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The Greatest Threat To a Brand’s Success Is Itself

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Mark Cuban once said “work like there is someone working twenty four hours a day to take it all away from you.” In the media industry, nothing could be more true.

When a brand and its personalities enjoy success, they seek to hold on to it for as long as humanly possible. As soon as a competitor rears its ugly head and announces their intentions of disrupting one’s place atop the mountain, people say and do desperate things to protect their positions.

But while competition is supposed to bring out the best in us, it can also bring out the worst. Just ask the executive team and employees of FOX News.

When a brand has a strong leader at the helm, and the most powerful on-air lineup in its format, the rest of the field recognizes they’re playing for second place. I’m sure the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Memphis Grizzlies entered the 2016-2017 NBA season talking publicly about chasing a championship, but behind closed doors they knew the Golden State Warriors were in a much different class.

During the span of the past two decades, FOX News has controlled the narrative on news television. They’ve been the king of the castle, and no matter how many times competitors have tried, their attempts to replace them atop the ratings have gone unsuccessful.

But as exhilarating as the ride to the top can be, the fall to the bottom can be ten times more painful.

During the past eighteen months, the undisputed leader in news/talk television programming has lost tons of revenue and key people, while earning a permanent black eye on its image. The brand’s insides have been ripped out due to poor leadership, a vile culture and an abuse of professional power, which has resulted in numerous lawsuits against the company.

Gone are FOX News’ top boss Roger Ailes, the network’s biggest two stars Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly, and other valuable on-air talent such as Greta Van Susteren, Gretchen Carlson and Andrea Tantaros. These were some of the most recognized and successful people in news television, and their departures have made FOX News vulnerable for the first time in decades.

To draw a comparison to the world of sports, O’Reilly, Kelly and Ailes’ exits from FOX, would be equal to the New England Patriots losing Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and Rob Gronkowski. If you add Carlson, Van Susteren and Tantaros to the conversation, that’d be like the Patriots also losing Malcolm Butler, Stephen Gostkowski, and Dont’a Hightower.

We may consider the Patriots the most successful NFL franchise of the past two decades, and have faith in Robert Kraft’s abilities as an owner to right the ship, but when an organization loses that many difference makers on the field and at the top of the organization, in a short period of time, a crash is inevitable.

Just ask the San Francisco 49ers how quickly the tide can turn. During the span of their 2015 off-season, the team lost Jim Harbaugh, Greg Roman, Vic Fangio, Patrick Willis, Frank Gore, Chris Borland, Michael Crabtree, Anthony Davis, Mike Iupati, Justin Smith and Chris Culliver. They’d spend the next two seasons going 7-25, replacing their General Manager, and they’re now onto their fourth head coach in four years.

I raise this point because in the media business, we often think that those at the top can’t be toppled. If a brand and its talent are superior for a long stretch of time, we assume that their next decade of success is guaranteed too.

Well, it isn’t.

Just because Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott and Steve Young wore 49ers uniforms and made the franchise the model of success throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s didn’t mean a similar novel would be written in the 2000’s and 2010’s. The Bulls, Yankees, Lakers and Cowboys can attest to this as well.

The number one disruptor to a brand’s success is itself. When great talent leaves, valuable assets such as play by play rights fall into a competitor’s hands, and poor leadership, culture and complacency harm a brand’s performance and profile, momentum shifts quickly. You can tout your track record all you want, but the audience lives in a Janet Jackson world of “what have you done for me lately.”

Most fans who consume sports media form a deep relationship with their local teams and the professional sports leagues in which they play. They become immersed in a brand’s programming due to the conversations that are built around those specific subjects. If the station delivers a local team’s games, and features on-air hosts who are funny, smart, opinionated and relatable, they’ll attract an audience. It isn’t exactly rocket science.

But just like a relationship, connections fade if you don’t continue making an effort and adapting to unforeseen changes.

It’s very hard to disrupt the pattern of most sports media consumers. In most cases it takes a long time. But it can be done.

When Howard Stern left terrestrial radio, millions followed him to SiriusXM, which helped grow the satellite radio company’s profile and business. Morning radio on the FM dial hasn’t been the same since. While Sirius was wise to pursue the opportunity to land Stern, if CBS/Infinity hadn’t left the door open, the story for both companies would be entirely different.

In New York, WFAN will face a similar challenge when Mike Francesa departs his afternoon show later this year. The radio station responded superbly to the loss of Imus in the Morning by inserting Boomer and Carton into morning drive, but the brand’s success can evaporate if the station misfires on Francesa’s replacement. Although WFAN’s history in the format and role in the lives of New York sports fans is respected and appreciated, that won’t mean much to local listeners in 2018 or 2019 if the station doesn’t feature the same exceptional talent that it’s provided during the past three decades.

For each person who tells me that the best can’t be unseated, I remind them of how sports radio has changed in multiple major markets. There are many examples of heritage sports brand’s being pushed off their pedestal’s due to their own undoing.

For instance, in Philadelphia, Mike Missanelli and Anthony Gargano got away from WIP and joined 97.5 The Fanatic. They were two of the top personalities in the market. Since their arrival, The Fanatic has enjoyed a lot of success including plucking away the radio rights to the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers. Had each of those talents remained at WIP, maybe the ratings don’t soar, and those teams don’t eventually switch sides.

It’s a similar strategy which Jamie Horowitz has implemented at FOX Sports 1. He’s targeted high profile talent who are well known by ESPN’s fan base, and introduced a style of programming which has been successful on the four letter network. The one difference is that FS1 has aggressively called out the worldwide leader in sports, including plastering billboards of Skip Bayless’ arrival in the company’s backyard of Bristol, CT.

That approach has drawn the ire of ESPN, leading network executives to bite back whenever Horowitz has taken verbal shots at their programming. That’s a diversion from the company’s previous way of responding to attacks from competitors.

In year’s past ESPN spent little time worrying about threats to its empire. But it’s clear they recognize FS1 as a formidable foe. They’ve since moved First Take from ESPN 2 to ESPN, adjusted the style and presentation of SportsCenter, and invested significant resources in retaining important stars like Stephen A. Smith, Michael Smith, Jemele Hill and Mike Greenberg.

One thing FS1 lacks that ESPN has is an established brand identity. Fortunately for them, people don’t tune in to watch a company’s logo. They turn on their television to watch quality programming presented by top notch talent.

Which is why Horowitz and his team haven’t stopped adding top talent to the roster. Their belief is that it’s a very long race, and although they may be far off in the distance right now, their speed, stamina and persistence will serve them well in passing ESPN to the finish line.

As sports fans, we may support a team and wear their jersey, but the amount of tickets we buy and games we watch on television are determined by who’s on the field and the results they deliver. Our loyalty may be sound, but if inferior talent (see the New York Knicks) are featured, and failure begins to seep in, eventually our passion and commitment to that team decreases.

When that occurs, the organization’s undoing is due to their own inabilities to perform, no one else’s. The same holds true with media brands. If the radio station or television channel you enjoy fails to retain its best talent and assets, then its their own mistakes which have opened the door for a competitor to rise to prominence.

In the case of FOX News, they’ve added another layer to the conversation. Enabling powerful people to operate above the law, while ignoring the signs of a morally inept culture.

They may continue to outperform CNN and MSNBC in the ratings, because although their home is in flames, they still employ a lot of great talent and present a unique point of view. Their competitor’s have also failed to introduce new talent or programs which would cause FOX’s audience to adjust their routine.

But when moral decency is void inside the work place, it never ends well for a brand and its top people. Money and fame are great, but they’re not worth the cost of self-respect. It becomes only a matter of time until the whistle gets blown, heads start to roll, and a brand’s reputation and position atop the ratings ladder come under attack.

Proving once again, that the journey from the penthouse to the outhouse starts on the inside. When wounds are opened and salt is poured onto them, there’s no way to prevent the stinging.

Barrett Blogs

2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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Barrett Blogs

14 Participants Announced For The 2022 BSM Summit

“The industry is rapidly evolving, so as a professional, it’s vital to learn new skills, build relationships, discover what clients want in order to generate more revenue, understand audience behavior, and pick the brains of your peers to create new ideas.”

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To most people, six months is far enough away to not think much about it. But when you’re building a conference, it feels way too close to get everything done in time that’s required to execute a high caliber event.

By now you’ve likely heard that the 2022 BSM Summit is returning to New York City on March 2-3, 2022. I shared that news on July 19th, but didn’t provide many details other than the date and venue (Anne Bernstein Theater). Tickets weren’t even put on sale because I wanted to make sure a few other items were nailed down first before we started accepting payments.

Before I discuss some of those details, I want to remind folks that for the first time ever, the Summit will be available to attend both in-person and virtually. A big thanks to Nuvoodoo for partnering with us to make the Summit available online. If you’ve been to this event before, then you know the live experience is extremely valuable. That said, due to the ongoing issues in our country with Covid-19, some may prefer not to travel and watch it online instead. We’ve gone to great lengths to make this valuable for industry professionals, including pricing tickets differently on BSMSummit.com to account for the live vs. online advantages. If you’re planning to attend, you can now purchase tickets on the website.

As far as other key items are concerned, finding the right hotel partner was important. I’m pleased to share that Hotel Edison will serve as the official hotel of the 2022 BSM Summit. I know that keeping travel costs low is vital yet industry professionals also want to stay in a nice location close to the event. I think we’ve pulled that off again. Hotel Edison is only a 3-block walk to the Anne Bernstein Theater and they’ve provided an excellent rate for attendees. Rooms will go fast though, so click here to reserve your room asap to avoid missing out.

The next part of this process involved gathering sponsors. As an independent operator who focuses more on content and consulting than sales, this part isn’t always easy. I don’t have a sales team working for me nor do I have 40-hours a week to focus solely on Summit sponsors. Fortunately, I’ve built a few great partnerships over the years, so I’d like to thank ESPN Radio, Compass Media Networks, and Stone Voiceovers for offering their support once again. I know other clients will return too, but there are many other broadcasting companies and businesses with products targeted to industry professionals who haven’t been part of this event before. So here’s an opportunity to change that. Check out our Advertising page, and if you see something that appeals to your group, get in touch so we can discuss how we might be able to work together. Your support allows us to continue doing this event for the industry.

Now that we’ve taken care of the business, let’s talk about the thing that everyone cares about most, the speakers. I usually start off by announcing some of the high profile personalities who will be part of the show. This year though, I’m going to start by focusing on some of the top programming minds in the industry. It’s an honor once again to welcome Emmis CEO Jeff Smulyan, Premiere Radio Networks SVP of Sports Don Martin, Westwood One and Cumulus Media SVP of Sports Bruce Gilbert, SiriusXM SVP of Sports Steve Cohen, Audacy New York Market Manager Chris Oliviero, former WFAN Program Director Mark Chernoff, current WFAN Program Director Spike Eskin, 670 The Score and 1250 The Fan Program Director Mitch Rosen, and Hubbard’s Director of Digital Content Phil Mackey to the BSM Summit.

As great as it is to have those nine gentlemen part of the event, I’m equally excited to welcome a few new faces. Joining us for the first time will be Blue Wire Podcasts CEO Kevin Jones, The Volume’s Head of Content Logan Swaim, Nuvoodoo Media’s CEO Carolyn Gilbert and EVP of Research Analysis Leigh Jacobs, and WFNZ Program Director and the creator of 92.9 The Game in Atlanta and 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh, Terry Foxx.

If you’ve followed how we promote this event over the years, you know that I don’t share all the details at once. The credentials of these fourteen individuals are well documented, and having them involved is important to me. By the time March rolls around though, we’ll add 30-40 others with similar qualifications. I won’t tell you who else has committed to join us for the show, but there’s some serious firepower to be announced in the coming weeks and months. I’m especially excited to spend time on stage with one well respected executive during one of the Summit’s featured sessions.

What I value most about the Summit is that it brings the industry together and allows us to examine many different layers of the industry over a sixteen hour period with a lot of smart and successful people. In doing so, folks are able to return home with valuable knowledge and action steps to help themselves and their brands. This conference started with a focus on radio but has since expanded to cover podcasting, social media, sports betting, marketing, video, print, etc.. The industry is rapidly evolving, so as a professional, it’s vital to learn new skills, build relationships, discover what clients want in order to generate more revenue, understand audience behavior, and pick the brains of your peers to create new ideas. The more informed you are, the better your chances of being successful, and the education provided at the BSM Summit will absolutely help you grow as a professional.

Look for our next announcement early next week. There’s a lot to dive into in New York and I’m eager to spend time with the industry’s best and brightest, as we work on making 2022 a huge bounce back year for the sports media business.

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