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The Intersection of Content and Advertising

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In today’s rapidly changing world, sports media consumers are making it known that they want less interruptions during their programming experiences. The problem though, is that media companies make a large portion of their revenues in between the content.

For sports radio stations, commercials occupy 20-25% of an hour’s time. The only other format with similar numbers is News/Talk. And this doesn’t take into account the extra service elements, on-air mentions, and content sponsorships that invade the programming space.

businessBut despite heavy spot loads, and consistent complaints from listeners, sports talkers continue to enjoy successful ratings. Many deliver high revenues too. So it can’t be all that bad right?

Well, the question isn’t whether or not it’s a problem now, it’s “what will be acceptable in the future?”

Look at the issues that have plagued television over the past few years. Everyone thought it was impossible for TV to feel the sting but then the DVR was introduced. Companies then began to witness their commercials being bypassed in favor of content, making their investments in the programming less valuable and necessary.

Then came the boom of YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and other viewing services which put an emphasis on ad-free content. You can watch a short video or full show with minimal interruption on these platforms. For people who are constantly on the go and searching for ways to buy back some of their free time, these type of products are very attractive.

cordNow television faces yet another obstacle as cord cutting has become the new trend. People have started switching to streaming services to watch programming because they can control which channels they receive and drastically reduce their costs. What was thought to be an unbreakable business, is now starting to show chinks in its armor.

For radio, the threat isn’t as scary because the medium itself isn’t as large as television. However, when you consider the way the inside of vehicles are being altered to support heavier digital listening, and you add in how people are listening more to audio through their phones, tablets and other supported devices, it doesn’t take a genius to realize that the future isn’t going to include five to six minute stop sets that fail to deliver audience or results.

Add to that the emergence of SiriusXM, who over the past decade have assembled a strong roster of high profile personalities, and present a very rich content experience with minimal disruptions. That approach combined with increased availability inside automobiles has helped the company grow its customer base to nearly 30 million, earning 510 million on 4.6 billion in revenue in 2015. SiriusXM’s stock price has also grown from $.12 cents in January 2009 to $3.70 in January 2016. It currently sits at $3.86.

podWhen you analyze the radio business, one of its more interesting dilemmas comes from the success of the podcasting platform. Although most in the industry agree that podcasts are beneficial for the listener and important for radio’s future, if you’re an advertiser paying to be on the radio station’s airwaves, how exactly does it benefit you when the show you sponsor over the air, eliminates your commercials during its digital presentation?

Let’s take that one step further. If you’re a listener who’s working an 8-10 hour day at your place of employment, why would you listen to a radio show for a full hour and sit through its sixteen minutes of commercials and another three to four minutes of forced service elements, when you could just download that exact hour of the show later when you get home and listen to it in only forty minutes?

The main reason they sit through it is because they’re confined inside their vehicles for a long duration of time and have limited digital listening opportunities. As the dashboard changes, the options will increase, and the pressure to adapt over the air will be magnified.

Radio station’s may be helping the user by providing excellent podcast broadcasts, but they’re also placing themselves at risk with clients by eliminating their commercials.

But which one is right?

The answer is both.

The radio operator’s challenge is to get the audience to listen to their product and consume as much of it as humanly possible. The client’s responsibility is to create a message worth remembering, and air it during the radio station’s programming to try and create sales and awareness for their brand.

If the station is creative, they’ll develop programs which give the advertiser an opportunity to tap into the audience without getting in the way of the content. Whether that’s through ownership of the podcast player, owning the podcasting web page, live reads by the talent, or through some other digital element. If the goal of the client is to increase business and be viewed favorably by the audience, then they’ve got to trust the radio station to create situations that allow them to benefit.

However, podcasting does make it harder to infiltrate the area they’re most interested in being in. With opportunities inside the content very limited, the question becomes, can radio make enough money with limited sponsorship opportunities or will it bastardize the podcasting platform and hurt its own growth?

futureThis all boils down to the future and where sports media consumption is headed. We all recognize that digital is booming, television is facing its first setback in quite some time, and radio is stuck in neutral. This is why playing in digital circles is so vital for radio. If the opportunities for sponsorship in these locations are small, then what’s the real economic upside?

Despite those facts and challenges, the question that is going to continue to surface is, “how much will the audience pay to eliminate the distractions of advertisers from the content?” We see it happening with Netflix, Amazon and YouTube. The WWE also created their own network and I made the investment for my son who loves the product. If someone enjoys pro wrestling, the $10 per month is well worth it because the content value is exceptional and ad-free.

If you use Facebook (which the majority of the world does) and tomorrow Mark Zuckerberg decided he was going to charge $5 per month to use the service, are you going to tell me that you wouldn’t pay for it? Maybe you’re one of the people who won’t, but I bet you a large number of their users would. Why? Because they see value in the product.

rovellEarlier this week, Darren Rovell of ESPN spoke out about this very issue as it pertains to Twitter. Here’s what Rovell said about the platform and the idea of paying to use it.

Over the last couple of months, it has been extremely frustrating to watch Wall Street destroy Twitter. In dollars and cents, Twitter isn’t producing what Facebook and, Instagram, are doing at the cash register. So tonight, I’m going to start it all off.  I am going to agree to pay Twitter $100 a year. If I can get a bank account to put it in, I will do it right now. While the majority of Twitter users will not be willing to do the same, there are people who are in my camp and there are greater numbers who are at least willing to pay SOMETHING.

Rovell took a poll on the issue and received 15,000 responses. Of the responses, 64% said they wouldn’t pay. But, 36% were willing to. That’s with Twitter operating in its current form. Do you think that number might increase with a few upgrades? I think so.

When you have the user base that Twitter does, and 4 out of 10 people are willing to pay for your service, that’s what allows you to limit ads and keep your product content focused.

Which brings us back to radio.

adsThe reality is that advertising isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. But, the world is shifting and paying for ad-free content. That means radio has an opportunity to open itself up to other revenue possibilities. I’ve said this numerous times, few formats generate the amount of live content that sports talk does. It has mass appeal, can be consumed 24 hours per day, and is real time focused and locally driven.

What I see taking place all too often, is radio operating the same way it has for the past twenty to thirty years. If conversations aren’t happening right now to get out in front of where the world is headed, then once again our beloved business will be licking its wounds after taking another steel boot to the face.

I can’t tell you whether the world will accept five, ten or fifteen minutes of spots per hour in the future, but everything I see happening in other businesses shows me that the consumer wants more control and is willing to pay to eliminate disruptions to earn back some of their time.

Did you know, ad blocking services cost the ad industry 21.8 billion dollars in 2015? A report from PageFair and Adobe stated that 200 million monthly internet users used ad blockers on their browsers. That figure is expected to jump even higher due to Apple introducing ad blocking software for its Safari browser.

Why is that relevant? Because it shows you that people will go to great lengths to block out advertisers which interfere with their content experience.

abIncorporating sponsors into content is going to have to be done in organic fashion, much like the way Bill Simmons weaves them into his podcasts. That’s no different than Coca Cola paying Jimmy Fallon to put a can of soda on his desk during the Tonight Show, or Applebees forking over large dollars to be included in a scene of Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights”.

The approach is highly effective because it doesn’t halt the content for an extended period of time, the talent are more invested in the way the message is presented, and it makes the advertiser feel connected to the show. The audience also doesn’t consider it a big disruption and are more likely to support the client because they’re part of the program they enjoy.

If we think a successful future for radio is going to include fifteen to eighteen minutes of spots, two to three minutes of service elements, and additional content inclusion for advertisers who seek non-traditional revenue opportunities, then get ready for a future that involves a steep decline in listening and ad spending. If seven million people were willing to cut ties with the #1 sports brand in the world (ESPN) over the past three years, then don’t be surprised when they do the same to your brand if you fail to adjust.

researchI could go on a further tangent about the future, but let’s turn our attention to the present. To get a sense of how things are working in the current marketplace, I reached out to twenty two Program Directors across the country. I wanted to understand what they were providing in terms of total commercial minutes, unit counts, service elements, and over the air spots vs. online streaming commercials.

Keep in mind, some of these brands are having great success despite being saddled with a ton of inventory. That makes it a lot tougher of an argument for any station executive who’s bitching and moaning about the inventory time on their radio station. The measure of a brand’s success isn’t just reflected by ratings, it’s the bottom line too. Heck, the bottom line is what determines whether or not you’ll even be showing up to the office to try and achieve ratings. So I understand why some of these brands are operating the way they are presently.

What I don’t understand though, are why so many stations continue to clutter the airwaves with service elements. If your station is already stuck with 20-25 units and fifteen or more minutes of spots, and the audience is tuning in for your talent, then what’s the reason for adding extra roadblocks to deny them from your hosts? Are you running updates, traffic, weather, and stock reports because it’s what you’ve always done? Or because it was sponsored?

At what point, does the listener’s wishes get taken into account?

customerI’m a firm believer in answering one key question when it comes to adding sponsored elements – “what’s in it for the listener?” If the only response is that it’s good for the client, then that’s the wrong reason to put it on the radio station. In that case, find a way to redirect the client to something on the air where they’ll be more included without making it harder for the audience to continue listening.

Those who don’t know any better will tell you “we have to have this service element, it’s what the client wants” but as Steve Jobs once said, and I’ve used numerous times in previous columns, “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them“.

A good idea that can deliver results will always be attractive to a client. You have the product, and the platform where thousands are stopping by each day. It’s your job to use it to keep people listening longer, and take that increased listening to direct them to your business partners. Those who find a way to excel at content with limited interruptions, while satisfying the demands of the advertiser, will enjoy great success today, tomorrow and beyond.

growthBefore I jump into my research, I want to ask one question to those who are running companies and see the way the world is changing just as I do – what’s your plan to keep revenues high and your listenership growing while the demand for less commercial interruptions increases?”

YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and iTunes have figured out how to generate revenue by adopting a limited ad model, ESPN is jumping into the skinny bundle business to try to recoup some of the money it’s losing, and radio needs a remedy as well. I look forward to seeing how each group answers this challenge in the future.

Now, here are the questions I presented to twenty two sports radio Program Directors and the results of the study I conducted.

Commercial Minutes Per Hour on Your Radio Station:

  • Less Than 14 Minutes Per Hour = 2 (The lowest was 13 minutes)
  • 14 to 16 Minutes Per Hour = 19 (Twelve had 15 to 15:30 and Three of them expand to 17 when sales needs arise)
  • More than 16 Minutes Per Hour = 1 (One runs 18 minutes)

Commercial Unit Count Per Hour on Your Radio Station:

  • Under 20 = 1 (Fifteen was the number)
  • Between 20-25 = 6
  • Between 26-30 = 6
  • No Limit = 9

*** I asked former CBS Radio CEO Dan Mason for his perspective on unit counts during a back and forth chat on Linkedin and he made a great point. He said “I’ve never believed in a unit count because I don’t think it’s possible that a listener will sit through all of the commercials. I’ve taken it as a time out of content is time out of content!”

I agree 100% with what Dan is saying. I used to get all caught up worrying whether or not the radio station was running twenty spots instead of twenty five, but when you step back and think about it, four minutes is four minutes, and no matter what you do during that time, a commercial is still a commercial to the listener. Chances are, they’re going to leave your radio station. The real question is, has your host put something in their head to think about during the break that makes them want to come back. If not, that’s your issue, not whether five or seven spots ran during the stopset. Even promos with better creative, count as commercials to the audience.

Number of Commercial Breaks Per Hour on Your Radio Station:

  • Three Breaks Per Hour = 11
  • Four Breaks Per Hour = 6
  • Mix of 3 to 4 Breaks based on different show clocks = 5

fan590*** If you listen to the advice of Nielsen, they suggest taking as few breaks as possible. In Toronto for example, The Fan 590 takes two breaks per hour. That means the audience is getting a lot more uninterrupted content. While The Fan does very well with that strategy, so do other stations in the states which use three to four breaks per hour. At one point Mike and Mike took five breaks per hour, and when I carried their show in St. Louis, they were in the Top 3 with that approach.

There is no perfect formula for how often a station should break. I can make a case to start an hour with forty five minutes of content and take one fifteen minute break but let’s be honest, is an advertiser going to spend their money to be heard during the eighth minute of a fifteen minute commercial break? Not a chance.

Whether you run three or four breaks per hour should come down to a myriad of factors.

First, who is the host and what type of pace do they provide? Are they slower and better at keeping the audience hanging on their every word? Or are they quick paced and tougher to endure for longer stretches? Some talent are built to deliver ten great minutes but when pushed to twenty minutes they become repetitive and start searching for direction. Others need time to set the scene and tell compelling stories, and when rushed through quick segments, it takes away their ability to do what they’re good at.

nielsenI believe you have to also consider how many meters are active each hour, when they’re using your radio station the most, and where you stand your best chances of keeping them on your airwaves for an extra quarter hour or two. Once you have those answers and you’ve analyzed the strengths of your talent, then you can make an informed decision on whether or not two, three, or four breaks per hour best fits your show.

One last suggestion on this subject, don’t be afraid to create different clocks for different shows. Some folks in your traffic and sales department may bitch because it makes their jobs more difficult, but the reality is this, you’re paid to drive ratings, and satisfy the audience. Whether Billy in Sales or Suzy in traffic like it or not, the listener comes first. Whatever has to be done to make their listening experience more enjoyable and longer, that’s what is best for the radio station. Decisions can’t be made because of objections down the hall. That’s the type of short sighted thinking that hurts your brand.

What Runs During Breaks on The Stream (Same Spots/Promos or Something Different):

  • Same Spots as Over The Air = 8
  • Different Spots and Created Pieces = 14

*** If we see digital dollars increasing, and streaming listening providing stronger returns for sports radio stations, then why not take advantage of it by offering it separately to advertisers? I understand it’s easier to run a full simulcast of the on-air product, but we are in the business of making money right? If sales has two options to sell, that’s certainly better than one, and it allows stations to set different price points for groups who wish to invest in their over the air product vs. their online product.

capI stumbled upon one group that I think is doing some great things in this space. Capitol Broadcasting in Raleigh allows only two clients to exclusively sponsor their stream on three of their properties (WCMC/WDNC/WCLY). They’ll give each client a :30 second produced spot, and a two-minute window to talk about their business, and then they complete their breaks with other local show promos, play by play promotion or classic moments sports vignettes. 

This strategy enables them to keep the stream cleaner, highlight two important businesses who have recognized the value of owning the radio station’s stream, and eliminate poorly produced PSA’s which almost always end up on radio station streams. They charge a premium for the sponsorship and that makes it easier for the sales team since they’re not under the gun to sell out fifteen to sixteen minutes of on-air and digital spots per hour. That said, whether a station allows two exclusive clients, three, or four, the point is, there’s money to be made online, and this is a smart way of doing it.

Created Elements That Air During Programming (Traffic, Weather, Stock, Ski, Sports Updates):

  • Sports Updates = 19
  • Traffic Reports = 10
  • Weather Reports = 7
  • Stock Reports = 3
  • Ski Reports = 1
  • Fishing Reports = 1
  • Trending Now = 2 (two more stations are switching soon from updates to trending now reports)
  • Team Reports = 1
  • CBS Sports Minutes = 3

*** Dan Mason who I mentioned earlier, wrote a great article on Linkedin about a small station he discovered in White Plains, NY. During the piece he praised the brand (107.1 The Peak in White Plains, NY) for their commitment to providing service elements. Mason said “the jocks ACTUALLY give the local weather and temperature. Imagine that. Major Market PD’s say listeners can get that from an app. Well, you better get that back on the radio or the listener will get it from an app permanently.”

masonThat makes a lot of sense to me. However, I also think that applies differently per format. In this particular example, Mason was talking about a music station and I agree that music brands should have more service elements and community focused benchmarks because the only way they can connect with local listeners is in between the songs.

But when it comes to sports talk, my opinion differs. First, sports talkers air A LOT more commercials than music brands. Secondly, they talk forty to forty-five minutes per hour. A sports listener tunes in for insight, information, entertainment value, opinion, interaction, interviews, etc. They’re not coming to a sports station for the endless amount of forced interruptions that get tossed their way during the course of a one hour commute.

I do understand the decision to provide traffic, especially in big markets. Most listeners deal with it daily and they’d rather not leave the radio station to find out which roadways to avoid. But even if I give you that one as a freebie, does the listener really need to know the weather, skiing conditions, and stock prices on a sports talker? They’re coming to you for sports talk, not those other elements.

scAsk yourself this, how has SportsCenter survived all of this time without them? Don’t tell me it’s different because it’s television. I built 95.7 The Game in San Francisco and 101 ESPN in St. Louis without any of them and both prospered. As a matter of fact, we even imaged each station with liners that said “No Traffic and Weather Together, We Do Sports”. 

Taking that approach doesn’t make it right and it doesn’t mean it will work for your brand. But I’ve found that the audience is comfortable being fed sports content and they won’t object to receiving more of it. The only way they’re leaving is if they don’t like the personality who’s providing the content.

There are a number of things I’ve covered in this article and I hope much of it gets your wheels spinning. I think about the future of this industry daily, and I try to approach it with the understanding that ratings and revenue matter, but without brand loyalty and adapting to the needs of the audience, you’re left searching for water in the middle of the desert.

It’s clear that listeners wants more control and are going to further lengths to remove interruptions from their programming experiences. We’ve seen it evolve with SiriusXM, WWE Network, Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, and others. There’s no question that the model works IF you provide content and a platform worth investing in.

chargeBut let me be crystal clear, I’m not advocating that radio should start charging listeners for content. This platform isn’t built that way and if we started doing it tomorrow, I think we’d be in terrible shape.

However, if we’re going to dive deeper into podcasting, and look to limit and reduce the disruptions that exist on our airwaves in order to increase listener activity, then we’ve got to be a step ahead on how we’re going to monetize things better. It’s easy to suggest increasing rates, but unless we’re promising advertisers a higher return on investments, that’s going to be an uphill climb.

If there’s one big question that should be on the mind of everyone in this format and industry it’s, “how do we provide a heavier content experience, grow our bottom line, and still reduce our interruptions to better satisfy the needs of the audience“? The ones who figure that out, are going to be very successful in the future.

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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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Barrett Blogs

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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