“I have bad dreams every night. I’m not sleeping nearly as much. I’m getting three-and-a-half, four hours sleep.”
Just six weeks ago, business was as good as it’s been in Tim Fletcher’s 20 years as a local radio sports talk show host and small business owner. Like a lot of broadcasters, Fletcher buys part of a station’s airtime, then sells that airtime to advertisers. That’s how he and others like him make their living.
“With March Madness, we had already made plans with a couple of sponsors about some special events and live remotes with our shows. We were getting ready to jump into baseball season as well. We do a thing called the “Little League Report”. We had just gotten a sponsor for that. It was going to tie Moms, Dads, and younger kids into sports talk radio.”
But then came the coronavirus (COVID-19), stay-at-home orders, and the closing of non-essential businesses.
“We had 34 sponsors heading into March. On April 1st, we were down to 13.”
Fletcher buys—and is responsible for selling—four hours which are home to “The Tim Fletcher Show” on KWKH-AM 1130 “The Tiger” in Shreveport, Louisiana. But that’s not all. He also buys and sells time for three other shows. In addition, Fletcher pays seven employees, including show hosts and a board operator.
“The world’s crumbling around me, and I’ve got to figure out a way to hold it together,” Fletcher said. “Whether it’s duct tape or free ads—whatever it is, we’ve got to do something. It’s highly depressing. We’re scrambling.”
So are most, if not all, media outlets.
“Unfortunately, the coronavirus’ impact on broadcast advertising has been severe,” Gordon Smith, President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Broadcasters, said. “There’s no way to sugarcoat this—many radio and TV stations are witnessing unprecedented revenue losses, all based on the fact that many local businesses have simply closed their doors. If businesses are open, many aren’t advertising.”
It’s ironic that broadcast revenue is down, while viewership/listenership is up. People—many of them staying home—are satisfying their appetite for coronavirus news.
“Broadcast network evening news programs have seen a huge spike in viewership,” Smith said. “More than 30 million people are watching those news shows each night, which is way up. I’ve read that local TV station viewership is up 20%. I’ve also heard that radio station listening—especially News/Talk station listening—has been very high.”
Still, the less money a business takes in, the less it has to spend.
Chris McJunkins is the Managing Partner for seven restaurants in two states. He has been a believer—and participant—in traditional advertising. However, when eateries were told by state government to close dining rooms (they can offer take-out), McJunkins immediately knew what he had to do.
“Cut. Start cutting costs,” McJunkins said. “Start cutting salaries and employees. Start cutting everything possible to get through to the other side.”
High up on McJunkins’ list of cuts was advertising.
“It’s an expense you wrestle with a little bit, because you think we need to advertise to let people know what we are doing from a “To-Go” standpoint. At the same time, it’s very expensive. So, we just cut it all and went with social media—Facebook, Instagram, things like that.”
There is the possibility that once restaurants and other businesses re-open, owners may re-evaluate the way they spend advertising dollars. That re-evaluation may not be good for television and radio stations.
“With everybody being able to use social media the way they are doing, they might take a look at that and say, ‘This Facebook thing is basically free, and we seem to get our message out’”, McJunkins explained. “In our case, every time we do a special, people are calling up and asking about it. So, we know people are looking at (our social media posts), sharing it, and liking it.”
Local station sales managers are seeing first-hand the ugly advertising picture drawn by the coronavirus.
“There are some verticals that are not marketing at all,” said the sales manager of a media cluster who wants to remain anonymous. “Some big chunks of money have been taken off the table due to businesses being closed.”
In order to save as many ad dollars as possible, sales managers and account representatives have had to try and convince owners to stay the course but change the message.
“Previously, locally-owned restaurants were saying ‘Hey, this is our weekly special, these are our hours, we can’t wait to see you and feed your family,’” the sales manager said. “Now, it’s ‘We’re proud to say we’ve kept our employees, you can text or call us, we will bring your food and your order to your car, and these are the safety measures we’ve put in place.’”
As long as sports talk show hosts can afford to by their airtime, their show must go on. Without games, hosts have been forced to get creative when it comes to content. In keeping with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Fletcher has used a tournament-style format to have contests such as Best Comedian, Best Sports Movie, and Best Cereal.
It’s a strategy that has resonated with listeners.
“Our Facebook LIVE numbers are double, triple, quadruple what they were five or six weeks ago,” Fletcher said. “We’re getting more instant reaction on our polls we’re posting on Twitter. Our text line is blowing up. We’re getting three figures every day of unique texts coming in during our show. We’ve connected in a way where we still give the sports news of the day—typically in the early part of the show—then we turn it over to these tournaments. It’s just been a blast.”
But despite the fun, Fletcher—and others in his position across the country—long for the day when it’s business—and advertising—as usual.
“Our business is cyclical. This is just a cycle that we didn’t foresee coming. I have a feeling that while we’re pedaling uphill, at some point, we’re going to be able to coast again and things will be back on the right path.”
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.