Too much exposure in the sports media industry is something that doesn’t exist. Whether it’s being a guest for the local sportscaster on a Sunday night TV show, being featured on a national sports radio show or even appearing on a popular Facebook Live show, you should always be looking for other avenues to help promote your brand.
Wes McElroy of 910 the Fan in Richmond, VA has figured this out. Outside of his weekday show from 3-6 p.m. McElroy also serves as the pregame host for Virginia Tech football as well as the pregame, halftime and postgame studio host for VCU basketball. Then, there’s his writing gig with the Richmond Times Dispatch, in which he writes a column for every Sunday paper. Needless to say, the guy has a lot on his plate.
“I really think it gives you credibility and a connection with the fan bases,” said McElroy. “In Virginia we always have this running joke, I moved from Pennsylvania and my first two years in Virginia were in Charlottesville. So when I got the Richmond job, the town is known for having one of the biggest Virginia Tech affiliates, and there was always this back-and-forth from UVA fans saying I was turning into a hokie. Then the Virginia Tech fans didn’t like the hire because they said I was just a UVA guy coming to town. None of that is true, I call it how I see it and that’s always been my motto for 12, 13 years living in Virginia. But it does give me credibility with the fan bases and that certainly helps.”
“Sunday’s with Wes” is the name of McElroy’s weekly column in the Richmond Times Dispatch. He writes mostly about sports, but also writes about life, such as his Father’s Day column two years ago that was a big hit. He even published a letter to his unborn daughter, the most sentimental piece he’s ever written.
The big payoff for McElroy’s writing gig, outside of the fact he loves to do it, is that it enables him to connect with the reader in a unique way. One week they may read his thoughts on Virginia Tech football, whereas the next week could be all about an important life lesson he recently learned. Regardless, it casts a wide net over several people in the area, which can only help with the growth of his radio show.
“There are some people in this market that don’t know I do a radio show,” said McElroy. “And there’s some people that listen to my radio show, even though I might say it three times on a Friday, that don’t know I write a column. It’s just a different avenue for people to find you. It’s nice the paper posts under my column what time and where I do my radio show.”
By putting himself on more than one platform, McElroy’s chances for continued growth in the industry are exponentially better. He can host a radio show, write and even do a studio show. Talk about being versatile. In every market McElroy’s ever been in, he’s had a writing job. But when he first arrived in Richmond, that wasn’t the case. That is, until a moment on the biggest day of his life happened.
“I wrote a column to my wife on our wedding day instead of writing vows,” said McElroy. “I actually got a standing ovation. My buddies actually joked and said, who the hell gets an ovation on their column? One of my buddies then told me I should start writing again so I contacted the Richmond Times Dispatch and they said they could pay me as a freelance or a stringer. I told them it wasn’t about the money it’s just I wanted to do it.
Lucky at the time, the publisher was a listener of my show and he loved the idea of crossover. I do a column and then I take one of my radio show interviews from the week and transcribe it for the paper. I get an entire paper that’s titled ‘Sunday’s with Wes.’ My column is there, along with the Q&A of my favorite interview from that week. It’s great exposure for the show and the station.”
I don’t have to tell you married men about how his idea of writing a column could have went one of two ways with his wife, Luckily for McElroy, not only did his wife Katie approve, she’s also his most loyal reader.
“She actually loved it and she was happy I was back writing again,” said McElroy. “I started out in newspapers and she knows it’s a passion of mine. I love writing and even have a newspaper delivered every day. We joke that she’s my first editor, because I still let her read my column every Saturday before I send it in.”
Being the history nerd I am, I randomly read a book last year titled City Under Siege. Basically, it’s an entire book on what happened during Richmond in the Civil War. Seeing as I have no affiliations or connections to the city, I still have no idea why I decided to spend an entire week reading it, even though I came away pleasantly surprised.
Anyway, while reading it I was always surprised that the Confederate capitol in Richmond was just 108 miles away from Washington D.C. Obviously, there were strategic decisions for this, but in a sports radio sense, it would be an interesting balance of giving time to local stories, while also acknowledging what’s going on in a major market just 90 minutes up the road.
“You know, doing a show in Richmond I learned rather quickly it’s really a mixed bag of sports fans,” said McElroy. “You have a very heavy DC sports contingent but there’s a lot of new corporations and business in Richmond, which, over the years, means you can do a Redskins topic, but there’s also a lot of Dallas fans, Giants fans and a lot of Philly fans. So, you don’t have to just focus on the Redskins, you can focus on the entire NFC East.
“Richmond is also a really big college market. You have Virginia Tech and UVA for football and basketball, as well as VCU and Richmond who both have passionate fans. When you do a show in Richmond, it’s almost in a lot of ways both a regional and statewide talk show.”
If you think about it, Richmond might be a hidden gem of a market, in the sense that every major sport warrants its own time. The show can almost write itself in football season with the two in-state schools and the huge Redskins fan base in the area. And while a lot of hosts in the South struggle for summer topics, there’s Nationals talk or the developing story lines in the NFC East.
“I’ve always loved the diversity I can do with my show,” said McElroy. “I love college football and it’s the reason I left the Philadelphia area. I love watching Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Brent Musberger and Keith Jackson or whoever else was on. At WIP in Philadelphia, you’re not going to talk Penn State or Temple football. It’s just not going to fly.
“Richmond gives the balance to talk college football, NFL, Washington Nationals or even the biggest national sports story of the day. You go further north into DC, you’re going to talk Redskins, Nationals, Capitals and Wizards. You go further south into SEC territory, you’re only talking Alabama and Georgia football. I love having so many things to go to on a daily basis. That’s what I’ve always loved about Richmond and it’s really why I’ve stayed here.”
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.