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How to Deliver Bad News to Grown Ups

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We learned the terrible news this week of massive firings at the New York Daily News. You can couch it any way you want it with terms like layoffs, staff reductions, cuts, etc. I think the shock that rang through New York and the rest of the media world was appropriately expressed by Yankees announcer and ESPN NY Radio Host Michael Kay.

An added insult was announcing the layoffs to the company before notifying the effected individuals.  The email read, “With the exception of a few particular employees who are not in the office today, Human Resources will communicate with everyone leaving the Daily News by the end of the day.”

So they had the meeting, sent out the email to staff and then approximately 90 staffers had to wait to see if they still had a job. Look it’s easy to be a manager when things are going well. The true test of a manager is how you handle difficult situations or bad news for your employees. 

What is the lesson for radio managers? Respect the dignity of your employees.  Every employee from the highest paid talent to a part-time board op needs to hear bad news in person and face to face. 

Some examples:

  1. When I was working in Kansas City I had to fire a developing young host in order to save money towards the budget. The host had done a good job for a year and had really grown in his ability to host solo shows which he previously hadn’t been comfortable with. His ratings were fine for a fairly new station. He had moved halfway across the country and had a girlfriend in Kansas City.  So I called him into my office, thanked him for the job he had done and explained what was happening. I encouraged him to keep working on solo hosting and keep his head up. Needless to say, I hired him six months later to work for me again at XM Satellite Radio. 
  1. In the summer of 2014, we had decided to make a change with our morning show at SiriusXM College Sports Nation(Now ESPNU on SiriusXM). Bill King had hosted mornings on SiriusXM since January of 2005—before we even had an all sports channel. Bill’s booming voice and vast college football knowledge carried the show every morning (I never saw Bill look at notes or look something up online—it’s all in his head). Bill worked in Nashville while I worked in Washington, DC. While it would’ve been easier to call Bill to break the news, it was important to me to deliver it in person. The guy had been on the network for ten years. The conversation was one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever had, but as a manager you have to show your employees the respect they deserve.  Bill has gone on to have a very successful show in Nashville on WNSR and his great pipes and exceptional college football knowledge can be heard mornings from 6-9am Central Time on WNSR 560AM/96.9FM or you can check him out online: http://wnsr.com/live-shows/the-bill-king-show 

Life Coach Hallie Crawford in US News and World Report talks about delivering bad news to an employee:

Bad news is best delivered in person, and how you deliver the message is many times more important than what you actually say. Think about how you would feel if you were the one receiving the bad news, and prepare your words accordingly. Be mindful of your facial expressions and body language. Make it apparent that you understand the person’s feelings, but don’t linger too long after speaking with them. Let the person leave the room when it feels like time to do so.

Delivering bad news to an employee is difficult, but if you do it right and deliver the bad news in person, your people will respect you even if they don’t agree with the decision. 

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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