What is the code of the locker room, and how does it pertain to media and our relationship with players, coaches and front office personnel?
Back in the days, before the advent of social media, there was an unspoken, yet known code between media and the athletes that they covered. It took a long time for players to trust media members, and when they finally opened up, the media member knew what was “on the record” and what was “off the record”. If that trust was earned, and not broken, the media would be able to gain insight into what made the athletes tick.
Unfortunately, with the advent of social media, and the gotcha mentality that exists today, it seems like that code has been broken.
I had a conversation this week with a former athlete, who I had previously hung out with in a social setting, and we got a good laugh about the fact that I wouldn’t mention where we hung out, or who we hung out with. The issue was we were in a setting that most pro athletes don’t like to have media in their presence, so my intuition was to keep this under wraps.
This player said to me “John, this is why you’re my guy because you didn’t break the code of the locker room”. We had hung out years previous, but my mentality is to never use the trust earned in the past to elevate my standing with listeners. Too many times people in our industry like to “clout chase” and make themselves seem big time because they have hung out with an athlete.
In 16 plus years of media, one thing I’ve learned is professional athletes want to be treated with respect, but like regular guys too. Take the time to sit down and talk to these guys about something other than the sport that they are playing.
A great ice breaker is to talk about college affiliations, kids, music, or TV shows, just to get to know the guy a little bit better. This can help break down a wall that is naturally built to protect them from outsiders who want to take them down. Once trust is earned, then we can begin to get the information that makes good audio content, and good articles, but this takes time.
This goes back to my original point about social media, and the gotcha mentality. What happens anywhere we go? Everyone has a smart phone with the ability to record video and post it for the world to see immediately. Many of our media brethren have fallen into that same trap, and the athletes and coaches are paying attention. It is one thing to do a sit down with an athlete, ask him questions and present the story as such, but it’s something totally different to grab an unsuspecting video and post it. The athletes don’t want to be around people with that mentality, and especially in a locker room setting will them give stock answers that bore all of us.
If you are lucky enough to cover a team, and get the behind the scenes access that we are all begging for, then it is your responsibility to earn the trust of the people you are working in conjunction with. I was lucky enough to travel with an NFL team for 9 years, and there were many times I was given “off the record” information, and instead of running to social media, or my radio show looking for a little clout, I kept those nuggets to myself, and the reward was getting more information somewhere down the line. Gaining the trust of the people in the front office allowed me to get better guests than other shows did, because the president, the owner and the GM all appreciated the way I conducted business.
It is a fine line that we all walk right now. Do we want to put out the most information, or the best information? Do we want to be first, or do we want to have our facts correct? This is the difference between credibility and a few needless extra clicks on our social media platform.
The code of the locker room applies more than just to the athletes that use them to change into their uniforms, it also applies to those of us who cover these guys. Use advice wisely, treat these players like normal humans, and I promise if you can keep your mouth shut long enough to earn your trust, you will get the story you really desire. The best in our business have that ability to be great reporters, but sometimes also great friends to the stars of the games we cover.
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.