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A Letter To A New Program Director

“Look, I don’t have all the answers. I’ve won and I’ve lost. What I do have, is experience and knowledge gained through making plenty of mistakes.”

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Hi there.

You may know of me.

You might not.

My name is Ryan Maguire. And for the better part of three decades, I’ve worked as a Program Director in spoken word radio (or as they’re now referring to the position, “Content Director”).

I’ve managed stations and broadcast networks in both sports and news talk in nine different markets across the country. I’ve lived on both the East Coast and the West Coast and in various parts of the Midwest.

I’ve worked for all the big operators (iHeart, Audacy, Cumulus), a few locally owned stations and even for some companies that don’t even exist anymore.

Now, depending in who you talk to, you’ll hear different things about me. Some people will say I’m a great guy and a sharp content mind. Some will tell you that I’m a clueless jerk. Hey, you don’t spend thirty years in one industry without rubbing a few people the wrong way…even if you never intended to do so.

Anyways, I’m writing you this letter to congratulate you on becoming a new Program Dir….er…CONTENT DIRECTOR (old habits die hard, my apologies) and offer you some advice that I feel you will find useful. 

First, it’s hard to get a gig in an industry as competitive as ours. I’m sure that you went through a long road to get here, which included beating out a LOT of other applicants. Kudos to you for that!

Second, you’re about to embark on the biggest challenge of your career. You may think you know how tough this job is but trust me…it’s going to be a LOT tougher. Here’s the good part, as tough as this job is, you could make it one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.

Look, I don’t have all the answers. I’ve won and I’ve lost. What I do have, is experience and knowledge gained through making plenty of mistakes. 

I could write you a novel of clever ideas and concepts to be successful in your position. But trust me, you aren’t going to have that much free time on your hands. So, I’ll boil it down to five key things that I feel are important for you to keep in mind.

Here they are….

PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

So, I’m sure you’ve heard that Ted Lasso is all the rage right now. I honestly haven’t seen one minute of the show. Not because I don’t want to, but simply because I don’t want to sign up for ONE MORE streaming service. That being said, I don’t need to see Jason Sudeikis’ quaint comedy to be able to tell you that personal relationships are worth their weight in gold for anyone in a leadership position. 

You must manage up, manage down, and manage sideways. Here’s the dirty little secret about most people: they have to LIKE who they work with. If they don’t, they’ll find something else to do. Hey, we’re living in the gig economy, don’t tempt talented people to take advantage of that.

GET SOME WINS AND GET THEM EARLY

The worst label that a new manager can have is that of an “empty suit”.  The best way to earn the respect of your teammates is to show them that you can get things done. Find a way to push some things through that have been stuck in the pipeline. If you can’t, you run the risk of people tuning you out early.

This can be something simple. Maybe it’s better communication between departments.  Maybe it’s getting a lagging expense report approved. Maybe it’s getting the TV in the bullpen fixed. Just find a way to prove to people that you’re not an “all talk and no action” type of person.

Whenever I get a new gig, I always have 1-on-1s with everyone associated with the brand and I ask them “What do you NEED from me?”. Press them for honest answers.

BE HONEST AND DIRECT

Trust me, everyone on the team wants to know what you think. Don’t leave them guessing. One of the biggest things that stress any employee out is NOT knowing where they stand with the boss. Don’t have a poker face. If you like something they did, TELL THEM. Don’t offer false flattery. Tell them what you liked about it and why. And whatever you do, don’t dance around conversations that are difficult. Not everyone is going to like what you have to say, no matter how well you sugar coat it. Hell, some may even PRETEND to be okay with what you’re saying and them MF you in their car on the way home. However, if you’ve successfully cultivated a relationship with your teammates, they will understand that what you’re saying is genuine and coming from a place of wanting to make them better. You’ll get pushback from time to time. It’s only natural. 

FOCUS ON YOUR OWN HOUSE, NOT THE COMPETITION

If you’re like me, you’re a competitive person. You don’t like to lose to the stations across the street. You want to get better ratings, better streaming and digital numbers and higher billing. Hey, we ALL love bragging rights.

Here’s the deal: the more you focus on the competition, the harder your job is going to be. Instead, make the focus of all the metrics you track more about YOU and less about THEM. Did you grow your numbers month over month, quarter over quarter and year over year? If not, why? Focus on making yourself better. The rest usually takes care of itself.

DARE OTHERS TO INNOVATE AND CREATE

This can be difficult in an era of corporate pushdowns, but it’s one that you must keep striving for. We work in an industry that has been STARVED for innovative ideas. Why? We never truly empowered people to produce them. Always be collaborating with your teammates. ALL of them. Full-time, part-time and everyone else in-between.

Maybe it’s a promotion, a new show segment, a new podcast, an event idea, or some wacky concept that you can hardly understand. TAKE THEM ALL IN. It’s unlikely that all the best ideas are going to be yours. Don’t worry, that’s a GOOD thing. The more you show your teammates that you want to back their ideas, the stronger they will work to make sure that the ideas succeed. 

Those are the best pieces of advice I can give you. I certainly hope that they help.

If you ever have something you want to collab on or just someone that you need to vent to, feel free to reach out. Like you, I’ve made my life’s work my hobby and talking shop never gets old.

All the best and continued success!

Sincerely,

Ryan Maguire

BSM Writers

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.

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USA Today

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.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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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.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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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.

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