One of my all-time favorite radio bits featured Erik Kuselias. I don’t know the official name of the bit, but it was referred to as high road, low road. Once the voice guy said, “The high road,” Kuselias would state a number of positive things about a subject. “This team is improving. They’re really showing signs of life.” Then the voice guy would say, “The low road,” and the sports radio host would say the exact opposite. “This team stinks! They’re awful! What an embarrassment!”
Using the low road for that radio bit was hilarious. Taking the low road in the business world isn’t nearly as funny. It’s foolish to negotiate against yourself.
Free agent running back Le’Veon Bell recently made this mistake. The three-time Pro Bowler posted on Instagram, “I’ll never play for Andy Reid again. I’d retire first.” Oh boy.
Bell signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs last season. He only had 76 touches in nine regular-season games. Bell’s playoff resume? Six yards on two carries against the Cleveland Browns. That’s it. That’s the list. He didn’t play in the AFC Championship Game against Buffalo or the Super Bowl against Tampa Bay.
Bell was obviously upset about how the season played out for him in KC. To be fair, maybe Reid was like the guy at the club spitting game. “Oh yeah, girl, I’m gonna take you on a trip around the world,” which actually meant going to McDonald’s in Bakersfield. I understand how a lack of follow-through can royally tick you off. It’s possible something like that happened in this case.
But publicly voicing frustration gets you nowhere. It’s hustling backwards.
The last year has been very challenging for many people in sports radio. Maybe you got let go because of stupid COVID or didn’t get your contract renewed for other financial reasons. It’s easy to lash out when things are going badly — yelling “screw that place” might seem like a great idea — but it doesn’t get you anywhere. You’re just setting up extra hurdles on the track that you’ll have to jump over.
Criticizing a former business partner doesn’t land well. It’s like a girl that badmouths her ex-boyfriend. That was always a giant red flag to me. Where’s the accountability? It’s doubtful the other person was the only one screwing up while you were a modern-day saint.
It’s the same thing with Bell. He’s pointing the finger at Reid instead of himself. It doesn’t work. Even Bell’s former teammate, Tyrann Mathieu, wasn’t buying it.
Don’t forget that Reid is one of the most well-respected coaches in the entire NFL. It doesn’t mean that Reid is incapable of making mistakes, but it means that many coaches and front office members will side with him. Reid’s coaching tree is vast. And we tend to lean toward our friends. What if one of your good friends — who helped advance your career — was just called out? Would you be eager to hire the person that criticized your buddy? That would be a big, fat no.
Mike McDermott said to Worm in the movie Rounders, “It’s stupid. It’s just bad business.” That’s exactly what lashing out is – bad business.
I’m not saying don’t ever be frustrated; that’s part of being human. I’m saying handle it like a grown up.
I can fully understand Bell’s frustration. He went from a premier running back with the Steelers, to a healthy scratch with the Chiefs. That’s tough.
I can also appreciate the frustration that many people in sports radio feel. If you show up for work one day and don’t have a gig the next, that isn’t a barrel of laughs. If you’ve ever gotten your hopes up for an opening after a program director got done waxing poetic about you, only to ghost you forever, oh yeah, frustration city. Maybe you also have a family, mortgage, and mouths to feed on top of getting yanked around during the job search. You might be seeing red at that point.
The minute you lash out at a former employer, co-worker, boss, or in Bell’s case a former coach, is the minute you lose ground.
You’ve heard of Tom Brady’s TB12 Method. I’d like to introduce something that might benefit you even more in life: The Keep It To Your Freakin’ Self Method. Not vocalizing your critical thoughts is essential in life. If you voiced every negative thought about your boss, partner, kids, neighbors, and 78 other things in this world, you’d find yourself in a very bad spot.
Bell knows he’s better than a lot of running backs that are currently employed. There are sports radio hosts currently out of work that know they’re better than certain full-time hosts. That causes anger to rise, which is right around the time the devil shows up on your shoulder and starts whispering, “Hey, you should call somebody out. Yeah, fire up Twitter and go on a rampage.”
After firing up IG, Bell later apologized because he knows he screwed up by publicizing his beef with Reid.
You don’t ever have to say sorry for doing the right thing. Bell realizes he stepped in it. (Or his agent let him know.) Either way, Bell is doing damage control. That isn’t the position you want to be in, especially as a free agent who’s looking for work.
Success isn’t just about talent; it’s also about trust. And trust matters even more when your talent starts to decline. By calling out Reid, all Bell did was plant seeds of doubt with other teams. Is this declining running back worth the trouble? Or will he call me out too if things aren’t to his liking? That’s what the low road gets you; temporary satisfaction followed by a bunch of headaches. It’s wiser to keep things positive. Take the high road.
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.