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A Cold Dose of Radio Reality: Sales Remix

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This week, I’m going to attempt to be the first person, I think, to ever write a column-in-a-column (this has probably been done thousands of times).  Earlier in the day, Jason Barrett penned a column on the site called “The Cold Dose of Radio Reality” which is a good piece on the business side of radio, especially for younger people in the business to read.  To make it a little more related to sales, I thought I would go through and make some notes on Jason’s column:

It’s hard sometimes not to become jaded if you work in the radio business. The more time you spend time in it, the more you discover that it’s not just about watching and talking about sports. The newspapers and industry trades at times paint a gloomy picture of what’s happening, leaving you to wonder about the stability of your career. Then as you improve at your craft and command more respect and warrant higher compensation, you learn why the word ‘business’ is included in your industry’s profile description.

Radio is, most definitely, a business.  For the larger companies it is BIG business and there are BIG expectations.  Yes, it’s radio, it’s the entertainment industry, but like any other business it all ultimately comes down to dollars and cents (or is it sense?).  And, while we all know the real story, the reality is two of our largest companies in the industry did file for bankruptcy, so it was easy for that to become the story. 

Now, we all have to do our part to change the narrative and focus on all of the positives…one client, one agency at a time.  The good news for us, is that when we improve our craft, the higher compensation comes with it!

One of the most common mistakes people make in radio is believing that their contributions to a company entitles them to something greater. Managers believe the brands they run are ‘their radio stations’ and the hosts, producers and contributing members all feel their presence and value to a brand is vital and difficult to replace. Their contributions certainly do matter, especially to those they work with, but in the grand scheme of everything, we’re all still replaceable parts. Some may have greater value, but none of us are irreplaceable.

How many times have you heard someone who’s young and on the way up in their career complain about the money, long hours, and lack of attention they receive from their employer? There’s this belief that their hard work should be recognized, radio should reward its people better, and more TLC should be provided by bosses.

It might be a wise thing to do if you want to retain good employees, but does an employer owe you that? They do not. A company’s primary responsibility is to make sure your check clears every two weeks, and provide you with access to the building to showcase your talent either on-air or behind the scenes during the hours you’re assigned to work.

If you’re smart, you’ll appreciate and take advantage of every single rep because experience benefits you no matter where you go in the future. As we all know, the only thing guaranteed in radio is that something will eventually change. Many people desire to work in this industry, so there’s always going to be someone standing behind you wanting what you have and willing to accept the position at a fraction of the cost.

The key words here from Jason are “none of us are irreplaceable.”  Like the programming side, we have our superstars, too.  There are sellers who are the best at what they do and while you would absolutely hate to lose them, the fact of the matter is you’d recover.  The best possible thing you can do to protect yourself in this business, no matter which side of the building you are on, is to have those air tight relationships – be the person who brings the money (or the audience) along with them, however, while that makes your position very strong, it’s not irreplaceably strong.

Too often I hear complaints about the way companies operate. A host may not like what they’re being asked to focus on from a content standpoint or they may feel restricted from using specific words or tackling certain stories. Producers bitch about the pay, demands of the job, and hours involved to tackle each task. Programmers become frustrated when companies push self-serving initiatives on them, market managers meddle with their product, and corporate folks limit their ability to hire or retain good people.

In many cases I’ve agreed with their concerns, but whether I think they’re right or not, it’s still about convincing those above you to reevaluate a situation because they ultimately have the final say. There is no Mr. Cumulus, Mr. Entercom or Mr. iHeart standing in your way. There are people tasked with representing each company and looking out for its business interests, even if it means halting your plans and complicating your situation.

Stop it.  All of us, just stop it.  When you go to work for a company, you play by their rules.  Now, if you disagree with something happening or have suggestions on how to improve certain aspects of the job, prepare a “case” and make yourself heard.  You have to go in, though, knowing that you might get turned down and have to continue doing something you disagree with.  That is just part of life and happens at companies each and every day.  Too much time is spent complaining about things that are out of our control and putting an end to that would save an incredible amount of time.  

I’ve been fortunate in my career to work with some really great people but I’ve also dealt with some shady characters too. Over the past ten years I’m not sure our industry has improved the way it treats its own people. I see too many instances where people perform higher than expected and still lose their jobs over money.

There have also been instances that I’ve experienced firsthand as an entrepreneur which leave a sour taste in my mouth. I’ve done favors for market managers and executives only to have emails ignored afterwards. I’ve witnessed programmers act in cowardly fashion, threatening employees over contributing a piece of content to the BSM website. I’ve had hosts reveal serious issues, only to ignore the advice, and not address it with their employers, and then complain again months later when the same issue pops up.

What you need to remember if you’re working as a host or behind the scenes employee is that your employer is paying you to harness your talent, connect with an audience, sell their advertiser’s products, and extend your resume. By doing so, they’re giving you the chance to increase the viability of your personal brand, and place yourself in position to benefit from the experience you’ve accrued. Maybe it will be with the same radio company. Maybe it won’t.

I, too, have worked with some great people over the last twenty-plus years and plenty of shady characters as well (oh, the book I could write!).  For the sellers, the company is giving you the chance to build a book of business using their well-known brands, their talent and their programming – so take advantage of it! Your job is to go out and close business, (all/some/most) of the tools are provided to you to do that and you get to piggy-back off of, in some cases, a heritage radio station that has spent millions on talent, marketing and branding and built great standing in the community.  Pretty good deal if you ask me.  Additionally, as mentioned earlier, you have the chance to build such a strong relationship with your clients, they go wherever you go.  

For those involved on the managing end, there’s a different message that needs to be understood. The station you manage may be part of your identity, and you may love it dearly, but it is not your property. The company owns the brand, you simply operate it. The day you leave, the show goes on. You may not like the direction of where the ship sails next, but it’s no longer your ship to steer when you take your hands off the wheel.

Executives sometimes get caught up in the moves a station makes after they’ve left, and they forget that the choices they made while in control aren’t guaranteed to remain permanent. I’ve gone thru it myself a few times. You can feel differently about the way an operation is being run, and want to rescue what you perceive as ‘your brand’, but all that matters in the end are the results, and how the people involved respond to the new path forward.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over time it’s that there are many different paths and styles to enjoy success. You may have to change a few parts to fit a new vision, but a good brand with good people serving a good audience will always find a way to remain relevant and successful.

I’ve been there. Sometimes you are incredibly invested in things you’ve been a part of, but when you leave, it’s not done the same and you don’t think anyone will care about it as much as you did.  That should be expected.  I suppose I would worry more about the person who spends a lot of time with a company, then departed for whatever reason, and did not feel connected when they left.  Most of us are putting in obnoxious amounts of hours either doing the job or thinking about the job, it would be a shame to have it not really mean much to you.  

Because so many people involved in the radio business have passion and love for the work they do, they struggle to cut the cord. The station and staff become part of your heart and soul, and although you may care more about what happens to them than a CEO sitting in a boardroom examining the brand’s profitability, it’s not your choice to make. They made the financial investment in the station, you didn’t. That gives them the right to run it however they see fit.

The point behind this column isn’t to cast a black cloud over the industry, it’s to provide you with a cold dose of reality. Radio is a business, but the line of work you do is special. The people around you share a similar enthusiasm for sports, and it’s a common bond which brings us all together to distract us from the pressures we face each day in life. Yes it’s a job, but it’s a rewarding one whether you’re making $8 an hour or seven figures.

I used to know a gentleman in the business, who every time he talked about what we did, said “This beats a real job any day of the week!”  It is special, the business we are in.  Even the little people, like us, get the envious look when you tell someone what industry you’re in, followed by the “What’s (so-and-so) really like?”  

The fact of the matter is, the younger you are when you learn that radio is a business, the better off you will be.  The business of radio consists of revenue and ratings, so make sure you are bringing one or the other and there will always be a place for you, unless you are simply a nightmare to work with.

Work hard.  Do your job to the best of your abilities.  Not much else is in your control, so don’t waste time with it.  I have written this before, but it’s one of my favorites from Dave Gifford: “There isn’t a sales problem in the world that can’t be cured by more presentations!” That’s what you can focus on and control and that’s what the key to making more money is, so as the saying goes “You do you.”

We all have opinions about the pros and cons of this business. The industry will never satisfy 100% of us. Some operators will do things to make employees feel essential to their success. Others may not. You can waste a lot of energy worrying about everything under the sun or ask yourself two questions: “Do I feel a connection to the job in my heart, mind and soul?” and “Is it a career worth investing myself in for the long haul?”

If the answer is yes, then that should be plenty enough reason to continue doing it. If you’re still unfulfilled and feel you need more control, then there’s a solution – buy a radio station. Then, and only then, is the station and each decision truly yours.

As sellers, doing what we do each day, we don’t have a lot of extra energy to waste on worrying, so the only choice is to decide if you are someone who loves being in this business and is willing to grind it out.  For most of us, that answer is yes, and if it isn’t then I’m going to STRONGLY disagree with Jason and suggest you not buy a radio station!

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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