on the field and on the verge of crossing the 50. The goal is to either score a Touchdown or kick a field goal and win the game.

qb1The players approach the huddle looking to the quarterback for instruction on what play they’ll be executing, only this time the quarterback has no answer.

He explains to the group that the coaches have vacated the sideline and are no longer calling plays, so they’re now left to their own devices and the outcome of the game rests in their hands.

The Quarterback selects a play which he hopes will work and propel the team onto victory, and on this day, his decision making pays off and the team exits the field with a 2 point victory.

nocoachesThe excited bunch head to the locker room, ready to celebrate, except when they arrive, their pride and enthusiasm are deflated when they realize that there are no coaches around to offer a post-game speech or distribute game balls to the team’s top performers.

They leave the stadium, and head home, trusting that the next day will be different. Except it isn’t.

They arrive at the practice facility expecting to get treatments and go over game tape but once again the coaches are absent. This leaves the players upset, confused, and frustrated. Although they are talented and enjoy some independence, they also want to improve and receive guidance from their coaches.

winningHoping to get a sense of what’s going on, the quarterback seeks out the owner. When he explains how the group is frustrated because they’re receiving no coaching, the owner replies “Relax. All that matters is that we make money. Winning and losing is not important”.

The quarterback leaves the owner’s office, returns to his locker, and tries to process what he’s been told. If the only thing that matters is selling tickets, advertising, and broadcasting rights, then why does it matter who’s on the field, if they make plays, and who wins the contest?

This example may be farfetched for the National Football League, but it’s unfortunately a reality inside a number of radio stations today.

nielsenI was raised in this business with the understanding that the ratings are your report card. The grade you receive from the audience tells you whether or not your product is successful. A higher number means more interest from advertisers and the more they spend, the easier it becomes to distribute raises to employees for a job well done.

While there are brands that care deeply about the performance of their radio stations, there are many others that measure success by the revenue generated by their sales teams. Although I agree that sales are vital, I also believe that results should be delivered on the programming end too.

wantThe audience is not privy to your business plan, nor do they care what you make or lose each year or if your stock price has risen or declined. They simply want to tune in, hear a local host discuss the teams and topics they care most about, and gain something from the content to share with their friends and family. The more unique content experiences you provide, the more tune-ins you’ll receive.

But how exactly do you produce unique on-air content experiences? Is it solely the responsibility of the on-air talent? Does a producer have skin in the game? What about the Program Director’s involvement?

The answer in my opinion is that it’s a shared responsibility. More times than not it’s going to start with having an inquisitive talent on the air who is masterful with the english language and has a brain that allows them to consider possibilities that are uncommon to the rest of us. That’s part of being a special talent.

coachesBut even the best thinkers and content creators experience brain freeze and need to be coached, challenged, and given tips on how to improve.

If you watch baseball, you probably know the names Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. They’re incredible players who have each won an MVP Award and they’re also both under 25 years of age. As great as they are, they still need to be coached.

Do you think just because they have talent that they have it all figured out and won’t ever fail?

mlbThere’s a lot left in their respective careers and there are many obstacles they’ve yet to face. Regardless of how naturally skilled they may be, they each will need the benefit of great guidance to help them reach their full potential.

When a new pitcher comes up and has a certain strategy for attacking the zone, do you think that information might be helpful to them before they enter the batter’s box? Sure, maybe they’ll get lucky and connect on the first pitch and hit a homerun, but great players seek every advantage they can get to be successful and they rely on their coaches to help them.

What happens when they each sign larger contracts in the future and become Major League Baseball’s highest paid athletes, generating over 500 million dollars apiece? Do you think they won’t deal with different pressures, expectations, larger challenges off the field, and jealousy from inside their own clubhouses? When that happens, don’t you think they’ll want coaches they can trust to help them through some of their uncomfortable moments?

aloneNow think about that from a radio standpoint. There are some operators who assume just because an individual possesses talent, and receives a big paycheck that they don’t need coaching. The feeling becomes “He/She knows what they’re doing so leave them alone”. When that happens, many stop learning, and begin to treat their show as a responsibility instead of a labor of love.

I understand that it is a business, so if a company wants to adopt that approach and leave the talent in the middle of the ocean to swim to shore without a life preserver, that’s certainly their right. But I believe that you get the most out of people when you show them you care about the work they’re doing and invest time in gauging how they feel about the show, offering ideas to make it feel and sound better, and addressing any issues or concerns that are creating tension. It tells them that you’re paying attention and care about their progress.

creed2Each week I receive dozens of emails from people across this country seeking my coaching. I’m grateful that they think enough of me to want my feedback and it impresses me to see individuals seeking outside help to try and get better. That commitment to self improvement is what helps good performers become great. Every radio company should want people like that working for them because when people possess talent and treat their craft seriously, it pushes those they work with to be their best.

As excited as I am to see many striving to get getter, I’m equally saddened by the reminder of how many radio stations invest little to no time in their most important asset – their people.

chefI realize that the business has become difficult for programmers. Many corporate executives and station managers are disconnected from the product and don’t understand how the meal gets made, who’s involved in making it, or why the customer is eating it. They simply look at the total amount of meals made, what it cost, how many were sold, and what type of profit they generated from it.

That’s business, and business does come first. But unlike music stations which have the benefit of relying on the music created by artists to fill their airwaves, sports talkers only go as far as their on-air talent can take them. If the talent is left to roam through the desert without a compass, it’s only a matter of time until you’re sending in the search party to find them. The great ones will find their way, but even those who aren’t great right now, may have the ability to reach that level in the future, but without coaching you’re limiting their potential to grow.

When I landed my first Program Director job in Poughkeepsie, NY I had no idea what I was doing. I had passion, a good work ethic, and my co-workers responded well to my lead. I had no idea though what content made the most sense to focus on, what separated a good promo from a bad promo, how the station could increase its ratings, or why an on-air talent should or shouldn’t take calls or conduct interviews. There was no book, seminar or mentor available to teach me how to become a good programmer. I was just thrust into the position and had to learn on the job.

NHB and Devito in PoughkeepsieBut that was Poughkeepsie, NY. In most smaller markets where budgets don’t exist, that’s to be expected. Why it’s set up that way though in some top 20 markets is frightening.

I know some programmers today who are running three or four radio stations inside one building, and also have roles either in production or on a talk show. There is even a situation where one sports station is led by a music station programmer who has a strong disdain for sports talk and tells the staff that he wants no involvement with them.

When I hear of these situations it’s very concerning. We can blame the individuals for a bad attitude and not getting enough out of the staff, but the bigger question is, how did these positions get created in the first place?

Maybe someone accepted the position because it included a raise. Or they were pressured into it by their company. If employers though believe an individual is going to make people better, maximize the radio station’s potential, and do good work when they’re spread that thin and running formats they dislike, they’re kidding themselves. A few may skate by for a while but eventually the results suffer and people leave.

cashI had a conversation last week with someone I previously worked with who’s on a station that is getting soundly beaten in their local market by the competition. When I asked him what he was doing to reverse the latest trends and make a bigger impact with the audience, he told me that the ratings performance didn’t matter in his building, only the station’s revenue. When I asked him “how do you factor into that if you don’t deliver numbers or sell advertising for the company” he said “I just go to and from work, do my show and let the sales people worry about it”.

That answer bothered me because if you work in programming in this industry, the reason you do it is because you’re creative, passionate, love sports, enjoy competition, and want to be a success. The better you perform, the more money you make, the more popular you become, and the more successful you feel.

You also value the audience and have pride in your work, and care about the product you’re delivering. When you decided to pursue a career in this business, you didn’t do it because you wanted to fill air time and be seen as someone who was in a chair to sell sponsor messages. You pursued being a host because you felt you had something to say, you enjoyed connecting with people, and you felt your knowledge and presentation could help a company command a larger audience which in turn would help them generate revenue.

If the only thing defining your success now is whether Johnny or Suzy in sales sell spots inside of your show and meet their sales budget, then why are you even necessary? If it’s only about the advertising revenue, shouldn’t Johnny or Suzy host the show? I bet they’d increase their sales if they also had the air time to go with their selling skills.

If you’re not a host but are responsible for managing the radio station, and you’re not making time to coach your people and grow the radio station’s ratings, why aren’t you? Your title says “Program Director” not “Sales Assistant”, “Corporate Associate”, or “Budget Administrator”. I understand that the position is demanding and every department wants your time, but sometimes you have to say no.

assetThere is nothing more important to your future success and maintaining your position then the way you connect with your people. If they don’t get your input and their perception of you is that you’re uninterested in the product and their personal growth, they will eventually leave. When a brand’s best people depart, the performance declines, and when that happens, don’t be surprised if you’re the next one the company is calling on to vacate the premises.

Talent has to matter and factor into every sports radio station’s strategy and success. No brand wins without great on-air personalities and they don’t reach their full potential without regular coaching from experienced leaders who understand how to help them win. Why that’s not considered important in some buildings is beyond my level of comprehension. You’d think that with competition increasing in the audio space today that there’d be an even larger focus placed on securing great leaders who can guide a brand to bigger results. Unfortunately though that’s not the case in each location.

When I hear a brand state that only sales matter, it’s usually because their programming isn’t generating big numbers. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money. Believe me, I want to win the revenue game too, and feed my family lobster instead of ramen noodles. But programming is the lifeblood of the sports radio format and if it’s not great, and not consistently worked on, then you become non-essential to the audience. Without an audience, your business is on life support.

peopleThe goal in every organization should be to maximize the talent’s skills, show them the strengths and weaknesses in their show, and point out where the opportunities exist in the market to enjoy larger success. You do that by holding regular conversations, critiquing content, pointing out trends in the ratings, and explaining why they should do more or less of something during the show.

At first, many personalities will resist the feedback because they’re prideful and insecure and hate being judged. But when they walk away and think about what you said, they’ll appreciate it, respect it, and look to improve because every great performer wants to earn the trust, respect and support of the person they work for.

Some companies value coaching and the impact it has on their people. Others do not. Neither is right or wrong but a strong performance benefits every single company and individual. You can focus on helping your company make money, and that may be the ultimate measure of your brand’s success, but if you really want to laugh all the way to the bank, do yourself a favor and invest some time in your talent. After all, they’ll be the ones most responsible for your audience listening, your advertisers calling, and your sales budget being exceeded.

Barrett Blogs

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.”

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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.

Additional:

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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