Buildings that house radio stations have always been literally divided into two sides. There’s the side of the building that houses the studios. It’s where live shows are done and where production pieces are put together. Then there is the business side, where you will find the executive offices and sales bullpen.
It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time where you tended to stick to your own side. Sure, sales people had a favorite member of the air staff to pitch for endorsements and talent had a favorite seller to make sure their ideas came to life as they envisioned, but it really was possible to go a full business day without interacting with people from the opposite side of the building.
Now, we live in a world of collaboration. Hosts bring potential clients to ad reps. Ad reps work with PDs to develop branded content ideas to take to clients. It is that Steven Spector, program director of 610 Sports in Kansas City, told me he encourages his staff to be a part of as often as possible.
“Relationships with the clients and relationships with the sales staff are vitally important to the success of a radio station and its talent,” he told me in an email. “In non-COVID times, when everyone was in the building, the talent who would walk the sales pit and just interact with the AEs was often more successful in getting endorsements. Sometimes endorsements and promotions are created out of conversation unrelated to business.”
Nick Cattles, who hosts the afternoon show on ESPN Radio 94.1 in Virginia Beach, says it is a fine line for hosts to walk sometimes. Sure, he wants to help his own bottom line however he can, but he is also aware that unchecked ambition could create problems for folks on the sales side.
“I don’t know what kinds of relationships, good or bad, may already be established,” Cattles says. “The worst thing I could do is act as interference in any possible deal that sales is working on. I am, however, always open to discussing ideas, pitches, segments, calls and/or zoom meetings with any of the sales staff if it could help in any kind of way. I consider my job to help sales achieve their goals in any way I can, instead of trying to be the point person.”
All Cattles asks is that he not have an endorsement sprung on him. He thinks most of his sales staff would agree that he is easy to work with.
“The way our building works is that whenever the staff has an idea or is contacted by a company, they reach out to and ask if I’d be comfortable promoting that product/service/bar on the air. The vast majority of the time, the answer is yes.”
Andrew Downs is the program director of KXnO in Des Moines. It is a station that was built and thrives on sales relationships. He told me many of their clients are lifers with the station. That could be the result of KXnO talking Cyclones and Hawkeyes all day long. It could be the result of who is on the station and the relationships they have gone out and formed in the Des Moines community.
One thing Downs knows is undeniable is that the strength of those relationships can only benefit himself and his staff. That is why he says everyone at KXnO treat clients like they are part of the team.
“We’ve had several clients on-air for well over a decade, whether that be endorsements, station sponsorships, or simply running ads within our local shows. We’ve had local agencies that steer their clients towards us because they’ve seen the results of working with our talent. We’ve had businesses change ownership but continue to work with us. We’ve even had the General Manager of a local auto group change jobs, but bring us with him to the new company.
“We foster relationships, both with our clients and our audience, and so when we put the two together everyone feels like we’re all helping each other out. This was never more true than in the past year between the firing and subsequent re-hiring of our staff followed by the pandemic where many of our clients have relied on the strong bond we’d helped them form with our audience. “
“Ah, yes!” you’re probably saying to yourself. You knew that KXnO and Andrew’s name sounded familiar. You just couldn’t remember why.
It is the station where nearly the entire air staff was laid off only to be rehired after listeners and advertisers told iHeartMedia management that they were done supporting the station if it was going to lose its local identity. In response, not only was everyone that was laid off eventually re-hired, but KXnO got an FM simulcast to strengthen its signal.
Downs told me that he knew his station’s clients valued what was on air at KXnO. It was that moment though that he could say that what he had suspected was definitely true. KXnO was as important to its advertisers’ business as the advertisers were too KXnO’s.
“Brands are important, and we have a strong one with KXnO in Des Moines, but the brand can’t sell a product to our audience; our people do that. Without those people our clients understood that their message was not going to be effectively communicated, and they reacted accordingly. I know they were all glad when we were re-hired, but that was not something anyone expected to happen; they were making a business decision to place their money elsewhere because they understood that it was our connection with the audience that created loyalty between their customers and their business, not some monolithic brand or national voice.”
Not every advertiser is going to be right for every host. Even if a host is really into a particular product or business, it may not be a fit for the station or it might step on the toes of someone else’s longer held deal. Spector says he is usually open to any advertising idea a rep brings to him. He just needs a few answers first.
“Most important, the advertiser has to fit who we are as a station and who our listeners are. Then, it has to fit our host. Second, what type of money is being spent & what are the expectation from the client. If those two don’t match then there is a conversation that has to be had.”
Living in a silo isn’t going to work inside of a radio building these days. Sure, the two sides of the business can sometimes have conflicting goals, but right now the industry is in a state of needing to mine every bit of potential revenue that exists. A collaborative approach, where each side makes their needs and goals clear, benefits programming and sales equally.
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.