The author George Leonard once said “competition is the spice of sports; but if you make spice the whole meal, you’ll be sick.” It is a great quote to keep in mind for today’s column.
Some of you have the luxury of working in a market that isn’t rich with competition. Maybe your station is the only sports entity in town or maybe in your show’s day-part the competition is running a syndicated show. Many of you know the reality of a ratings war all too well.
The question I want to ask today is how much does your competition really matter?
I’m not advocating for operating in a bubble. Certainly if there is another player on the court, you should pay attention to the moves they make. What I want you to think about is how much is there to gain from your whole strategy being built around anticipating and responding to those moves.
Always take note of the way your competition builds their show. Do they put entertainment or information first? Who is in their driver’s seat – the host(s) or callers? Never make major structural decisions based on what your competition is or is not doing, but understand that any decision they make creates a hole in the market that you may have the chance to fill.
That being said, your goal should always be to highlight your host’s strengths. If your competition puts an emphasis on being the most informed and connected and your host’s strength is also as an insider, you have to ask yourself two questions:
- Do I have the right guy for this fight?
- Can my guy do this job better than their guy?
The answer to both questions has to be yes if you want to win this battle. Repositioning a host and casting them in a role that doesn’t fit them will spell doom. Your station won’t be putting out its best product and you’ve ceded the strongest position to your competition.
Remember a while back I said that I will always advocate for less callers? If your competition is a caller-driven show, make it clear to the listeners how little the guy they are listening to actually offers an opinion or even speaks for that matter. Then, be prepared to have a strong opinion on everything. If this is your strategy, you don’t have to be right. You just have to be interesting.
One place that you can build a “counter attack” strategy is in the way you deal with local teams. Obviously this can be tricky, since there is an element of playing politics that you have to be prepared for, but if your competition has the reputation of being a cheerleader, there is some strength in positioning your station as the one that will tell it like it is. Not only does it create a distinct identity for you, but it paints the competition in a negative light.
Look at what happened in Detroit sports radio in the early 2000s. WXYT had the broadcast rights to the Lions, the Red Wings and the Tigers. It was a big obstacle for the then-Clear Channel owned WDFN to overcome. Fortunately the Lions hand-delivered an opportunity with their ineptitude. As the home station of the Lions, WXYT was an easy target for WDFN to brand as homers that were unrealistic about the direction of the team under its GM Matt Millen. WDFN changed its slogan to “not bought and paid for by the home team” and would eventually organize the Millen Man March to give the angriest Detroit sports fans a voice. It was a new brand identity that both responded to the competition and gave WDFN a real position of strength in the market.
Anywhere there is competition there is bound to be an arms race. It doesn’t hurt to have more weapons, but in a ratings war “more” doesn’t guarantee victory. You win by deploying the right weapons the right way. Keep tabs on your opponent. If you see a weakness, exploit it. But don’t let another station dictate what goes out over your airwaves.
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.