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Don’t Just Play The Hits, Be a Hit

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How much do you bench? It’s a common question that men love to ask men. It’s been around so long that I can picture cavemen asking other cavemen how much they benched. What’s interesting about that question — when someone asks how much you bench, they aren’t asking how much weight you can rep out 10 times. They’re asking how much you can bench just one single time. Basically, how good are you at your very best?

There isn’t anything wrong with gauging someone’s value at their very best. The problem is that it’s overvalued. Many look down on Hall of Fame baseball player Craig Biggio for being a “compiler” while gushing over a player that does something incredible on the SportsCenter Top 10. Consistency is easily taken for granted. Wow moments are often blown out of proportion.

Which quarterback do you prefer? Quarterback A has 3,676 more rushing yards and 22 more rushing touchdowns. Quarterback B has 9,424 more passing yards, 50 more touchdown passes, a better passer rating, and much better playoff numbers. If you chose Quarterback B, you actually chose Alex Smith over Michael Vick.

Without the blind resume test, many people would pick Michael Vick over Alex Smith. Why? Simple. Michael Vick produced more wow moments. He made many more jaw-dropping plays than Alex Smith. It doesn’t mean Vick was more productive. It just means that being a walking highlight reel can create the illusion of higher value. Vick was called “Starship 7” while Smith received the dreaded “game manager” tag. Like it or not, this is human nature — we marvel at “wow” and yawn at steady.

Which is more important in sports radio? Is it better for a host to be consistently good, or for a host to be average while showcasing occasional brilliance? Before you answer that, consider a few things.

Alabama beat Georgia in an unbelievable National Championship Game on Monday. Alabama kicker Andy Pappanastos badly missed a game-winning kick at the end of regulation. Do you realize that he actually made a 41-yard field goal earlier in the game? I don’t remember it either.

Alabama freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa threw one of the worst interceptions you will ever see and made an awful decision by taking a costly sack in overtime. Those plays will be completely forgotten about because he did more than enough to make up for the mistakes. His iconic game-winning touchdown throw was so stunning that you’d roll your eyes in disbelief if you saw it in a movie.

The common thread — signature moments leave the greatest impression. The good kicks by Pappanastos are just minor details compared to the bad ones. The bad decisions by Tagovailoa are completely swept away because of his legendary throw at the end.

This directly relates to sports talk. Signature moments create the biggest waves. We’ve all heard the stories of radio bits gone wrong that lead straight to the unemployment line. On the flip side, great audio is occasionally posted on this very website. John Canzano of 102.9/750 The Game in Portland told an interesting story about how he and his Asian wife are treated at restaurants. The Musers of The Ticket in Dallas conducted a funny interview with Fake Jerry Jones after the Cowboys Week 1 win.

Jason Barrett didn’t post links to every segment from those shows over the past five months. He posted a link to a single show. It’s impossible for each segment of every show to stand out, but the ones that do need to be more like Tagovailoa and less like Pappanastos. (May the pronunciation gods bless you with those names).

I fully intended to stress the importance of consistency in this column. If you host an awesome show on Monday followed by four duds the rest of the week, your ratings will stink. While that’s true, the more I think about it, the more the counter makes sense — if you host five good shows with nothing great involved, the ratings will also be lower than desired. So which is more important: consistency or occasional greatness? The answer is occasional greatness.

If a host is occasionally great, that same host is fully capable of being consistently good the rest of the time. Even if consistency is lacking, occasional greatness still matters more because it’s what we value most. We value it with bench pressing for cryin’ out loud. We value it with sports and music. Kendrick Lamar performed at halftime on Monday. Can you name all of the songs on his latest album? Nope. I bet you’d be able to recognize a hit song though.

While I love the song “My Friend of Misery” by Metallica, another song on the same album called “Enter Sandman” carries just a slight bit more weight — like 50 tons more. Sandman is played during sporting events 27 years later. Misery is a song that only big Metallica fans even know about. There’s a reason there are compilation albums called “Just the Hits” instead of “Just the B-Sides” — it’s what people flock to most. Hits make the biggest impact.

In sports radio, the suits always preach to “play the hits” — to talk about the top stories. That’s great advice, but what doesn’t get talked about enough is how you need to be a hit yourself. Don’t just play the hits — be a hit. We celebrate athletes that make us say wow. We love musicians that make hit songs we instantly connect with. Why would sports radio work any differently?

I got to sit down with ESPN Program Director Louise Cornetta once. Right after saying hi to each other, she immediately asked me, “What makes you different?” That’s a tough question to answer on the spot. My over-analytical mind started racing. I thought that if I were to describe Colin Cowherd as having strong opinions, is he the only person on Earth with strong opinions? No, and that doesn’t really express just how unique he is. I did the best with my answer, but I’m sure it was choppy and unconvincing.

It boils down to this — beyond your own unique traits as a person, how can you talk about a subject in a way that hasn’t been talked about before? Can you provide a unique example? Can you add a personal story? Can you bring up a comparison or an angle that hasn’t been discussed? Did you say something that was different or just the same as everybody else? If you don’t think along those lines, you’re going to have a bunch of B-side sports takes without any hits. You’re going to blend in instead of standing out.

Think of ways to create signature content that’s the equivalent of a hit song. Hosts will be remembered and judged on their number of wow moments, or their lack thereof. It isn’t just about playing the hits. It’s about figuring out ways that you can be a hit yourself.

BSM Writers

Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content

Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.

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USA Today

When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.

“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.

Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:

1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”

2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.

The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.

I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.

Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”

There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.

First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.

The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.

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BSM Writers

The Client Just Said YES, Now What?

We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.

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One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!

We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.

When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.

They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.

A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.

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BSM Writers

Media Noise – Episode 74

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This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.

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