Connect with us

Barrett Blogs

Picking Up The Pieces After a Devastating Setback

Published

on

On Tuesday night, the NFL owners voted to allow the St. Louis Rams to return to Los Angeles. Owner Stan Kroenke got his wish to bring football back to the nation’s 2nd largest market, and will now reap the financial benefits of a geographical change.

Although I’m excited for the people of Los Angeles to have an NFL team once again in their backyard, I’m sick to my stomach thinking about my friends in St. Louis who have now had the NFL punch them in the gut for the second time. St. Louisans invested themselves in supporting the team and its sponsors for the past 20 years, while raising their children to become fans of the team. But today they wake up to the reality that they’ll soon have no games to attend on Sunday when the next NFL season rolls around.

ramsGone are the hopes and dreams of experiencing future Super Bowl championship parades down Market Street. Businesses who count on the team’s Sunday crowds will now suffer from their departure, and politicians in the show-me state will now have to show they’re committed to not letting this moment define them and their city.

Was it right? No. Was it fair? Absolutely not. But as cold and harsh as that might be, the NFL is a business. We lose sight of that when these situations arise because we sink our heart and soul into these franchises, only to discover later that the only true attachment they want from us is the one that includes access to our bank accounts.

I have no issue whatsoever with Los Angeles having a team. The NFL definitely should have a franchise there, and those fans who lost their teams 20 years ago, didn’t deserve that pain either. But I don’t believe you set a good precedent when you destroy the lives of a few million people in one city to make the lives of a few million others in another city better.

stanIt’s even more baffling when you consider how calculated this move was. Stan Kroenke bought the Rams in 2010 after Georgia Frontiere passed away. He held a minority stake in the club at that time and Georgia’s family had an interested buyer in Shahid Khan (now the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars) who wanted to keep the team in St. Louis. Kroenke though exercised his right to match the bid and took over control of the franchise.

When he assumed control he said “I’ve been around St. Louis and Missouri a major portion of my life. I’ve never had any desire to lead the charge out of St. Louis. That’s not why we’re here. We’re here to work very hard and be successful in St. Louis.

But although that sounded good, his actions over the next 5+ years told a different story.

Kroenke started out by transferring his ownership of the Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets to his son Josh who was 30 years old at the time. That was the loophole he explored so he could become owner of the Rams and maintain ownership of his existing teams. If you think “Silent Stan” was suddenly washing his hands with all business related to those two franchises you’re kidding yourself. But on paper, he covered his tracks.

Then he explored trying to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. The winning bid went to Magic Johnson’s group but reports started to surface that Kroenke was interested in the Dodgers because he wanted to build his own media network, and after gaining the opportunity to move the Rams out of St. Louis and back to Los Angeles, offer their programming on a Kroenke owned channel.

This very model has been constructed in Denver with the addition of Altitude Sports. He’s also purchased a number of radio stations in Colorado and is expected to use one of those signals to further promote and sell content built around the Nuggets and Avalanche.

jeffAs Stan was investigating purchasing land and forging relationships with local politicians in California, the Rams product remained stagnant. He refused to show his face or speak publicly to calm the fears of local fans, and the only time he spoke on the record was when Jeff Fisher was hired as Head Coach. If you’re not looking to leave town, and ticket sales and advertising revenues are declining, you’d think it would make business sense to address the elephant in the room and help get your business back on track.

But that wasn’t going to happen.

In the NFL’s guidelines for relocation, it states that no team has an entitlement to relocate simply because it receives another opportunity to enhance club revenues in another location. Considering that St. Louis was the only one of the three cities with an actual stadium plan and commitment, it’s hard to understand how this relocation was anything but a money grab.

Roger Goodell and his people saw the dollar signs in Los Angeles along with a promise for a new home for their growing NFL Media empire and Stan was the guy with the deep pockets and huge grapefruits who was willing to turn his back on his home state to get it done. Jabs were thrown at the people in St. Louis for not offering more support, when in reality they were given every reason to not attach themselves to the team. Lost in all of this was the reality that the NFL saw Oakland and San Diego as being more lucrative.

rams2It’s easy for people in glass houses to throw stones and attack St. Louis fans for not attending games but when you’re handed a lemon of a product which delivers a 50-109-1 record over 10 years, and your owner won’t speak publicly about his intentions in your city, while he rubs elbows and furthers dialogue with Los Angeles leadership and explores every angle to leave (including attempting to break his lease to play more home games in London), it’s impossible to be supportive.

Bear in mind, the team didn’t reach the playoffs once during the previous 11 seasons, and if you look at their performance since Stan took over in 2010, they’re 36-59. They haven’t had one winning season under his ownership.

The issue here though was never about ticket sales. It was about the opportunity to increase his franchise value and own net worth by returning to Los Angeles. When you take into account the numerous business opportunities he gains from parking, to hotels, to restaurants, to higher rights deals, to possibly even gaining a tenant in the Chargers or Raiders, there’s a reason why Stan Kroenke is a multi-billionaire – he knows how to make money!

None the less, what’s done is done. The city of St. Louis and its great people will now have to pick themselves up off the ground, and decide how to repair the damage. One of my favorite quotes comes from William A. Ward and it says “Adversity causes some to break, others to break records“. St. Louis will have to decide if they’re going to let this moment break them, and if the past is any indication, I don’t believe they will.

So how does that translate to the sports media business? Here’s how.

stl2With the Rams leaving town, local people will further invest themselves in supporting the Cardinals and Blues. If you’re the team’s rights holders KMOX and Fox Sports Midwest, or any of the local sports stations (101 ESPN, CBS Sports 920, 590 The Fan KFNS), that’s good news. In moments like these, people tend to gravitate to those who love them back.

Because those other two local franchises have remained loyal and happy with their standing in the St. Louis community, I’d expect them both to benefit from it. Media outlets who put an even heavier focus into supporting them will be rewarded for it.

If you remember when the Los Angeles Angels announced they were signing Albert Pujols following the 2011 season, it was a dark day for St. Louis baseball fans. He was the face of the franchise, a good man, and he had won multiple MVP awards and a couple of World Series titles. His departure would’ve been the equivalent to New York losing Derek Jeter.

As painful and heartbreaking as it was for many, they stood behind their Cardinals. General Manager John Mozeliak went to work to rebuild the franchise, and as luck would have it, the Cardinals that season reached the playoffs and advanced to the NL Championship series where they lost in 7 games to the San Francisco Giants.

cardsMeanwhile, Pujols’ Angels didn’t reach the post-season that season and they’ve only done so once during his 4 years in the city of Angels. Their only October visit resulted in a three game sweep courtesy of the Kansas City Royals in the first round of Wildcard play in 2014. During that same period, the Cardinals have advanced to the post-season every year.

Another way I expect the city to rally is to further stand behind the media members of the community who stood up for them during this tumultuous time. Personalities like Bernie Miklasz, Randy Karraker, Kevin Wheeler, Frank Cusumano, Tim McKernan, and Howard Balzer have defended the local people and the city, while explaining why it remains vibrant and economically sound. They’ve not been afraid to challenge the NFL, its leaders and bylaws, and the Rams hierarchy, who were set on chasing the pot of gold that awaited them in Inglewood.

Today they may not feel their efforts made a difference because the team was given the green light to pack up and head West, but in taking the positions that they did, and putting every ounce of their energies into fighting for their team, city and people, they gained respect, and a deeper appreciation and loyalty from the local audience. That’s something that will mean much more down the road when they reflect back on who they were to their communities.

Anheuser-Busch headquartersNo matter how hollow the feeling might be, people in St. Louis will never forget how those media folks had their backs during the toughest of times. The one way fans can and will repay them, is by listening more to their shows, watching their TV programs, reading their website articles, and supporting their station’s advertisers. I’d also expect some local advertisers to ramp up their efforts and further invest in these people and brands because they recognize how important it is to do so during hard times like this.

One issue that will need to be examined over the next year or two is whether or not four sports stations and two News/Talk brands with sports content and relationships can turn a profit in Market #22. It’s one thing to fill the airwaves with sports programming, but it’s another to be a financial success. I’m not sure if there are enough advertising dollars in the market to support all of those brands. I certainly hope that there are but it’s not going to be easy.

The last side of this conversation that I want to focus on is how it will impact the ratings side of the business. It goes without saying that the loss of a football team usually means less audience and lesser interest in sports talk programming Monday-Friday. Stations may explore adding an NFL affiliation with another team such as the Bears, Chiefs, Colts or Titans, but that isn’t going to make up for the loss of a local team. I’m not even sure yet if a St. Louis sports fan is going to want to hear anything about the NFL next Fall. There are still a few months between now and then so we’ll have to see how the healing process plays out.

That said, if you look around the country, there are plenty of markets that thrive despite not having a football franchise. They pledge their support to NBA, NHL and MLB teams, and in some smaller cities, college sports drives heavy listening. None of us are nostradamus and can predict whether St. Louis will receive another NFL team or capture the interest of the NBA, but for now, the focus for brands who operate Sports and News/Talk programming has to revolve around the people, franchises and universities who remain committed to staying there.

1045Look at Nashville, Portland, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. All of those cities have 2 pro teams or less and when you combine their college programs, there are plenty of sports options for people to sink their teeth into. Stations like The Fan in Charlotte, Portland and Indianapolis, and The Zone in Nashville, perform very well despite not having either an MLB, NBA or NFL franchise. As a matter of fact, The Zone is one of the top rated sports talkers in the country.

However, there are less sports talk radio stations in those cities than there are in St. Louis. That’s something to be aware of.

As it applies to ratings and revenue, I’d rather lose 16 football games on Sunday than 162 regular season baseball games. Many of those games air M-F and can have a big impact on a station’s performance, depending of course on which team you’re aligned with.

Most radio operators prefer to feature their best talent M-F 6a-7p, and add play-by-play around them to provide a cume, marketing and advertiser boost. As long as lineups remain stable and of interest to the local market, there are plenty of other ways to add sponsor dollars, marketing awareness and cume increases.

rams3I’m not going to suggest that losing an NFL franchise doesn’t impact business. It definitely stings and will cause some of these brands to have to adjust their strategies and expectations. It also forces them to have to modify their image because you’re no longer a three sport town.

But if the things that matter most in our business are building and connecting with an audience, generating ratings, and utilizing high profile personalities, their ratings, and our access to people through our on-air, online, and social platforms to secure advertising dollars, then that still remains doable.

It may have to be done differently, and it will take time for the emotions to subside, but a media business in St. Louis can still prosper, and listeners will still seek out hearing local people talk about local sports subjects – with or without the Rams! Knowing the passion of those fans as I do, I expect them to become more supportive of the brands and people who remain there. If you don’t believe me, ask the Cardinals and Albert Pujols how this story ends. I’m sure they haven’t forgotten.

Barrett Blogs

Takeaways From The NAB Show and Six Days in Las Vegas

“I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm for the NAB Show was elevated this year.”

Published

on

Six days on the road can sometimes be exhausting. Six days in Las Vegas, and it’s guaranteed. That was my world last week, as I along with more than fifty thousand people headed to sin city to take in the 2022 NAB Show.

The event didn’t draw as many as it had in the past, but after two years of inactivity due to the pandemic, it was good to be back. Judging from some of the vendors I talked to, the sessions I attended, and the feedback I received from folks I met with, though far from perfect, it was a solid return for an important event. Seeing people interact, celebrate others, and talk about ways to improve the business was a positive reminder of the world being closer to the normal of 2019 than the normal of 2020-2021. The only negative from the week, the consistent failure of Uber to appear in the right place at the right time. But that had zero to do with the NAB.

It feels like whenever I attend industry conferences, there are two different type of reviews that follow. Some writers attend the show and see the glass half full. Others see the glass half empty. I’m certainly not afraid to be critical but my enthusiasm was elevated this year. Maybe it was because BSM was a media partner or maybe it was due to the show not happening for years and just being happy to be among friends, peers, and clients and operate like normal. Either way, my glass was definitely half full.

For those who see events this way, it’s likely they’ll remember the numerous opportunities they had to create and reestablish relationships. They’ll also recall the access to different speakers, sessions, products, and the excellent research shared with those in attendance. The great work done by the BFOA to recognize industry difference makers during their Wednesday breakfast was another positive experience, as was the Sunday night industry gathering at The Mayfair Supper Club.

Included in the conference were sessions with a number of industry leaders. Radio CEO’s took the stage to point out the industry’s wins and growth, credit their employees, and call out audio competitors, big tech, and advertisers for not spending more with the industry. When David Field, Bob Pittman, Ginny Morris and Caroline Beasley speak, people listen. Though their companies operate differently, hearing them share their views on the state of the business is important. I always learn something new when they address the room.

But though a lot of ground gets covered during these interviews, there are a few issues that don’t get talked about enough. For instance, ineffective measurement remains a big problem for the radio business. Things like this shouldn’t happen, but they do. NBC and WarnerMedia took bold steps to address problems with TV measurement. Does radio have the courage to take a similar risk? That’s an area I’d like to see addressed more by higher ups.

I can’t help but wonder how much money we lose from this issue. Companies spend millions for a ratings service that delivers subpar results, and the accountability that follows is often maddening. Given the data we have access to digitally, it’s stunning that radio’s report card for over the air listening is determined by outdated technology. And if we’re going to tell folks that wearables are the missing ingredient for addressing this problem, don’t be shocked if the press that follows is largely negative. The industry and its advertising partners deserve better. So too do the reps at Nielsen who have to absorb the hits, and make the most of a tough situation.

Speaking of advertising, this is another one of those critical areas that deserves another point of view. Case in point, I talked to a few ad agency professionals at the show. Similar to what I’ve heard before, they’re tired of hearing radio leaders blame them for the industry’s present position. This has been a hot button topic with executives for years. I often wonder, do we help or hurt ourselves by publicly calling out advertisers and ad agencies? How would you feel if you ran an agency which spent millions on the industry and were told ‘you don’t do enough’? I’m a champion of radio/audio, and am bullish on spoken word’s ability to deliver results for clients, but having attended these shows for nearly seven years, it might be time for a new approach and message. Or maybe it’s time to put one of our CEO’s with one of theirs and have a bigger discussion. Just a thought.

Of the sessions that I attended, I thought Erica Farber’s ‘What Business Are You In?’ was excellent. I especially liked Taja Graham’s presentation on ‘Sharing Your Truth’. I also appreciated Eric Bischoff’s tips on ways to monetize podcasts, and am curious to see how Amazon’s AMP develops moving forward. My favorite session at the show though was “A GPS Session For Your Station’s Car Radio Strategy” led by Fred Jacobs. The insight shared by Joe D’Angelo of Xperi and Steve Newberry & Suzy Schultz of Quu was outstanding. Keeping the car companies on our side is vital to our survival, and how we position ourselves on the dashboard can’t be ignored. Other tech companies and audio operators take it seriously. We must too.

Sessions aside, it was great to check out the VSiN and Blue Wire studios, connect with a bunch of CEO’s, GM’s and Market Manager’s, and visit with Kevin Jones, Joe Fortenbaugh, Jeremiah Crowe, Jon Goulet, Bill Adee, Q Myers, Mike Golic Jr. and Stormy Buonantony. The NFL’s setup for the Draft, and the light show presented at the Bellagio was without a doubt spectacular, plus Stephanie had a chance to say hello to Raiders owner Mark Davis who was inside the back room of a Westgate restaurant where we were having a business lunch meeting. The personal tour we received at the Wynn showed off some of the best suites I’ve seen in Las Vegas, and I was finally able to witness Circa’s Stadium Swim in person, and meet owner Derek Stevens (heck of a suit game). What an outstanding hotel and casino.

Altogether, it was a productive trip. As someone who knows all about building and executing a conference, I appreciate the work that goes into pulling it off. This event is massive, and I have no idea how the NAB makes it happen so flawlessly. This was the first time my head of sales, Stephanie Eads, got to attend the show. She loved it. Our only negative, going back and forth between convention halls can get exhausting. Wisely, Stephanie and Guaranty Media CEO Flynn Foster took advantage of the underground Tesla ride to move from the North hall to the West hall. I wasn’t as bright. If that’s the worst part of the experience though, that’s pretty solid. I look forward to returning in 2023, and attending the NAB’s NYC show this fall.

Additional:

You’ve likely seen posts from BSM/BNM on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn promoting a number of open positions. I’m adding crew to help us pump out more content, and that means we need more editors, news writers, features reporter’s and columnists. If you’re currently involved or previously worked in the industry and love to write about it, send a resume and few writing samples by email to JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

With that said, I’m excited to announce the addition of Ryan Brown as a weekly columnist for BSM. Ryan is part of ‘The Next Round’ in Birmingham, Alabama, which previously broadcast on WJOX as JOX Roundtable. The show left the terrestrial world in June 2021 to operate as its own entity. Ryan’s knowledge and opinions should provide a boost to the site, and I’m looking forward to featuring his columns every Tuesday. Keep an eye out for it tomorrow, and if you want to check out the guest piece he previously wrote for us, click here.

Demetri Ravanos and I have talked to a lot of people over the past month. More additions will be revealed soon. As always, thanks for the continued support of BSM and BNM.

Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

Six New Contributors Join Barrett Media

“These latest additions will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.”

Published

on

Building a brand starts with a vision. Once that vision is defined, you identify the people who fit what you’re creating, lay out the game plan, and turn them loose to execute. If the product you’re creating is original, fills a gap in the marketplace, and the work turned in by your team is consistently excellent and promoted in the right locations, more times than not you’ll build an audience.

As you grow, the focus turns to studying what your audience wants, needs, and expects from your brand. Certain things you expect to be big turn out small, and the things you saw limited upside in create opportunities you never saw coming. It’s critical to be open minded and ready to pivot while also examining where and when people consume your product, which pieces of content do and don’t matter, and then use that information to direct your team to give folks more of what they value and less of what they don’t. Team members should want that feedback too. It tells them what is and isn’t worth spending their time on.

As I lay all of that out it may sound like I’m talking about a radio station or television operation. These are the things programmers do frequently to make sure the talent, shows, and brand is satisfying the expectations of an audience. But what I’m actually referring to is the brand you’ve made a choice to click on to read this column, Barrett Media.

I’ve mentioned many times on this website how I started this operation by myself, and didn’t expect to have a team of writers involved in it. I was focused on consulting sports stations, sharing my programming views on this website, and as I cranked out content consistently, I discovered others loved the business like I did and had a desire to share their insights too. Rather than sticking to my original plan, I pivoted and increased our content offerings. In return, the audience grew, clients grew, and it’s led this brand to grow beyond my expectations. Now we cover sports AND news media, we run an annual conference, feature a membership program, create podcasts, deliver a daily 8@8 and three times per week BNM Rundown newsletter, and work with various brands and companies across the broadcasting industry. I’m extremely fortunate to be in this position and don’t take it for granted.

But with growth comes change. We’ve been blessed to have a lot of talented people contribute to this site over the years, and as they produce quality work, and others across the industry recognize it, they earn interest for their services. That then leads to some having to sign off for bigger opportunities. I see that as a great positive for the brand. Would it be nice to have more consistency and keep a crew together for years? Of course. I know it’d make Demetri’s life a lot easier. If we’re losing people for the right reasons though, and they’re landing opportunities that help them advance their careers, I’m going to be happy for their success, and trust that we’ll find others to keep us moving forward. The success of our team helps make what we do more attractive to others because it shows that if you do good consistent work here, you can put yourself in a position to attract attention.

Over the past two months, I have challenged Demetri Ravanos to invest more time talking to people about writing for us. Expanding our Barrett News Media roster is a priority. So too is adding quality people to help us improve Barrett Sports Media. BSM has had just under seven years to earn trust with readers. BNM has had less than two. We’ve put out ads on our website and newsletters, social posts, an ad on Indeed, and we’ve reached out directly to people who we’ve felt may be able to add something interesting to our brand. Most of my time is spent listening to stations and talking with clients, but my eyes are always roaming looking for content, and my mind is always thinking about what we can create next to make an impact.

I don’t judge our brand’s success based on clicks, shares, breaking news before other outlets or showing up in the top three listings on Google. I care more effort accuracy, timeliness, passion, consistency, storytelling, insight, and being fair and non-agenda driven. We’ve found our niche being able to tell stories about broadcasting professionals, relaying news, and offering expert knowledge to serve those involved in the broadcasting industry. If we continue to excel doing those things consistently, I’m confident our audience will reward us by reading and sharing more of our content. It’s why we never stop recruiting to keep things fresh.

Having said that, I am excited today to reveal six new additions to the Barrett Media staff. Peter Schwartz is a name and voice many in New York sports radio circles are familiar with. Peter has spent three decades working with various outlets and I’m thrilled to have him writing weekly feature stories for us. Brady Farkas is a talented host and former programmer who now works for WDEV in Burlington, VT. Karl Schoening is a play by play broadcaster who has worked in San Antonio sports radio and has had the added benefit of learning the industry from his talented father Bill who calls Spurs games. Each of them will produce bi-weekly feature stories for the brand. Jason Ence is in Louisville and has written about sports betting for Twin Spires while also working for ESPN 680. He’ll be writing sports betting content for us on a weekly basis. Jasper Jones will help us by adding news stories on Friday’s. He’s presently in Philadelphia learning the business working for Audacy. Last but not least, veteran author, Brewers writer, and former radio professional Jim Cryns comes on board to help us with features on news media professionals.

These six additions make us stronger, and I’m excited to have them join the team to help us add more quality content to the website. That said, we’re not done yet. Demetri and I are still talking with others and I expect to make a few more additions in the weeks ahead. As I said earlier, we want to improve the news media side of our operation and continue adding people to help us make a bigger dent in the sports media space. Broadcast companies invest in us to help them, and I believe it’s important to invest back.

If you’ve programmed, hosted a top rated show, worked in measurement, led a cluster as a GM, sold advertising, represented talent or have worked in digital and feel you have knowledge to share, reach out. I can’t promise we’ll have room but we’re always willing to listen. I’m not worried about whether or not you’ve written for professional publications. Passion, experience and unique insights matter much more than a resume or journalism degree.

I appreciate everyone who takes time to read our content, like and share it on social, and all involved with this brand who help bring it to life each day. The latest additions of Schwartz, Farkas, Schoening, Ence, Jones and Cryns will make our product better. Now the challenge is finding others to help us continue growing.

Continue Reading

Barrett Blogs

Programming In Fear Is a Recipe For Failure

“The best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong.”

Published

on

If you haven’t read Demetri Ravanos’ column this week, which included feedback from five programmers on whether or not they’d hire sports radio’s equivalent of Deshaun Watson, you should. It’s interesting, enlightening and sparked my interest to write a follow up column.

When it comes to decision making in the media industry subjectivity is at the center of everything. It’s not as simple as the NFL where wins and losses are often decided by talent and coaching. Instead, our business is judged by a small amount of meters and their activity using our products as determined by Nielsen, and personal relationships formed with advertisers and media industry professionals. All three of these areas may be less than perfect in determining if something is going to work or not, but it’s the way it is.

Let’s start with something I think most of us can agree on – listeners spend time with brands and individuals that cut through the noise. Most will also agree that advertisers value that too. If a talent can attract an audience and convert them into customers on a consistent basis, a company will employ them. Advertisers will ask to be included in their program too. If issues with a host’s track record or character exist it may turn off a few sponsors, but when there’s money to be made, the bottom line usually wins.

It’s similar in some ways to the NFL, which is why players like Deshaun Watson, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown, Michael Vick, Aldon Smith, Kareem Hunt, Joe Mixon and others are given second, and in some instances third and fourth chances to play. In a league where wins and talent impact the bottom line, executives care more about success than their morale standing. I know some folks would prefer that to be different but competition and business success drives many to look past certain situations.

In every business, there are people who are dirt bags. You may not want to associate with them or see them receive second or third chances, but if they can help a team win, make the franchise money, and excite a fanbase by helping to deliver a championship, owners are going to turn a blind eye to outside issues. They’ll even pay these players insane amounts of money despite their problems. Just look at the recent deals inked by Watson and Hill.

I know radio and television isn’t exactly the NFL, but as I read Demetri’s column I couldn’t help but think about the dilemma radio programmers face; to hire the best talent and run the risk of dealing with increased attention by inviting baggage into the building or play it safe and hire people with less problems even if their talent level is lower.

We work in the media industry. The job is to deliver audience, and ad revenue. If someone possesses the ability to help you do that, you owe it to your bosses to look into it. If you are going to pass up hiring someone with special talent because you value character more, I applaud you. It’s commendable and speaks volumes about who you are. But producing high ratings and revenue isn’t determined by who’s a better person. If your competitor loses to you in the morale department but wins consistently in those two areas, you may one day be calling me for advice on saving your job or finding the next one.

Audiences care far less about an individual’s behavior or the negative PR you have to absorb. They simply listen and/or watch people they find interesting and entertaining. Did the Chiefs and Bucs sell less tickets after adding Hill, Mixon or Brown? The answer is no. Fans wanted to see their teams win, and as long as those players helped them do that, far less cared about whether or not those guys were good or bad people. I’m sure Browns fans will do the same with Watson if he delivers a title for the city of Cleveland.

This issue is red meat for many in the media because it makes for great discussion, and generates a lot of reaction. However, as nice as it’d be to have good people in every enviable position, this is a business, and what matters most is the final result in generating audience and advertising. Sometimes that means adding people who bring baggage through the door.

Advertisers aren’t much different than fans either. They may voice concerns or reject being connected to someone initially who comes with negative attention, but if people start to listen or watch, they’re going to want to be involved eventually because it presents an opportunity to improve their bottom line. It’s why you don’t see a surge of advertising partners abandon NFL teams after they sign or draft a player with a troubled past. If it’s good for business, exceptions will be made.

Some may not like hearing this, but a brand manager is paid to improve their brand’s business not to manage the media’s morality department. I’d much rather work with good people who provide little drama. It makes work more enjoyable. But this is the entertainment business. Some high profile stars have ego’s, issues, ridiculous demands, and they create a lot of bullshit. Some are worth it, some aren’t. If they can help attract big dollars and a large audience, it’s an executive’s job to find a way to employ them and manage them.

I’m not suggesting that we should hire everyone with a prior track record of problems. I’m also not advocating not to do background checks, ask questions, double check with references, and feel as comfortable as possible with who you’re adding. It’s important to analyze the risks vs. the rewards when hiring someone who may cause some initial blowback. Not everyone is worth a second or third chance. More times than not, the HR department is going to prefer you add people with minimal risk who make the hiring process easier. But if a special talent is available and they come with baggage, you can’t be afraid to make a move that can grow your brand’s performance and bottom line.

For example, you may dislike some of the prior incidents that Howard Stern, Joe Rogan, Craig Carton, Dave Portnoy, and Ryen Russillo were involved in, but they’ve all shown a consistent ability to deliver an audience, revenue, and relevance. I used those 5 personalities as examples because Demetri specifically used Deshaun Watson, a QB who is widely recognized as a Top 5 QB in the NFL as the example. He’s seen as a game changer on the field just as these personalities are recognized as stars behind the microphone. If a programmer had a chance to hire one of those talents and bypassed them because they were worried about the ‘noise’ they’d have to deal with, I hope and pray their competition takes a pass too. If not, they’d be paying for it for a long time.

That said, I would not put my career on the line for a talent who has twenty two counts of sexual misconduct hanging over their head. I’d tell them to handle their legal situation first and then wait and see how the situation plays out. You can tell me how special a talent is, and I’ll tell you I’m all for second chances and I’m not afraid to put my job on the line to hire someone exceptionally gifted, but I’m also not stupid. Most corporate companies are going to want no part of that association and neither are advertisers. It’d be a bad bet.

But in Watson’s case, he was cleared of the criminal charges. That was decided in a court of law. Are we supposed to never hire him even though he was found innocent? This world is littered with examples of people who are talented, have been accused of wrongdoing, have prevailed legally, and have gone on to make the most of second opportunities. Yet social media is often seen as an approval ground where ‘noise’ matters more than facts.

Human beings are flawed and do stupid things sometimes. It doesn’t make them bad people or not worthy of being hired again. We also have a legal system for a reason. If one is accused of a crime, they have their day in the court, and a judge and jury decides if they are guilty or innocent. For some reason, whenever a high profile individual is linked to a situation, we have a tendency to react quickly, often declaring them guilty and permanently damaged. But that’s not right, and it often blows up in our face.

How did that work out with the Duke lacrosse case? Or when Rafael Palmeiro waved his finger at congress and said he never took steroids? Instant reactions were the Duke lacrosse team needed to be put away for life, and the media needed to leave Palmeiro alone. We later learned, both reactions were wrong. The same thing just happened again with Watson. In the court of public opinion, he’s guilty. In a court of law, he’s not. There’s something very wrong with that picture.

The minute you hire a person connected to controversy you have to know people are going to bring it up, and media outlets are going to draw attention to it. So what? If people listen/watch, and clients spend, deal with it. From the movie industry to politics to the world or sports and the media business, there are many examples of highly skilled people with imperfect records that were worth betting on. You have to have thick skin and be able to absorb negativity if you’re going to hire and manage people. You’re responsible for serving the audience, advertising community, and growing a business, not being the most liked inside your office or on social media.

Secondly, speaking of social media, I think we place way too much value on what listeners say on Twitter and/or Facebook. The majority of your audience isn’t living on Twitter. If they’re not happy with your product, they’ll change the dial or avoid pressing the button to stream your content. There is a lot of good that comes from social media, but when you make decisions for a brand that could raise a few eyebrows, your best move is to tune it out. Let people say what they want. If you’ve done your homework and added an individual who’s capable of making an impact, trust your gut that it’ll be proven right over time.

Third, when you’re talking to someone who has gone through a situation that can potentially create headaches for the brand you represent, remember that they’re going to act remorseful and tell you what you want to hear. They’re hoping to land a high profile job and recover from a setback. Talking to others who’ve been around them and have history with them is part of the process, and hearing them out is too. After you’ve gathered your facts and weighed the pros and cons, it ultimately comes down to whether or not you trust them, believe in them, and have the courage to handle the heat that will soon hit you when you enter the kitchen.

You can avoid all of that and hire someone safer. Sometimes that works. But in a business where talent ultimately wins, others eventually find ways to improve. If the brands you compete with have the guts to take the risk that you didn’t, you may pay for it later. Which is why you can’t dismiss star talent with blemishes on their resumes. It’d be great if we could all go through life, do the right thing, and never have to answer questions for controversial decisions, but that’s not realistic.

I’ve shared this story before, back when I was in San Francisco in 2013, I hired Damon Bruce. He had previously generated heat for comments about not wanting women in his sandbox. It was a bad take, one he endured a lot of negative attention for, and despite apologizing and serving a suspension, nothing seemed to satisfy the masses. When we started talking, I entered those conversations knowing if I brought him on board I’d have to deal with the noise. I got to know him, talked to others, and reviewed the facts. One thing that stuck with me, he had never been in serious trouble and he had spent a decade working for the same employer. More times than not, you don’t work somewhere for that long if people don’t value you and enjoy working with you.

Damon would be the first to admit that back then he could be a pain in the ass, and he came to the table with public attention that made him harder to hire. I chose to believe in his talent, trust my eyes and ears, and focus on how he could help us improve our business. There were emails, tweets, and voicemail complaints I had to deal with but typing this now nine years later, after Damon just signed a three year extension to remain in afternoons at 95.7 The Game, I know the right call was made. He had to own his mistake, learn from it, and I had to have the courage to give him a shot and support him. In the end, everyone benefitted.

One story I haven’t shared, took place in 2006. I had just been hired to program Sports Talk 950 in Philadelphia, which has since become 97.5 The Fanatic. Our roster was bare, our lineup had national shows occupying the majority of the weekday schedule, and we needed more top level local talent to get to the next level. As I reviewed local and external options, I put Mike Missanelli and John Kincade high on my list. Ironically, they now both host drive time shows on The Fanatic.

Well, as we were preparing to reach out and talk to people, Missanelli got fired by WIP for ‘violating company policy’. It was alleged that he got into a physical altercation with a part time producer. I wasn’t there so I didn’t know all the facts, but the noise from that situation affected our process. When I raised the idea of meeting with him it was quickly dismissed. I knew he was ready for the next step, would have a chip on his shoulder to beat his former employer, and had a ton of local relationships which could be good for business. I was willing to meet and learn more, and if during that process we felt it made sense to bring him on board, I’d have handled the heat that came from it.

It never even started though. Others worried about the ‘noise’ and decided to pass up the opportunity to add a difference maker to the lineup. The brand struggled to gain traction for the next few years, and when Matt Nahigian arrived in town, he wisely went and hired Missanelli. Almost instantly, the success and perception of the brand changed. Now, The Fanatic consistently competes against WIP, and Missanelli has helped deliver a lot of wins in afternoons over the past 13-14 years.

Each person who makes a decision to hire someone has a lot to consider. If a radio talent is seen in a negative light because of prior history with other professionals or because they delivered an insensitive rant that’s much different than being found guilty of twenty two counts of sexual misconduct. Having said that, I worry that some managers ignore the facts (Watson was found not guilty) and will add a solid talent with less negative attention than a more talented person with extra baggage. As a programmer, would you have had the guts to hire Craig Carton after he served time? Would you have the stomach to handle the heat if Dave Portnoy worked for you and the Business Insider story cast a dark cloud over your brand? Would you stand by Joe Rogan when others attack him for comments made in the past or as artists pull their music because of not agreeing with his views?

I’m not sure if I’m right, wrong, smart or stupid, but I know this, if I believed in them enough to hire them knowing that the noise would increase the second they entered the office, then I’d do my best to have their back. I’d also not think twice about my future or whether or not my corporate boss had a bullseye on my back. I think the best programmers go to work focused on making an impact and thinking about what could go right not what could go wrong. If you program in fear and play it safe to avoid the noise, you run the risk of hearing silence. And sometimes that peace and quiet comes when you’re sitting at home rather than dealing with headaches inside of the office.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Copyright © 2021 Barrett Media.