I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I have been interviewing several people recently for some open positions that we have here at the site. A lot of the chats have been very pleasant. I’ve talked to a lot of interesting people with unique experiences. The ones that aren’t very interesting tend to have something in common and that is what I want to talk about today.
We all like sports. It’s literally the number one requirement of working in the sports media. If I, or anyone else interviewing you, asks what you are into, you better have an answer other than sports. If you don’t, you’re too boring to work for me.
Don’t mistake what I am saying. I like sports and I know that you do too. How am I supposed to expect an audience to form a bond with you if you cannot engage them beyond bare minimum?
Think about some of the biggest names in sports media right now. As an audience, we know that Stephen A. Smith loves General Hospital so much that he finagled a role on the show. We know Ernie Johnson is passionate about his faith. We know that Mina Kimes takes pride in her artistic ability with an Etch-a-Sketch.
None of those are things that make up the majority of each broadcaster’s content. You don’t even have to be a fan of soap operas, a Christian, or appreciate art to understand why knowing that stuff matters. It gives you some insight into who these people are. That influences the way you feel about them and your loyalty to them.
“Guy talk” is something of a loaded phrase with sports broadcasters. Some embrace it and make it a centerpiece of what they do. For others, it is a repulsive notion. Who is tuning into a sports station to hear you talk about something that isn’t sports?
Best practices fall somewhere between those two. You don’t have to devote whole segments to ranking Marvel movies or debating the merits of Drake’s Certified Lover Boy. As a listener, I want you to have a frame of reference for those things though. It tells me we live in the same world. As a programmer, I want you to know enough to make mention of those things. Explaining sports opinions in terms of pop culture has worked well for Colin Cowherd in his career. Why? Because it is an immediate bond with the audience. They don’t eat, sleep, and breathe sports like we do. Using some common ground to illustrate your point is an easy way to catch people up and communicate with them more clearly.
Your sports knowledge doesn’t teach me anything about you. Maybe I learn how obsessive or thorough you are if you can talk about any sport the way Chris Russo talks about baseball. But we’re here to talk about sports. The audience has only two options. They can agree or disagree. That’s it.
Now, let’s say you want to convince me that it is time for the New York Giants to clean house. You can give me stats for days, and those will enhance your argument. Maybe try comparing Dave Gettleman to the son handpicked to take over the family business. He runs it into the ground over and over again, but dad isn’t going to fire him, so the guy just gets to keep picking a new scapegoat.
Don’t you think there are more than a few guys in your audience that can relate to that? Don’t you think that strikes a personal cord and crystalizes your point for some people out there?
We aren’t in the sports media business. We’re in the connections business. I know that isn’t a very original thought and I am far from the first to say it, but it is true. As a host or writer, your success depends on your ability to connect with listeners or readers. That is a lot harder than it used to be for people that are painfully one dimensional.
People that love sports don’t even lock in on games the way they used to. We live in a world of second screen content consumption. We walk around with a device in our pocket that gives us access to all of the knowledge and statistics in the word with a few clicks. It’s harder to surprise people or even educate them with a deep dive into a player or game than it was 25 years ago.
Connections make it possible for your content to cut through clutter. It makes you memorable to whoever your audience happens to be. If you’re applying for a job in sports media and all you can tell me about yourself is that you like sports, you aren’t telling me anything. If I ask you what you’re into or what you are passionate about and you cannot tell me anything, you’re too boring to work for me.
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.