Football, at its very core, is a game of blocking and tackling. Play calling, field position, time of possession, those are all important parts of the game too. At its very core though, football games and their outcomes are defined by the most basic parts of the sport – blocking and tackling.
If you didn’t know that before Saturday, all you have to do is look at the college football games airing in primetime on ABC and FOX respectively. Clemson couldn’t block. LSU couldn’t tackle. Both came up on the losing end of their season openers.
The blocking and tackling of sports radio is not one specific set of things. Every department has its most basic tasks. We assume, usually, fairly I think, that if you get hired, it means the bosses have faith in your ability to execute those basics. Sometimes though, the little things become so mundane that they get sloppy or disappear entirely.
One of my favorite college football podcasts is Splitzone Duo. Sunday morning, the show dropped what hosts Richard Johnson and Alex Kirshner refer to as a “whip-around episode.” They start a 30-minute timer and offer thoughts on as many games from Saturday as possible. Naturally, this week’s whip-around began with #5 Georgia’s win over #3 Clemson.
Kirshner pointed out that of the four reliable powers in college football of the last 5 years (Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma), Clemson is the only one not regularly churning out first round draft picks along the offensive line. “Now, when you have two god-tier quarterbacks back-to-back, fine,” Johnson said illustrating the level of skill the specialists have to demonstrate to overcome a deficiency at the most basic of levels.
Can you say without a doubt that in every department of your station or cluster, you have someone performing the way DeShaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence did as Clemson’s quarterback?
Probably not. At most, you might have one or two in the entire building.
Jeff Tyler, the market manager of iHeartMedia’s Milwaukee cluster, was a part of our Meet the Market Managers series earlier this year. He told me that in his time overseeing an entire region of the country for the company, it became clear sometimes that it was the smaller markets that still put a focus on the basic Xs and Os of broadcasting and sales. Sometimes he needed the larger markets he oversaw to look to Eau Claire, Wisconsin as a model for improvement from the bottom up.
Broadcasters can be quick to dismiss the idea of improving blocking and tackling. What is fun about resetting and teasing? Do they really matter? If the content is good, who cares if you tease the next segment effectively.
Those things are just part of broadcasting blocking and tackling. There is nothing more important when it comes to the basics than getting right to the point. You wouldn’t believe how many really good broadcasters waste a huge chunk of the audience’s time before they even say the thesis sentence of their segment. I am telling you, it is something even the very best in this business could stand to work on.
Dave Greene, who used to write about sales for this site, called prospecting and presenting “the sales version of blocking and tackling” in a column from 2019. Again, it is the most basic of principles that lead to wins. You can know a client’s business needs backward and forwards, but if you aren’t meeting new people and presenting new business plans, your earning potential is pretty limited.
There is a reason coaches in every sport still make time to go over fundamentals in practice. Dominance and success begin with presence. If you focus on doing even the small things right, improving on the big things isn’t as daunting of a challenge.
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.