If you’re in St. Louis or Boston right now, chances are you are talking a lot about the Stanley Cup Finals. If you are literally anywhere else, your show is probably largely devoted to the NBA Finals, the various NFL preseason storylines, and anything else of local interest.
There’s nothing wrong with that. It is a good programming decision. “Play the hits,” as they say. Sometimes though, it is worth digging a little deeper in the sports world to find those stories that our listeners can connect with or relate to on a very human level.
When you think about what those stories are, it is very natural for your mind to jump straight to what is going on with the home teams. After all, in most cases your listeners have connections they formed with those players, logos, and uniforms long ago. Irrational emotional investments in things and people that are incapable of loving you back is about as human a phenomenon as there is.
You know what else is very human? Being able to see your story or the story of someone you love in something on television. Dig a little deeper into the sports world than just the headlines on ESPN.com and you’ll see that we’ve had two of those moments in the past five days.
Most of us were watching Pascal Siakim welcome the Warriors and the NBA Finals to Canada with a nearly perfect shooting performance on Thursday night. Meanwhile, over on ESPN the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee made history. We’ve had co-champions in the past, but the 2019 Spelling Bee ended with 8 kids claiming a share of the trophy. The event went on so long and ran through so many sudden death rounds that organizers ran out of words.
There are going to be very few people in your audience that don’t have an emotional reaction to something like that. Maybe it sets off bells and whistles to rail against participation trophy culture. Maybe the alarms go off for people in their 30s sick of hearing their parents’ generation shouting about participation trophies as if that generation isn’t the one that came up with the idea in the first place. How about anyone that has ever been to a kids’ sporting event that was poorly organized?
An event like that is ripe for Twitter and text message interaction. You could turn to the phones too, but honestly why would you? This was the morning after the first game of the NBA Finals. Some parts of the country are wild about college baseball, and Friday was the first day of regional play.
The Scripps National Spelling Bee would be low on the priority list. That doesn’t mean you don’t devote a little bit of air time to it. There are so many angles to the way that event ended that your listeners are bound to an opinion on it. Reasons to react to your show are another chance for listeners to form a connection with you. More connections build deeper loyalty.
Saturday night we saw another one of these moments play out. Anthony Joshua, the undefeated heavyweight boxer who stands 6’6, has the body of an Adonis, and holds all four heavyweight championship belts, lost to Andy Ruiz Jr via TKO in the seventh round of their fight at Madison Square Garden.
Ruiz is no slouch. Now that he has the belts, he is certainly a deserving champion. He came into that fight at 32-1 with 21 knockouts, but he also came into that fight as an absolute afterthought.
Just look at that picture of the fighters next to each other. Joshua has the body of an Avenger. Ruiz looks like the dude in an Avengers movie that drops his sandwich and stares in amazement at Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk.
Which one do you think looks more like the majority of guys listening to your show?
There are so many ways to talk about this fight beyond the Xs and Os of boxing. Combat sports in general bring with them an element of tribalism, and this was an undefeated foreigner built like a Rocky villain getting beaten by a dumpy American. Combat sports bring an element of gambling with them. Joshua was a 9-1 favorite in this fight. Who lost money on what was supposed to be a sure thing?
Perhaps the craziest element to this fight is how Ruiz got there in the first place. Darren Rovell of The Action Network Tweeted that it took a lot of hustle on Ruiz’s part once Joshua’s original opponent dropped out.
There are so many twists and turns to this underdog story and each one is better than the last. Your listeners can see themselves in Andy Ruiz Jr. and besting a guy like Anthony Joshua is the stuff of fantasy. Just like the Spelling Bee, it isn’t something you need to devote an entire segment to, but it is worth bringing up on Monday and diving into the very human side of this story.
This business is all about making connections with the audience. Listeners are expecting you to offer opinions on the biggest stories of the day. That is literally the bare minimum for being in this business. The shows that stand out from the pack are the ones that fill the spaces between the A topics in the most interesting ways, and nothing interests people more than themselves and their own opinions.
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.
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.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
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.
Media Noise – Episode 74
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.