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When Talent Gain Influence In The Hiring Process

Jason Barrett

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Professional sports are an excellent teacher for understanding how a quest for power can rip apart an organization. When too much control is placed in the wrong hands, good situations turn into nightmares. Just look at the St. Louis Rams, Denver Broncos, and Philadelphia Eagles under Mike Martz, Josh McDaniels, and Chip Kelly.

But for every individual who sends a franchise into a downward spiral, there are leaders like Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, and Pat Riley who remind us that great results can be achieved when power is placed in capable hands.

In the radio business, the person making the final call on key decisions is often the Program Director or General/Market Manager. Some PD’s have strong vision, excellent decision making skills, and are empowered to do their jobs. Everyone inside the organization knows that it’s their way or the highway.

In a few other instances, programmers are hired who are great caretakers, and schedule makers, but not equipped at making important hiring decisions. Some PD’s get hired because they’re willing to concede control to a GM who wishes to decide all key programming decisions.

GM’s can operate very differently. Some put their trust in their programmers, allow them to make decisions, and hold them accountable to their decisions and results. Others are fixated on picking the talent, seeing their names in print, and taking advantage of their power.

It may seem exciting, but when you put your fingerprints on a decision it can be exhausting and extremely stressful. Not everyone is good at it. Even great ones make mistakes. I find that most who have success, do so after they’ve failed once or twice.

In most situations where talent need to be hired, there are plenty of qualified applicants. However, there’s only room for one individual. Making a move that delivers results is all that matters to your employer, advertisers, and the people inside your building. One wrong step, and it’s your ass.

The normal process involves the PD and GM, but when bigger shows and personalities enter the equation, one can make a case that including your top performers is good business. Some staff members may get jealous or annoyed, and listeners may object or get angry when they hear that a key on-air figure has veto power or influence over a big on-air decision, but, you’re not in the popularity business, you’re in the ratings and results business. To involve your best talent, and make sure they’re invested is important, and necessary.

To be clear, not every personality in your company deserves a voice in the decision making process. Just because a show had a good year in the ratings, doesn’t mean they’ve earned the respect of being included in big picture conversations. I’m a big believer in trust, long-term relationships, and track records. If a show has exceeded expectation for a lengthy period of time, beat the competition, generated revenue, developed trust, executed the game plan I’ve asked them to operate, and built a profile as the show of record locally or nationally, I’m more likely to bring them into my inner circle.

Gaining input from shows that have helped you earn a couple of raises and contract extensions is smart. It makes your people feel valued, and respected. It also shows that you share a common goal of making a good decision that will put the show in position to earn future success.

Anyone who has the power to hire or fire an employee, loves the challenge of making the final call. To relinquish that power or allow another individual to influence your opinion might be hard to stomach. But one thing PD’s and GM’s forget, is that nobody has a better read on why a show works than those doing the show on a daily basis. They don’t prep with the show, hang out with the cast outside of work, or understand the highs and lows of the relationship until issues are brought to their attention. If the right ingredients aren’t supplied for the crew to make an award winning meal, everyone starves.

This doesn’t mean your top people will have all of the information that you do, or the vision to see the things that only you can. But, hearing their feedback should matter. As long as they understand that the final call comes from the top, and the goal is to continue winning, they’ll respect, and appreciate you more for hearing them out.

What triggered my interest in this topic was something I read last week.

Having an inside track on sports television news has never been my area of expertise, but when radio people are involved my ears perk up. A few weeks ago, Skip Bayless announced he was leaving “First Take” on ESPN. Fox Sports 1 is expected to become his new home, thanks to a sound relationship with Jamie Horowitz, and a whole lot of Benjamin Franklin’s.

That leaves Stephen A. Smith without a partner once the NBA Finals are over. Which leads to the following question, who will fill Skip’s void?

Mike McCarthy of the Sporting News wrote an excellent piece which gives people an idea of how involved Stephen A. Smith will be in the final decision of who becomes his permanent partner on “First Take”.

Upon hearing that news and tweeting about it, I received a number of emails and social media messages asking “how could ESPN grant executive power to Stephen A.”? I heard the same exact thing when Chris “Mad Dog” Russo left WFAN, and Mike Francesa was given the same respect from CBS New York executives.

In both cases, if I was currently running ESPN, or WFAN when Russo left, I’d do the exact same thing.

You reward performers who bring you big ratings, and bigger revenues over a sustained period of time. Having their full support and buy in is critical. That doesn’t mean you have to hire the person they like most, but if you keep them removed, and put someone into the studio that you like, and they don’t, a future trip to the unemployment office will await you.

Can you imagine if “Mike & Mike” were split up? Or some of the top local sports radio shows in America, such as “Valenti & Foster”, “Toucher & Rich”, “Boomer & Carton”, “The Musers”, and “Waddle & Silvy” were separated? Do you think any of those shows would have a chance at future success, if their station’s excluded the holdovers of each program from the process?

It’s hard enough replicating success when the original version of a program has been altered. The odds fall less in your favor if you place a stop sign in front of your most important talent during critical times. Without their blessing, and complete investment in the future direction of the show, you’re dead man walking.

So why is ESPN giving Stephen A. Smith this type of respect? Here are a few things to consider.

  • Precedent – Before Stephen A. was added permanently to “First Take”, executives sought Skip Bayless’ feedback and support. The show was rotating co-hosts, but reached a point where it needed consistency. Having their key star (Skip) buy into the concept, and sign off on his partner was important. Judging by the decision that Skip and ESPN executives made, it was a good one. Skip earned that respect, and now Stephen A. has too. The goal now is to have the next decision turn out the same way as the last one did.
  • Ratings Success – Whether the show turns your stomach, or soothes your soul, it’s been a ratings hit, and continues to get stronger. The show has been built around Stephen A. and Skip’s personalities, so having the right combination is critical. If Stephen A. doesn’t believe he can find common ground with someone, and create a conversation that is must-watch television, he deserves the right to say so. That should matter when determining who to hire.
  • Loyalty – By no means is Stephen A. Smith hurting financially. ESPN re-signed him last year for a reported 3-3.5 million dollars per year. You may feel he’s overpaid, but that’s the going rate for high profile sports television talent, especially ones who move the needle. If Bayless can warrant close to 6 million annually from Fox Sports 1, don’t you think Smith could get the same? One can argue that he brings more to the table than Bayless. He hosts a national radio show, and appears on SportsCenter, and NFL and NBA programming. Skip is rarely seen outside of “First Take”. Stephen knew there were options out there, but he remained loyal to ESPN. When a big show that he’s involved in experiences adversity, loyalty should be reciprocated.
  • Pressure – With Skip off to FS1, all eyes will be on Stephen A. If the ratings slip, or his on-air relationship with his new partner seems fractured, critics will be out for blood. TV executives can push their own guy or girl, but if the connection isn’t there, the program is doomed. Chemistry, comfortability, passion, and a willingness to engage in heated conversations without things getting personal are all part of the job description. Nobody knows how to execute the show better than the two men who have done it. If Smith feels a connection to someone outside the company is what the show needs to enjoy future success, it’s management’s job to figure out how to make it happen. The main priority should be making sure the show succeeds, not worrying about who they win with.

If “First Take” falls apart in the future, do you think the blame is going to be directed at John Skipper, Norby Williamson, or John Wildhack? Not a chance. The public will point their finger in Smith’s direction.

ESPN may wish to make headlines by signing the biggest name, excite employees by rewarding an internal candidate who’s well liked, or please advertisers by choosing someone they’re comfortable with, but when it’s showtime, nobody will know the fit better than Stephen A. If the conversation isn’t natural, the vibe and chemistry feels forced, or mutual respect isn’t shared, the only thing guaranteed is cancellation.

Which is why ESPN is making a smart decision by involving one of their most high profile stars in the final process. Executives may love the thrill of making the final call, but when this much is on the line, you owe it to yourself, your company, and your best talent to make sure they’re heavily involved.

A few weeks ago I mentioned four candidates for the opening. I later learned of a fifth. Four of the options had radio connections. They were Max Kellerman, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo, Brandon Tierney, and Doug Gottlieb. Will Cain was the one television candidate.

I know that trust, chemistry, on-air connection, and a healthy relationship off camera with Stephen will be important, which is why I have a tough time believing Will Cain will be the choice. Will is very talented, and may have support from management, but he doesn’t have history with Stephen A. I can’t picture Stephen placing the fate of the program in Cain’s hands, unless he’s forced into it.

I could be wrong. I’ve never claimed to be nostradamus, especially when it comes to television hires, but, I believe Russo, Tierney, and Kellerman hold the advantage. They’re comfortable debating him, have his respect and prior experience working with him, bring the edge, volume, and style that the show is known for, and share similar interests from living, and/or growing up in the same area.

What will be interesting to see, is whether or not Stephen has the courage to take a risk and bet on someone like Tierney who he has excellent chemistry with, rather than take the safer path with someone like Kellerman. Both are excellent, and offer something fresh, and different than Skip. Max has the internal advantage, and higher profile. BT requires going outside the company, and developing another network star.

The scenario with Russo is also intriguing because Chris is a high profile talent, who’s older than Stephen (so was Skip), and not afraid to mix it up. He’s the one guy best suited for keeping the show similar to where it was previously, although his sound is different, and his knowledge is superior to Skip’s. He’s also earned Stephen’s trust due to hiring him at SiriusXM. The downside is that he’d likely command a higher price tag which probably doesn’t excite ESPN.

The five candidates I’ve listed remain strong options, but there will likely be others who emerge in this process. One of the outside candidates could very well become the choice. The question is, who will Stephen A. love the most?

The only one he should be giving his heart to at this point is ESPN. After all, they’ve given him greater influence behind closed doors than they do on their own airwaves. Now they need to make sure that his decision making skills are in line with Bill Belichick’s not Chip Kelly’s.

Under The Radar:

  • 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland has hired Landry Locker to produce the morning show with Ken Carman and Anthony Lima. Locker previously worked for ESPN 103.3 and Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket in Dallas as an Assistant Program Director, Producer, and Host.
  • Dave “Deuce” Mason, who was recently let go by KHTK in Sacramento, was brought in to do some fill-in work at rival station ESPN 1320. Mason stepped in last Thursday with Whitey Gleason of “The Rise Guys” while co-host Mark Kreidler was off. Whether it will lead to future fill-ins or additional opportunities in unclear at this time.
  • Congratulations is in order for Mike Taylor who recently signed a multi-year extension to continue hosting mornings at The Ticket 760 in San Antonio.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

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Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

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Barrett Blogs

Mina Kimes, Bruce Gilbert, Mitch Rosen, and Stacey Kauffman Join the 2023 BSM Summit

“By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference.”

Jason Barrett

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The 2023 BSM Summit is returning to Los Angeles on March 21-22, 2023, live from the Founders Club at the Galen Center at the campus of the University of Southern California. Information on tickets and hotel rooms can be found at BSMSummit.com.

We’ve previously announced sixteen participants for our upcoming show, and I’m excited today to confirm the additions of four more more smart, successful professionals to be part of the event. Before I do that, I’d like to thank The Volume for signing on as our Badge sponsor, the Motor Racing Network for securing the gift bag sponsorship, and Bonneville International for coming on board as a Session sponsor. We do have some opportunities available but things are moving fast this year, so if you’re interested in being involved, email Stephanie Eads at Sales@BarrettSportsMedia.com.

Now let’s talk about a few of the speaker additions for the show.

First, I am thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Mina Kimes to the Summit for her first appearance. Mina and I had the pleasure recently of connecting on a podcast (go listen to it) and I’ve been a fan of her work for years. Her intellect, wit, football acumen, and likeability have served her well on television, podcasts, and in print. She’s excelled as an analyst on NFL Live and Rams preseason football games, as a former host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and her appearances on Around The Horn and previously on Highly Questionable and the Dan Le Batard Show were always entertaining. I’m looking forward to having Mina join FS1’s Joy Taylor and ESPN LA 710 PD Amanda Brown for an insightful conversation about the industry.

Next is another newcomer. I’m looking forward to having Audacy San Francisco and Sacramento Regional Vice President Stacey Kauffman in the building for our 2023 show. In addition to overseeing a number of music brands, Stacey also oversees a dominant news/talk outlet, and two sports radio brands. Among them are my former station 95.7 The Game in San Francisco, and ESPN 1320 in Sacramento. I’m looking forward to having her participate in our GM panel with Good Karma’s Sam Pines, iHeart’s Don Martin, and led by Bonneville’s Executive Vice President Scott Sutherland.

From there, it’s time to welcome back two of the sharpest sports radio minds in the business. Bruce Gilbert is the SVP of Sports for Westwood One and Cumulus Media. He’s seen and done it all on the local and national level and anytime he’s in the room to share his programming knowledge with attendees, everyone leaves the room smarter. I’m anticipating another great conversation on the state of sports radio, which FOX Sports Radio VP of programming Scott Shapiro will be a part of.

Another student of the game and one of the top programmers in the format today is 670 The Score in Chicago PD, Mitch Rosen. The former Mark Chernoff Award recipient and recently appointed VP of the BetQL Network juggles managing a top 3 market sports brand while being charged with moving an emerging sports betting network forward. Count on Mr. Rosen to offer his insights and opinions during another of our branding and programming discussions.

By the time we get to March, we should have somewhere between 40-60 participants involved in the conference. My focus now is on finalizing our business and digital sessions, research, tech and sports betting panels, securing our locations and sponsorships for the After Party and Kickoff Party, plus working out the details for a few high-profile executive appearances and a couple of surprises.

For those looking to attend and save a few dollars on tickets, we’ll be holding a special Black Friday Sale this Friday November 25th. Just log on to BSMSummit.com that day to save $50 on individual tickets. In addition, thanks to the generosity of voice talent extraordinaire Steve Kamer, we’ll be giving away 10 tickets leading up to the conference. Stay tuned for details on the giveaway in the months ahead.

Still to come is an announcement about our special ticket rate for college students looking to attend the show and learn. We also do an annual contest for college kids to attend the event for free which I’m hoping to have ready in the next few weeks. It’s also likely we’ll give away a few tickets to industry professionals leading up to Christmas, so keep an eye out.

If you work in the sports media industry and value making connections, celebrating those who create an impact, and learning about the business from folks who have experienced success, failure, and everything in between, the Summit is worth your time. I’m excited to have Mina, Bruce, Mitch and Stacey join us for the show, and look forward to spending a few days with the industry’s best and brightest this March! Hope to see you there.

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Barrett Blogs

Barrett Media is Making Changes To Better Serve Our Sports and News Media Readers

“We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future.”

Jason Barrett

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When I launched this website all I wanted to do was share news, insight and stories about broadcasters and brands. My love, passion and respect for this business is strong, and I know many of you reading this feel similar. I spent two great decades in radio watching how little attention was paid to those who played a big part in their audiences lives. The occasional clickbait story and contract drama would find their way into the newspapers but rarely did you learn about the twists and turns of a broadcaster’s career, their approach to content or the tactics and strategies needed to succeed in the industry. When personal reasons led me home to NY in 2015, I decided I was going to try my best to change that.

Since launching this brand, we’ve done a good job informing and entertaining media industry professionals, while also helping consulting clients and advertising partners improve their businesses. We’ve earned respect from the industry’s top stars, programming minds and mainstream media outlets, growing traffic from 50K per month to 500K and monthly social impressions from a few thousand to a few million. Along the way we’ve added conferences, rankings, podcasts, a member directory, and as I’ve said before, this is the best and most important work I’ve ever done, and I’m not interested in doing anything else.

If I’ve learned anything over seven years of operating a digital content company it’s that you need skill, strategy, passion, differentiating content, and good people to create impact. You also need luck, support, curiosity and an understanding of when to double down, cut bait or pivot. It’s why I added Stephanie Eads as our Director of Sales and hired additional editors, columnists and features reporters earlier this year. To run a brand like ours properly, time and investment are needed. We’ve consistently grown and continue to invest in our future, and it’s my hope that more groups will recognize the value we provide, and give greater consideration to marketing with us in the future.

But with growth comes challenges. Sometimes you can have the right idea but bad timing. I learned that when we launched Barrett News Media.

We introduced BNM in September 2020, two months before the election when emotions were high and COVID was a daily discussion. I wasn’t comfortable then of blending BNM and BSM content because I knew we’d built a trusted sports media resource, and I didn’t want to shrink one audience while trying to grow another. Given how personal the election and COVID became for folks, I knew the content mix would look and feel awkward on our site.

So we made the decision to start BNM with its own website. We ran the two brands independently and had the right plan of attack, but discovered that our timing wasn’t great.

The first nine months readership was light, which I expected since we were new and trying to build an audience from scratch. I believed in the long-term mission, which was why I stuck with it through all of the growing pains, but I also felt a responsibility to make sure our BNM writing team and the advertising partners we forged relationships with were being seen by as many people as possible. We continued with the original plan until May 2021 when after a number of back and forth debates, I finally agreed to merge the two sites. I figured if WFAN could thrive with Imus in the Morning and Mike and the Mad Dog in the afternoon, and the NY Times, LA Times, KOA, KMOX and numerous other newspaper and radio brands could find a way to blend sports and news/talk, then so could we.

And it worked.

We dove in and started to showcase both formats, building social channels and groups for each, growing newsletter databases, and with the addition of a few top notch writers, BNM began making bigger strides. Now featured under the BSM roof, the site looked bigger, the supply of daily content became massive, and our people were enjoying the increased attention.

Except now we had other issues. Too many stories meant many weren’t being read and more mistakes were slipping through the cracks. None of our crew strive to misspell a word or write a sloppy headline but when the staff and workload doubles and you’re trying to focus on two different formats, things can get missed. Hey, we’re all human.

Then a few other things happened that forced a larger discussion with my editors.

First, I thought about how much original material we were creating for BSM from our podcast network, Summit, Countdown to Coverage series, Meet the Market Managers, BSM Top 20, and began to ask myself ‘if we’re doing all of this for sports readers, what does that tell folks who read us for news?’ We then ran a survey to learn what people valued about our brand and though most of the feedback was excellent, I saw how strong the response was to our sports content, and how news had grown but felt second fiddle to those offering feedback.

Then, Andy Bloom wrote an interesting column explaining why radio hosts would be wise to stop talking about Donald Trump. It was the type of piece that should’ve been front and center on a news site all day but with 3 featured slots on the site and 7 original columns coming in that day, they couldn’t all be highlighted the way they sometimes should be. We’re actually going through that again today. That said, Andy’s column cut through. A few sports media folks didn’t like seeing it on the site, which wasn’t a surprise since Trump is a polarizing personality, but the content resonated well with the news/talk crowd.

National talk radio host Mike Gallagher was among the folks to see Andy’s piece, and he spent time on his show talking about the column. Mike’s segment was excellent, and when he referenced the article, he did the professional thing and credited our website – Barrett SPORTS Media. I was appreciative of Mike spending time on his program discussing our content but it was a reminder that we had news living under a sports roof and it deserved better than that.

I then read some of Pete Mundo, Doug Pucci and Rick Schultz’s columns and Jim Cryns’ features on Chris Ruddy, Phil Boyce, and David Santrella, and knew we were doing a lot of quality work but each time we produced stories, folks were reminded that it lived on a SPORTS site. I met a few folks who valued the site, recognized the increased focus we put on our news/talk coverage, and hoped we had plans to do more. Jim also received feedback along the lines of “good to see you guys finally in the news space, hope there’s more to come.”

Wanting to better understand our opportunities and challenges, I reviewed our workflow, looked at which content was hitting and missing the mark, thought about the increased relationships we’d worked hard to develop, and the short-term and long-term goals for BNM. I knew it was time to choose a path. Did I want to think short-term and keep everything under one roof to protect our current traffic and avoid disrupting people or was it smarter to look at the big picture and create a destination where news/talk media content could be prioritized rather than treated as BSM’s step-child?

Though I spent most of my career in sports media and established BSM first, it’s important to me to serve the news/talk media industry our very best. I want every news/talk executive, host, programmer, market manager, agent, producer, seller and advertiser to know this format matters to us. Hopefully you’ve seen that in the content we’ve created over the past two years. My goal is to deliver for news media professionals what we have for sports media folks and though that may be a tall order, we’re going to bust our asses to make it happen. To prove that this isn’t just lip service, here’s what we’re going to do.

Starting next Monday November 28th, we are relaunching BarrettNewsMedia.com. ALL new content produced by the BNM writing team will be available daily under that URL. For the first 70-days we will display news media columns from our BNM writers on both sites and support them with promotion across both of our brands social channels. The goal is to have the two sites running independent of each other by February 6, 2023.

Also starting on Monday November 28th, we will begin distributing the BNM Rundown newsletter 5 days per week. We’ve been sending out the Rundown every M-W-F since October 2021, but the time has come for us to send it out daily. With increased distribution comes two small adjustments. We will reduce our daily story count from 10 to 8 and make it a goal to deliver it to your inbox each day by 3pm ET. If you haven’t signed up to receive the Rundown, please do. You can click here to register. Be sure to scroll down past the 8@8 area.

Additionally, Barrett News Media is going to release its first edition of the BNM Top 20 of 2022. This will come out December 12-16 and 19-20. The category winners will be decided by more than 50 news/talk radio program directors and executives. Among the categories to be featured will be best Major/Mid Market Local morning, midday, and afternoon show, best Local News/Talk PD, best Local News/Talk Station, best National Talk Radio Show, and best Original Digital Show. The voting process with format decision makers begins today and will continue for two weeks. I’ve already got a number of people involved but if you work in an executive or programming role in the news/talk format and wish to be part of it, send an email to me at JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

We have one other big thing coming to Barrett News Media in 2023, which I will announce right after the BNM Top 20 on Wednesday December 21st. I’m sure news/talk professionals will like what we have planned but for now, it’ll have to be a month long tease. I promise though to pay it off.

Additionally, I’m always looking for industry folks who know and love the business and enjoy writing about it. If you’ve programmed, hosted, sold or reported in the news/talk world and have something to offer, email me. Also, if you’re a host, producer, programmer, executive, promotions or PR person and think something from your brand warrants coverage on our site, send it along. Most of what we write comes from listening to stations and digging across the web and social media. Receiving your press releases and getting a heads up on things you’re doing always helps.

If you’re a fan of BSM, this won’t affect you much. The only difference you’ll notice in the coming months is a gradual reduction of news media content on the BSM website and our social accounts sharing a little about both formats over the next two months until we’re officially split in February. We are also going to dabble a little more in marketing, research and tech content that serves both formats. If you’re a reader who enjoys both forms of our content, you’ll soon have BarrettSportsMedia.com for sports, and BarrettNewsMedia.com for news.

Our first two years in the news/talk space have been very productive but we’ve only scratched the surface. Starting November 28th, news takes center stage on BarrettNewsMedia.com and sports gets less crowded on BarrettSportsMedia.com. We had the right plan of attack in 2020, but poor timing. So we’re learning from the past and adjusting for the future. If we can count on you to remember two URL’s (add them to your bookmarks) and sign up for our newsletters, then you can count on us to continue delivering exceptional coverage of the industry you love. As always, thanks for the continued support. It makes everything we do worthwhile.

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