Mark Miller is someone I’ve worked with for the past two years at Entercom in Kansas City. Ours is a large, eight station cluster with a dominant position in the market. Along with Rock, Alternative, Hot AC, Country, News and Talk (KMBZ A/F which Miller started selling in 1989), we have two sports stations, the Kansas City Royals, the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas State Wildcats. Additionally, we carry several local high school and college football and basketball broadcasts, most of which Mark not only sells, but also does play-by-play for.
There’s a Mark Miller on every good media sales team in the country. A veteran seller who still has an unmatched enthusiasm for our industry and working with clients. He has several “regular customers” he has formed great relationships with in his long career.
When he closes a good sale, everyone knows about it instantly, but he’s also the first person to congratulate someone else when they do the same. His work area is a shrine to his career, complete with a picture of his face superimposed on to Superman’s body, but he isn’t the least bit ashamed for being proud of what he has accomplished.
When he isn’t out with a customer, he’s in the office working the phones and he can be heard talking about a great business idea for a client or perhaps a team’s Cover 2 defense when he’s talking to a local coach. Whatever the topic, his big booming voice comes through loud and clear. No, really, I mean my office is about 30 feet from his area, and I hear it all loud and clear!
How did you get started in radio?
I was a television news anchor for two years and I had an opportunity to go to work for some radio stations in Garden City, Kansas and I made the switch around 1981. I didn’t think I was the next Kronkite. I got in to radio sales at KBUF AM & FM, they were a big country western station and they were splitting the signals and going satellite country music. To get the job, I had to make a presentation in front of the whole sales team. I did a flip chart presentation of who I was and what I thought I could bring to the team. I walked out of the meeting and the GM said, “We want you to be on the staff.”
People knew who I was from being on TV, so I was able to hit the ground running and sold several annuals in my first two weeks. We traded out some boom boxes at Gibson’s Discount Center, we would cut a spec spot and after I would flip chart the radio station, I would play the spot from the boom box. If they bought an annual, we’d let them keep the boom box and we would trade for more.
I saw the ability to make a ton of money in commission sales by being creative, meeting a lot of people and putting together ideas. I saw money and I’m driven by money.
What do you tell people you do when others ask about your job?
When I’m asked that, I tell them I’m a professional broadcaster. Not just sales, although that’s 95% of what I do, but I do play-by-play, I write copy, I put in my orders, I do production for some of my clients, I do some endorsement deals and while I don’t send bills, I do collect. I do everything under the umbrella of broadcasting, so I’m in the broadcast industry and I’m a professional broadcaster.
When I say that, people perk up. They don’t know us by the name of our company or what an Account Executive or Senior Account Rep means, but when I say I’m a professional broadcaster with 8 radio stations and I sell and create advertising campaigns and do play-by-play, it sounds professional. I think everyone who works in our building is a professional broadcaster. Some think that just means you are on the air, but I think it means you are in the broadcasting industry.
What makes you good at media sales?
I don’t think I’m the Mick Jagger of sales, but I still like the chase and I still have the energy and the drive to make money. That’s what motivates me. When I was hiring people as a manager for a couple of years, I would ask them what motivated them. If the answer wasn’t money, I didn’t hire them.
I am creative, I can present and I’m good at interaction with clients. While I’m always prospecting to find new business, I’m really good at increasing the amount my current clientele spends with me. A lot of my clients started off spending a little bit of money and now they spend thousands and thousands with me. People buy people they like and if you get in there and you grow the relationship, not only business but personal, they’ll trust you and that’s been my formula.
I wouldn’t sell anything else. Insurance, appliances, medical supplies, nothing. This is the only thing I ever want to sell, because it changes. One day you’re talking to a banker, later that afternoon a car dealer and the next day a doctor. I’m not a master of any of those categories, but I am a master of what I sell, and I can match my products up with each of those categories and create ideas for them.
Why do you think there’s so much churn in media sales departments?
I think it’s work ethic. My dad was a railroad engineer and he’d take the passenger train out of Newton, Kansas at 5:05 AM, he would be there a day in Dodge City and then came back the next day. My mom was in politics on a national level, and she had a great work ethic. When I was young, I was a sponge and I soaked that up and saw what they did, and they always went to work and had careers.
Times have changed, and I don’t think a lot of people come in with great work ethics. I also see a lot of rookies who come on board, and they end up teaming with other rookies. They should connect with veteran account executives and go out on the streets with them. If they team up with somebody else who doesn’t know what they’re doing, they both usually end up failing.
You’ve sold a lot of spoken word stations – news, talk and sports. What is it about spoken word that makes it work so well for your clients?
It’s all about recall. People that listen to spoken word formats are listening and are actively engaged. You usually either like it or you don’t and if you do, you’re going to keep listening to hear what the next person has to say on the air. I’ve got their attention in spoken word so I can go to Mr. or Mrs. Advertiser and know that their message is going to get heard. Then, I come up with creative copy that people can remember.
With sports, the key is association. The advertisers love the association whether it’s pro, college or high school, they like being associated with it. The loyalty of the sports audience is a tremendous asset for our customers.
You have carved out quite a niche selling and broadcasting local high school and college sports, as well.
This will be our fifteenth year doing it and management and the advertisers know I have tremendous passion for it. Plus, it does well financially, as it has generated over a million dollars in sales. We may not be doing pro sports teams on our broadcasts, but we deliver a pro caliber broadcast and people like what they hear.
I do a lot of features like player of the game, coach of the game, mom of the week (where we recognize a player’s mom at halftime), scholar athlete, we recognize educators, administrators and school officials. It’s a lot more than just a high school game broadcast. The advertisers love the association.
What They Say…
“Mark thinks big and outside of the box. He’s great at presenting interactive ideas for clients that turn an interesting topic for listeners in to sales opportunities.” – Rich Deutsch, GSM Entercom – Kansas City
Being Wrong On-Air Isn’t A Bad Thing
…if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign.
In the press conference after the Warriors won their fourth NBA title in eight years, Steph Curry referenced a very specific gesture from a very specific episode of Get Up that aired in August 2021.
“Clearly remember some experts and talking heads putting up the big zero,” Curry said, then holding up a hollowed fist to one eye, looking through it as if it were a telescope.
“How many championships we would have going forward because of everything we went through.”
Yep, Kendrick Perkins and Domonique Foxworth each predicted the Warriors wouldn’t win a single title over the course of the four-year extension Curry had just signed. The Warriors won the NBA title and guess what? Curry gets to gloat.
The funny part to me was the people who felt Perkins or Foxworth should be mad or embarrassed. Why? Because they were wrong?
That’s part of the game. If you’re a host or analyst who is never wrong in a prediction, it’s more likely that you’re excruciatingly boring than exceedingly smart. Being wrong is not necessarily fun, but it’s not a bad thing in this business.
You shouldn’t try to be wrong, but you shouldn’t be afraid of it, either. And if you are wrong, own it. Hold your L as I’ve heard the kids say. Don’t try to minimize it or explain it or try to point out how many other people are wrong, too. Do what Kendrick Perkins did on Get Up the day after the Warriors won the title.
“When they go on to win it, guess what?” He said, sitting next to Mike Greenberg. “You have to eat that.”
Do not do what Perkins did later that morning on First Take.
Perkins: “I come on here and it’s cool, right? Y’all can pull up Perk receipts and things to that nature. And then you give other people a pass like J-Will.”
Jason Williams: “I don’t get passes on this show.”
Perkins: “You had to, you had a receipt, too, because me and you both picked the Memphis Grizzlies to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I’m OK with that. I’m OK with that. Go ahead Stephen A. I know you’re about to have fun and do your thing. Go ahead.”
Stephen A. Smith: “First of all, I’m going to get serious for a second with the both of you, especially you, Perk, and I want to tell you something right now. Let me throw myself on Front Street, we can sit up there and make fun of me. You know how many damn Finals predictions I got wrong? I don’t give a damn. I mean, I got a whole bunch of them wrong. Ain’t no reason to come on the air and defend yourself. Perk, listen man. You were wrong. And we making fun, and Steph Curry making fun of you. You laugh at that my brother. He got you today. That’s all. He got you today.”
It’s absolutely great advice, and if you feel yourself getting uncomfortable over the fact that you were wrong, stop to realize that’s your pride talking. Your ego. And if people call you out for being wrong, it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re not just listening, but holding on to what you say. You matter. Don’t ruin that by getting defensive and testy.
WORTH EVERY PENNY
I did a double-take when I saw Chris Russo’s list of the greatest QB-TE combinations ever on Wednesday and this was before I ever got to Tom Brady-to-Rob Gronkowski listed at No. 5. It was actually No. 4 that stopped me cold: Starr-Kramer.
My first thought: Jerry Kramer didn’t play tight end.
My second thought: I must be unaware of this really good tight end from the Lombardi-era Packers.
After further review, I don’t think that’s necessarily true, either. Ron Kramer did play for the Lombardi-era Packers, and he was a good player. He caught 14 scoring passes in a three-year stretch where he really mattered, but he failed to catch a single touchdown pass in six of the 10 NFL seasons he played. He was named first-team All-Pro once and finished his career with 229 receptions.
Now this is not the only reason that this is an absolutely terrible list. It is the most egregious, however. Bart Starr and Kramer are not among the 25 top QB-TE combinations in NFL history let alone the top five. And if you’re to believe Russo’s list, eighty percent of the top tandems played in the NFL in the 30-year window from 1958 to 1987 with only one tandem from the past 30 years meriting inclusion when this is the era in which tight end production has steadily climbed.
Then I found out that Russo is making $10,000 per appearance on “First Take.”
My first thought: You don’t have to pay that much to get a 60-something white guy to grossly exaggerate how great stuff used to be.
My second thought: That might be the best $10,000 ESPN has ever spent.
Once a week, Russo comes on and draws a reaction out of a younger demographic by playing a good-natured version of Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man. Russo groans to JJ Redick about the lack of fundamental basketball skills in today’s game or he proclaims the majesty of a tight end-quarterback pairing that was among the top five in its decade, but doesn’t sniff the top five of all-time.
And guess what? It works. Redick rolls his eyes, asks Russo which game he’s watching, and on Wednesday he got me to spend a good 25 minutes looking up statistics for some Packers tight end I’d never heard of. Not satisfied with that, I then moved on to determine Russo’s biggest omission from the list, which I’ve concluded is Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who connected for 89 touchdowns over 15 seasons, which is only 73 more touchdowns than Kramer scored in his career. John Elway and Shannon Sharpe should be on there, too.
Money Isn’t The Key Reason Why Sellers Sell Sports Radio
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions.
A radio salesperson’s value being purely tied to money is overrated to me. Our managers all believe that our main motivation for selling radio is to make more money. They see no problem in asking us to sell more in various ways because it increases our paycheck. We are offered more money to sell digital, NTR, to sell another station in the cluster, weekend remotes, new direct business, or via the phone in 8 hours.
But is that why you sell sports radio?
In 2022, the Top 10 highest paying sales jobs are all in technology. Not a media company among them. You could argue that if it were all about making money, we should quit and work in tech. Famous bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed twenty banks over twenty years. He reportedly said,” that’s where the money is”. Sutton is the classic example of a person who wanted what money could provide and was willing to do whatever it took to get it, BUT he also admitted he liked robbing banks and felt alive. So, Sutton didn’t do it just for the money.
A salesperson’s relationship with money and prestige is also at the center of the play Death of a Salesman. Willy Loman is an aging and failing salesman who decides he is worth more dead than alive and kills himself in an auto accident giving his family the death benefit from his life insurance policy. Loman wasn’t working for the money. He wanted the prestige of what money could buy for himself and his family.
Recently, I met a woman who spent twelve years selling radio from 1999-2011. I asked her why she left her senior sales job. She said she didn’t like the changes in the industry. Consolidation was at its peak, and most salespeople were asked to do more with less help. She described her radio sales job as one with “golden handcuffs”. The station paid her too much money to quit even though she hated the job. She finally quit. The job wasn’t worth the money to her.
I started selling sports radio because I enjoyed working with clients who loved sports, our station, and wanted to reach fans with our commercials and promotions. I never wanted to sell anything else and specifically enjoyed selling programming centered around reaching fans of Boise State University football. That’s it. Very similar to what Mark Glynn and his KJR staff experience when selling Kraken hockey and Huskies football.
I never thought selling sports radio was the best way to make money. I just enjoyed the way I could make money. I focused on the process and what I enjoyed about the position—the freedom to come and go and set my schedule for the most part. I concentrated on annual contracts and clients who wanted to run radio commercials over the air to get more traffic and build their brand.
Most of my clients were local direct and listened to the station. Some other sales initiatives had steep learning curves, were one-day events or contracted out shaky support staff. In other words, the money didn’t motivate me enough. How I spent my time was more important.
So, if you are in management, maybe consider why your sales staff is working at the station. Because to me, they’d be robbing banks if it were all about making lots of money.
Media Noise: BSM Podcast Network Round Table
Demetri Ravanos welcomes the two newest members of the BSM Podcast Network to the show. Brady Farkas and Stephen Strom join for a roundtable discussion that includes the new media, Sage Steele and Roger Goodell telling Congress that Dave Portnoy isn’t banned from NFL events.