Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton made an intriguing comment following the team’s 17-3 loss to the Chicago Bears. “We squandered that opportunity.” He was talking about the disappointment of losing to a flawed team that completed four measly passes. He could’ve applied the same thought to the opportunity he squandered during the week leading up to Sunday’s game.
Cam Newton finished the week without speaking to the media once, which is a violation of league rules. This triggered a lot of speculation. Jourdan Rodrigue, the same Charlotte Observer reporter who Newton made condescending comments towards on October 4th, returned to the beat. Did Cam skip his weekly media session because of her? Was he silently protesting Rodrigue’s presence? If so, does that make his apology the fakest thing since Marv Albert’s fake hair?
It might’ve been a coincidence that Newton skipped out on a scheduled media session during the same week that Rodrigue returned, but that doesn’t prevent speculation from taking place. Foresight is at a premium these days. Being aware of the way things look is just as important as being aware of the way things are.
The same holds true in sports talk radio. Perception and reality are kissing cousins. Depending on the mindset of certain people, they’re Siamese Twins. If a host says something that seems a certain way, well then it is that way in the minds of many listeners. It’s important to be direct, clear, and specific especially when talking about topics that have social or political ties.
It goes beyond hosts — perception and reality apply to an entire sports talk building. When I was programming a station in Fresno, I rocked a backwards hat each day. I know. I was that guy. It was a more relaxed building than others, but it was still a professional setting. I noticed that co-workers were extremely casual with me. Too casual. It was because of the image I was projecting — being chill to a fault and semi-professional wasn’t me at all, but that perception existed based on my clothes.
Another time, I had a tryout and interview with a Seattle station. Before flying out, I asked what they were looking for and how I should act. They told me they liked my style and to just be myself. For some reason, this caused my brain to think wearing jeans, an untucked button down, and Lugz would be an awesome idea. Not so much.
The station didn’t offer me a gig. I asked what I could do better on my next job interview. I’ll never forget what Owen Murphy told me, “Yeah, well dress better for starters.” I asked if he was serious, which further illustrates how clueless I was at the time. He said that it was a top-20 market and asked what I was thinking. I wasn’t. I’m not Daniel Craig from Bond movies, but I’ve made fashion strides since then.
Former 49ers quarterback Steve Young once shared a really interesting thought about perception and reality. On NFL Network’s “America’s Game,” he talked about losing to the Eagles 40-8 back in 1994. Young was benched during the game in favor of Elvis Grbac. When ole Elvis trotted into the huddle to replace him, that’s when Steve turned into Linda Blair from The Exorcist.
“The funny thing about the whole event, from my teammate’s standpoint was suddenly, I was this fiery leader,” Young said. “And I almost wanted to go home and throw up and think about, ‘Are you kiddin’ me? For all these years I’ve been out here battling and I had to yell at my coach and now you’re like ready to follow me?’ But it taught me the vital lesson in football — perception is reality. If you’re perceived to be something, you might as well be it, because that’s the truth in people’s minds.”
I completely agree that perception can become reality in people’s minds. I disagree with just being what people think you are. If people think you do drugs, should you just do them? No, but you should be aware of others getting the wrong indication based on your clothes, words, and behavior. You should guard against giving the wrong impression, instead of just becoming what you’re perceived to be.
My thought used to be that if someone evaluated me incorrectly, well that’s on them. Not completely. It’s not just on others drawing the wrong conclusion. It’s on you to avoid giving clues that play a role in them making a poor evaluation.
For example, I remember taking part in a meeting back when I programmed a station in Albany, NY. Co-workers were throwing around ideas for the station. “Hey, how ‘bout we broadcast live from the such & such event.” Many of the ideas wouldn’t work for one reason or another, so I channeled my inner Mike Singletary by saying, “Can’t do it.”
After the meeting, our adviser gave me some advice. He told me that people may get the wrong idea based on the way I was saying things. Instead of saying “can’t do it”, it’s much different to say something like, “That’s a great idea, John. I’d love to broadcast there, but there just isn’t a phone line available for us.”
At first I thought, “My goodness. These are grown men and I have to dance around their delicate little feelings? Should I toss out mani-pedi coupons to help them cope with my savage responses?” It wasn’t about that though. It was all about perception. It could’ve been perceived that I was gruff — not a good leader — that I was lazy or against doing something that would benefit the station. None of those things were true, but that could’ve been the perception because I didn’t provide any explanations.
In the business world, you need to be aware of the way things look, not just the way things are.
Cam Newton summed up the Panthers disappointing performance on Sunday by adding, “We will and have to be better.” The same applies to us. Regardless of your role in a sports talk building, there are always ways to improve. Ask yourself how you can avoid perception becoming reality. If you think of your clothes, words, and behavior as reality — not just perception, but the real truth in people’s minds — would that cause you to make any changes?
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.