Unlike the virus itself, there is no “asymptomatic” industry when it comes to the crippling economic impact of COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment since mid March. It’s hard to comprehend a number that size. 22 million people unsure where their next paycheck will come from. 22 million lives upended with next to zero notice.
Tough decisions with jobs and livelihoods on the line are being made every day with executives doing whatever they can to weather the storm. Look no further than any of the top companies in terrestrial radio for sobering examples.
About a month ago – the President and General Manager of Seven Bridges Radio made a decision of his own.
“No layoffs, no furloughs,” exclaimed Steven Griffin. “It really was never a question for us.”
By Griffin’s own admission, Seven Bridges Radio is a small company – and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We can have an idea at 9 am and by 9:15 it’s implemented. No bureaucracy, just a couple conversations and we’re taking action. ‘Pivot,’ is a word we use around here a lot. We can move quickly.”
They may be small, but the impact of Seven Bridges and 1010 XL on North Florida has been massive. For well over a decade, Griffin and his team have used the station’s 50,000 watts to entertain sports fans and foster relationships within the community.
“What makes radio great is being live and local,” explains 1010 PD Chadd Scott. “No corporate station will ever beat a local station when it comes to serving the local population. We understand the community because we’re all part of the community. Top to bottom.”
That grassroots mentality combined with the inherent agility of a small company has proven to be invaluable over the last month as Seven Bridges has scrambled to deal with these unprecedented times.
“Right now it’s all about communication with our partners,” declares Ken Brady, the company’s Director of Sales. “We’re having conversations with everyone and we’re simply asking them what we can do to help them get to the other side of this. If they want to pause, we figure out how to make that work for them. If they need to decrease what they’re spending, we figure out how to make that work for them. Copy change? No problem. The ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ of everyone are a little different right now.”
A universal “want” for 1010 clients was to get word to listeners during the first few days of the shelter in place that their companies were still open for business. In true Seven Bridges fashion, that was an accommodation sales and programming were able to turn around quickly and efficiently.
“We scheduled 60 live 5-10 minute interviews for clients to get on the air and share whatever information they wanted,” Brady pauses, eager to praise his co-workers on the microphone. “Our hosts were incredible. Perfect follow up questions, they knew when to keep things light and when to be sincere. It was a huge undertaking by everyone and it turned out as well as we all could have hoped.”
“We know what it is to be a small local company because we are a small local company,” chuckles Scott. “Every decision maker in the building has their email and direct cell number available to anyone.”
At a time when a lot of radio shows are starved for content – Chadd Scott isn’t making any excuses for his team.
“We’re putting out a competitive product every day. Our audience is there for us and we’re there for them. In fact, tune into 1010 at any point during the day and you may not even realize there’s no live sports right now.”
Of course, there is no avoiding COVID-19 as a talking point. When it comes to discussing the tough times we’re all experiencing, Scott isn’t holding his guys back.
“I just tell them to be authentic. Share their feelings. React to news personally, how it affects them. It’s something everyone is going through and the listeners are comforted when they’re reminded we’re all dealing with this. Just one rule,” Scott grins through the phone. “No politics. This isn’t the time for donkey and elephant talk.”
Does Seven Bridges Radio have all the answers? No – and they would be the first to admit it. It’s that refreshing honesty that is such a huge part of their appeal. In the time of “social distancing,” the senior staff at 1010 could not be more approachable.
“We’re always talking out ideas,” Griffin smiles. “I would guess 70% of the ideas don’t work – but the important thing is we’re always talking!”
Griffin, Brady and Scott each went out of their way to say they’re constantly looking for ideas out of the market. Listening to other stations, reading about the industry, always searching for something to bring to Seven Bridges.
“We’re always learning,” insists Griffin – proudly.
As my conversation with the GM of Seven Bridges Radio wrapped up we couldn’t help but circle back to the dark cloud of layoffs that looms over every industry. We tried to wrap our minds around the unthinkable decisions so many suits are being forced to make for the greater good of their companies. It was a topic Griffin quickly shook off.
“I don’t want to sound too sappy here, but this is a family. Everyone on this team is so valuable – especially these last few weeks. Everyone has been able to adapt and work from home and they’re all doing an exceptional job. I’m so proud to work with everyone.”
“We’re very blessed here,” echoed Brady. “We’re gonna be fine.”
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.