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Effective Networking Is About More Than Handing Out Business Cards

“It isn’t easy to always be creative, but guess what most of your competition is doing while networking? The easy thing.”

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A hiring caught my attention last week. ESPN 97.5 and 92.5 in Houston announced the addition of Vanessa Richardson and Paul Gallant as its new midday radio team. Brand new hosts and radio teams are announced all the time. What made this one stand out? Well, longtime market personality Charlie Pallilo mentioned that he was no longer with the station. The very next day, the new hires were announced.

You don’t need to be a math major to understand that 2 + 2 = 4. The new hires didn’t take long at all to be announced. There weren’t rotating hosts for two months while the station figured out exactly what it wanted to do next. It’s an example that showcases something we should already know; unless a host has a resume that would put Colin Cowherd or Dan Patrick to shame, that person better have some connections.

Now, please don’t read what I’m not writing. This isn’t about sour grapes or crying foul — I hope the new show is a lot of fun and very successful for both Richardson and Gallant — I’m only stressing the importance of networking. I’m not questioning the credentials of the new hosts at all; I’m just pointing out that this is the real world.

Any program director in the country that’s any good has a list of hosts that could one day be on their station. PDs don’t just wait until they have an opening to say, “Oh man, guess I better find out which hosts are out there.” Good PDs are a step ahead. To be on their list, hosts need to have talent and they also need to know people.

Way back in 2010, I attended a sports radio conference in LA. I was sitting there listening to each speaker emphasize the importance of standing out; hosts won’t sound different on the air if they’re saying the same thing as others. That’s when it hit me like a Mike Tyson uppercut; it works the exact same way with networking.

It’s funny to me; we hear all of this stuff about cutting through once we have the job, but we don’t hear the same message while we’re looking for the job. I’m here to tell you that it’s the same game. Before you get the opportunity to cut through on the air, you have to be able to cut through with programmers while networking.

I used to live in Nashville. There are some really talented musicians that haven’t made it yet and are stuck playing the bar scene. Why is that? They either don’t have the right look, or they don’t have the right connections. The good news for hosts is that the right look isn’t necessary in radio, but connections are definitely needed.

During the radio conference in 2010, I took a picture with programming rockstar Bruce Gilbert. He was nice enough to stop for a minute before rushing out to catch a flight. I told him there was a story behind the picture we had just taken and that I would email him and let him know what it was about. He was either genuinely interested, or Bruce missed his true calling as a Hollywood actor.

The story was that I had a tryout in Seattle back in 2009 when ESPN 710 was getting ready to launch.

They were really excited to fly me up, but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t offered a job. I asked the PD, Owen Murphy, if there was anything I could do better on my next interview. He bluntly said, “Yeah, dress better.” When I sounded surprised he doubled down and basically said, “This is a top-20 market. What are you doing?”

I wasn’t wearing a Pat McAfee tank top during the interview, but I wasn’t wearing a suit either. I was an idiot for not looking the part. A year later at the sports radio conference, I was wearing a suit when I took the picture with Bruce. I explained the story to him and said that I wouldn’t make that same mistake going forward.

Bruce didn’t email me back and say, “Holy cow, you just blew my mind. Can you start Monday?” It doesn’t work like that. But it was a memorable way to make a first impression. You can’t just hand out business cards or snap pictures, say thanks, and expect that person to remember who you are. Trust me, they won’t. It’s vital to stand out.

Sure, it can be difficult at times. It’s not like you can hand out a business card and say, “And for my next act I’m going to saw my assistant in half and make her disappear.” It isn’t easy to always be creative, but guess what most of your competition is doing while networking? The easy thing. Always try to find ways to stand out and be unique.

Many moons ago, I got to sit down with ESPN heavy hitters Louise Cornetta and Dave Roberts. Almost immediately, they both asked me, “What makes you different?”

Hell, I don’t know. I go to church but also love heavy metal? It’s a tricky question to answer. “I tell it like it is.” Most hosts do. “I’m a mixture of content and entertainment.” Most hosts are. I felt like I got a Gatorade bath. It was jolting.

The point is that this is how programmers think. They aren’t looking for the common person or cookie-cutter host. They want someone who’s different and sounds different. If that’s what programmers desire, how do you think firing off a normal email or simply handing out a business card is going to land? Badly at best. Maybe do them a favor and pass out bigger business cards so they can at least hide their gigantic yawns.

This is why the BSM Summit is a golden opportunity for hosts to network creatively. You don’t have to only say how you’re different, you can also show it. Plus, you can make personal connections. These programmers aren’t just buying your work, they’re also buying you as a person. How are they supposed to buy you if they don’t know much about you?

Two years ago at the Summit, I got to host a panel with some gambling experts. The scheduled host, RJ Bell, wasn’t able to make it. I was probably locking in a two-leg parlay when Jason Barrett messaged me about filling in. No problem, this I can do. It also let people know something about me; I like gambling. The more familiar programmers are with hosts, the better. Even if it’s, “Hey, you’re the guy who did that thing,” at least it’s something. Familiarity is very important.

Networking is also about connecting with the person, not just the programmer. There is so much more to people than just their job. The most random stuff can cause a hiring manager to open themselves up to you. Maybe it’s a common love for pulled pork or the metal band Pantera. I once told Denver programmer, Dave Tepper, that I epically bombed at the Laugh Factory years ago. As a longtime comic, he loved that story.

Networking is a mandatory part of this business. Jobs don’t last forever. Jobs go bye bye. Banking on stability in sports radio is sort of like expecting to find Bigfoot. Think of it like this, your phone won’t charge itself; you have to connect it to the charger. It works the same way with jobs. Dream jobs don’t magically fall from the heavens right into your lap; you need to connect with people for doors to open.

Richardson and Gallant had established themselves as fixtures in Houston before landing their newest opportunity. If they were approached by ESPN 97.5, good for them. If they did some networking and developed relationships that gave them an advantage, even better. It’s weak to say, “Hey, no fair.” You can either whine on the sidelines, or you can be a grown up and play the game. Don’t let somebody else beat you to the punch. You’ll stand a much better chance of getting hired if you network creatively.

BSM Writers

Grant Cohn’s Trolling of Players is Unacceptable

After an altercation between Javon Kinlaw of the San Francisco 49ers and Grant Cohn, it became clear that Kinlaw was being trolled by a member of the media.

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Grant Cohn is a media member who writes for the FanNation 49ers blog on SI.com. He also talks about the team on his YouTube channel, which has over 48,000 subscribers as of noon Thursday. His father, Lowell, was a longtime columnist in the Bay Area.

Javon Kinlaw is a defensive lineman, whom the San Francisco 49ers drafted in the first round despite concerns about the durability of his knee. He played four games last season, his second in the league.

The two were involved in two confrontations this week. The first one occurred off to the side of the 49ers’ practice field. Kinlaw apparently cursed at Cohn and knocked his hat from atop his head. Later in the day, Kinlaw again swore at Cohn, this time after joining a live stream on Cohn’s YouTube channel. (Side note: I have never felt so freaking old as I did while typing that previous sentence.)

OK. That’s my attempt at an absolutely straightforward and objective summary of a situation that scares the hell out of me. Not because a player was mad at a member of the media. I’ve had it happen to me and I’ve seen it happen to others. It’s my opinion that this has been happening for as long as human beings have scrutinized the athletic efforts of other human beings.

What scared me was that I was seeing some version of the future of sports media. A future in which media members behaved like YouTube trolls, acting purposely ridiculous or antagonistic to initiate conflicts that could be turned into more conflicts that would could be gleefully recounted as content for the audience. I thought that because that’s pretty much what Cohn did:https://youtu.be/4Hf9sjBttFY

Cohn essentially bragged about the number of different things he said that may have prompted Kinlaw’s reaction, and you know what? It worked. Kinlaw got mad. He confronted Cohn. Twice. TMZ published a story about it. So did SFGate.com.

This is troll behavior. You know, the online pests who say or do something intended to provoke a reaction, and once they get that reaction, they recount and scrutinize that reaction with an eye toward triggering another reaction. Lather, rinse repeat. Increasingly, entire online media ecosystems consist of nothing more than people who don’t like each other talking about how much they don’t like one another.

I’m not going to pretend this is entirely new in sports media. Sports columnists have been known to make reputations with their willingness to be critical of the home team. A huge part of Skip Bayless’ brand is his unwavering insistence on highlighting Lebron James’ perceived flaws. Stephen A. Smith has engaged in public feuds with players, namely Kevin Durant.

I do see a difference between this and what Cohn did, though. The reaction Bayless and Smith are primarily concerned with is from their audience, not their subjects. The subjects may get mad, but that’s not the primary goal. At least I hope it’s not.

What happens if that is the primary goal? What if someone is offering opinions not because it’s what they really think, but because they want to provoke a response from the subject? Media careers have been built on less.

I don’t know if that’s the case with Cohn. I’ve never talked to him in my life, and even if I had, it’s impossible to know someone’s true intent. But in listening to everything he said AFTER the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, I’m not willing to assume that Cohn was operating in good faith. Here’s how Cohn described the initial confrontation with Kinlaw, which occurred as practice was beginning.

“In the training room, I saw Javon Kinlaw, who is the king of the training room,” Cohn said. “He’s usually in the training room.”

Cohn said the two locked eyes, but were separated by about 70 yards at the time. Kinlaw then walked across the field to where the reporters were gathered. He stood directly behind Cohn.

“So I turn, and I say, ‘Wassup, Mook Dawg?’ “ Cohn said, referencing the nickname on Kinlaw’s Instagram account. “And he doesn’t say anything. And I say, ‘Why are you looking at me like that, Javon?’ “

“And then he said, ‘What are you going to do about it you bitch-ass,’ and then he said one more word that I can’t say,” Cohn said. “And then I turned to face him, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s like that?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, it’s like that.’ And then he knocked the hat off my head.”

OK. Pause. In my experience, when your job is to publicly describe and critique the performance and attitudes of professional athletes, there will be times in which the athletes do not care for your description or your critique. Some of those who are displeased will make their objections known to you.

However, there are two things that are unusual here: First, the fact Kinlaw knocked the hat off Cohn’s head, which is unacceptable. Second, Cohn then posted a video on  YouTube to not only talk about what had happened, but state he had been so critical of Kinlaw for so long he wasn’t sure what specifically sparked Kinlaw’s anger.

“Javon, what are you upset about?” Cohn asked toward the end of  his video. “Is it the fact that I said you have an 80-year-old knee? Is it the fact that I said that you’re a terrible pass rusher and you’re just a two-down player? Is it the fact that I said the Niners shouldn’t have drafted you and should have taken Tristan Wirfs instead. Is it the fact that I said that you’re unprofessional and immature.

“It escapes me, which of the hundred negative things I’ve said about Javon Kinlaw the last couple of years, moved him to approach me in such a way, but you know what, I applaud Javon Kinlaw for coming to speak to me directly, and I ask you, what do you think Javon Kinlaw is mad about.”

Cohn was trolling Kinlaw. No other word for it.

That night, Cohn was conducting a live stream on YouTube, which Kinlaw joined, while apparently eating dinner, to make declarative statements about the size of Cohn’s genitalia — among other things.

Neither one looked particularly impressive. Not Kinlaw, who was profane and combative with a member of the media, at one point making a not-so-subtle threat. Not Cohn, who asked Kinlaw, “Do you think I’m scared of you, Javon?” He also said, “I don’t even know why you’re mad, Javon.”

I think Kinlaw would have been better off ignoring Cohn. If I was Kinlaw’s employer, I would probably prefer he not log into video livestreams to make testicular comparisons. But honestly, I don’t care about what Kinlaw did. At all. He’s not on a team I root for. He didn’t physically harm anyone. He used some bad words in public.

I am bothered not just by Cohn’s actions, but by some of the reactions to them because of what I think this type of behavior will do to an industry I have worked in for 25 years. Credentialed media members who behave like Cohn did this week make it harder for other media members who are acting in good faith. Preserving access for people like him diminishes what that access will provide for those who aren’t trying to use criticism to create conflict that will become content.

I think Cohn knew what he was doing. In his livestream, before Kinlaw joined, Cohn stated he was not scared because he knew — by virtue of his father’s history in the business — that if Kinlaw had touched him he would potentially be entitled monetary compensation.

By now, it should be pretty apparent how problematic this whole thing is and yet on Thursday, a number of 49ers fans online were sticking up for Cohn as just doing his job. Dieter Kurtenbach, a Bay Area columnist, Tweeted: “Javon Kinlaw does not know that @GrantCohn was built for this.” Built for what? Winning Internet fights? Kurtenbach also deleted a Tweet in which he called Kinlaw “soft.”

Cohn’s father, Lowell, is a former columnist at the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat. He promoted the first video his son made on Tuesday:

Sorry, I don’t find it funny because it’s another step down a path in which media members seek reactions at the expense of information. Where they look to make fun of players instead of learning about them. They’ll stop acting like journalists and start acting like the trolls who make their money by instigating a conflict, which they then film: “Jake Paul, reporting live from 49ers practice …”

If that’s the case, thank God I’m about to age out of this business, entirely. I’m 47 years old and I can’t believe there’s anyone in our industry who thinks what Cohn did this week is acceptable.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 75

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A new episode of Media Noise is all about reaction. Demetri reacts to the ManningCast’s big win at the Sports Emmys. Danny O’Neil reacts to people reacting to Colin Kaepernick’s workout in Las Vegas and Andy Masur reacts to John Skipper’s comments about Charles Barkley.

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BSM Writers

Bron Heussenstamm Blends Bleav Podcasts Advertising with SiriusXM

Bron Heussenstamm, the CEO of the Bleav Podcast Network says blending podcasting advertising with satellite radio’s reach is a victory for both sides.

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Last week, the Bleav (pronounced believe) Podcast Network announced a deal with SiriusXM to make all 32 NFL team-specific Bleav pods available on the SXM app. SXM can also air Bleav content on any of its sports channels. Each NFL Bleav show pairs a former player with a host to discuss team issues. Eric Davis, Lorenzo Neal, and Pac-Man Jones are amongst the former players Bleav has signed as talent.

I have hosted a Bleav podcast about Boise State football -the Kingdom of POD. I am usually provided 1-3 advertisers per episode by the network and get paid by the download. My subject matter is regional, so my take-home pay is usually under four figures. I have enjoyed the technical assistance and cross-promotion I receive and I enjoyed meeting Bleav CEO Bron Heussenstamm. Bron is Los Angeles-based, a USC graduate, and founded Bleav in 2018. We discussed the SXM deal, podcast advertising, and the future. 

Will the podcast advertisers be carried on the SXM distribution platform?

Yes, Bleav baked-in advertisements and hosts read ads are distributed across all platforms. This enables the host to do their show once through, making it as easy as possible for the hosts and consistent for the advertisers.

Bron Heussenstamm, CEO Bleav Podcast Network

How is advertising on Bleav different? 

We want to be more than a ‘host read ad’ or a ‘digital insert’ with our advertising partners. When companies work with Bleav shows and talent, those companies can receive our omnichannel of distribution points—podcast platforms, YouTube, socials, streamers, TV, radio, and more. This allows for consistent branding across all platforms: great talent presenting great companies to fans and consumers no matter where they consume content. 

What is the growth pattern for podcasts that you see? 

The industry trades have presented 400%-800% percent growth over the next ten years. Once the COVID fog lifted, we really saw these gains. Sports are always going to be at the forefront of culture. The increases in all sports sectors have certainly carried into the digital space. 

SXM has started with NFL shows but can also air more Bleav content – what does that look like? 

We’ve started with our NFL network of 32 team shows hosted by a former player. We’ve kept the door open for our NCAAB, NCAAF, MLB, NHL, Basketball, and Soccer networks. We’re happy for our hosts to be part of such a tremendous company and platform. SiriusXM can continue to amplify its voice and give fans the access and insight only a player can provide. 

The Interactive Advertising Bureau-IAB- says podcast revenue grew 72% last year to $1.4B and is expected to grow to $2B this year and double to $4B by 2024. Have you seen similar growth? What is driving the industry now, and what will be the primary cause of growth by 2024?  

There is a myriad of reasons for the growth. I‘ll lean into a couple. 

At Bleav, we launch and maximize the digital arm of industry leaders. The technology upgrades to allow hosts to have a world-class show — simulcast in both audio and video – from their home has led to an explosion of content. With this, the level of content creators has risen. Having a YouTube, RSS feed, podcast, and more is now part of the brand, right alongside Twitter and Instagram. 

If a company wants to advertise on Bleav in Chargers, we know exactly how many people heard Lorenzo Neal endorse their product. We can also safely assume they like the Chargers. The tracking of demo specifics for companies is huge. It’s a fantastic medium to present products to the right fans and consumers.

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