Saturday morning I was sitting on my couch and playing a little Golf Battle on my phone. I had the TV on largely as background noise. Usually when that is the case, the resting channel is either ESPN or CNN. I had heard the Divisional Round games broken down to hell and back already, so I opted for the news that morning.
As I returned from a bathroom break I heard the CNN anchor say that Julian Castro would announce his plans to run for president in 2020 later that day. That led to a report from San Antonio, where Castro’s announcement would take place.
The reporter detailed Castro’s past. He was the mayor of San Antonio. He served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under Barack Obama. He graduated from Stanford and then got a law degree from Harvard. Impressive guy.
What really caught my ear was the reporter saying that Castro planned to lean into his family’s immigrant story. That would be his point of differentiation in a crowded Democratic field in 2020.
I don’t know if a lot of us consciously consider what our show’s or station’s point of differentiation is, but having one is so important in a crowded field of entertainment. What makes your show different from the competition? What makes it worth sitting through commercial breaks when there is an ever-expanding landscape of podcasts and other on demand streaming options?
Last week, my colleague Matt Fishman wrote about the need for stations to clear clutter. You should click here to read if you haven’t done so already. In the piece, Fish says that “because we’ve always done it that way” is the worst answer to why you do anything in sports radio.
There is always more than one way to skin a cat as the saying goes, so if the heritage sports brand in town is doing the broadcast nerd and ex-jock show in afternoons, a challenger can’t expect to make headway doing the same thing. Listeners aren’t moving away from something they know and love for the same thing done by different, less familiar voices.
Let’s circle back to the Democratic field in 2020 real quick and think about the points of differentiation for some of the candidates. Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is a centrist that will run on a platform of moving forward by being willing to compromise. Bernie Sanders is a populist that will make his campaign about prioritizing the needs of employees over employers. Julian Castro is the grandson of Mexican immigrants that will run a campaign largely built on not being Donald Trump.
In each case, they have an elevator pitch. Each elevator pitch forces you to think about what is important to you, because the candidates are all presenting unique options for voters.
If your competition airs Golic and Wingo in the morning, you could opt for Outkick the Coverage. Clay Travis does a very different show from Mike and Trey. At the end of the day though, the listeners will likely be hearing a lot of the same things covered. They are both syndicated shows focused on national headlines.
A real point of differentiation for your station would be local programming. That gives listeners the choice between a national show and something that originates in the market. The national show might sound better because it can rely on eight producers, but the local show is focused on more stories that are relevant locally.
A point of differentiation is important for shows on the same station as well. You certainly want your sports radio brand to have an easily recognizable identity, but if you are live and local from 6 am to 7 pm with three or four shows that are talking the same way about the same stories, your identity has a very narrow window.
Again, think about Clay Travis, who starts Fox Sports Radio’s broadcast day. His show is very different from The Dan Patrick Show, which follows him. Dan’s show is very different from The Herd With Colin Cowherd, which is the other slice of bread in the network’s weekday sandwich. It doesn’t mean that Fox Sports Radio is lacking a single, cohesive identity. Programmers and producers build that through imaging.
Local stations can do the same. Different styles and different types of voices across a single platform doesn’t mean that platform has no identity. Those voices aren’t the only way people identify your brand.
It is easy to copy a successful brand. It is much harder to go after that brand and be legitimate competition. Whether the brand is another station or a show in another time slot on your own station, you have to give your listeners a clear reason to choose you.
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.