In the first volume of the Playbook, we heard from Jon Goulet, Roy Bellamy and Dustin Swedelson about the significance of building relationships in the sports media world. This is a concept that clearly extends to your contact list, and requires a tenacious commitment to the maintenance, development and management of these relationships.
What is your show/station’s routine for submitting guest requests or targets for the near future? How are the confirmed guests communicated to other shows on the station so they can effectively cross-promote? Are the digital and management folks being kept in the loop?
If you have not evaluated these areas in a while, a very easy solution is creating a ‘Guest Requests’ & ‘Guest Targets’ spreadsheet in the user-friendly Google Docs format. It is a wonderful tool where updates can be logged, dated, time stamped, and everyone’s intentions are clear, not to mention, you’re saving everyone the headache associated with multiple requests from the same station being sent to the same individual.
The easiest way to prevent this scenario? Communication.
Streamlined, efficient communication makes a significant difference in day-to-day and long-term lives of producers, especially as it pertains to the handling of interview inquiries. The time investment in correctly, effectively communicating with potential guests can be significant, but it’s definitely worth it compared to the time involved in doing damage control to mitigate the damage done to the station’s reputation following a barrage of requests from multiple producers under one roof. Chalking something up to ‘miscommunication’ while working in the business of communications is unacceptable. The entire concept can be prevented, avoided and rectified virtually in the implementation of a formatting system similar to the template below.
The option of also including an email chain when updates, additions, confirmations and other changes have been made to help loop in other shows, the digital team, and management about upcoming guest spots. This is an easy way to encourage promotion across the station’s live programming and social media accounts to maximize exposure across dayparts and platforms.
Additionally, keep a rolling list of guests that you hope to have on the show within the next month, regular guests, and guests for holidays, special occasions and local events for your show. This way, you’ve covered all of your bases and kept everyone in the loop about your plans in the near future.
In terms of how to book guests or how to improve your guest booking, I wanted to provide some input from two experts as to include their tips, advice and strategies.
Joshua Drew, talent producer with ESPN working on shows like Mike & Mike, Get Up, First Take and NFL Live, offers some amazing insight on guest booking in his philosophy on relationships with guests.
“Very rarely is it about a one time hit with a guest. It’s important for me to foster relationships overtime with guests, especially those that I feel will be useful over and over again. I always like to check in with the guest after the interview. Their comfort level through the experience has to be the top priority.”
I asked Drew, what role his uncanny guest booking ability and deep contact list has played in his long run with ESPN:
“For me, guest booking is like working in sales. It’s growing and maintaining the relationship long after the interview is over. It helped to have two huge names in the sports business in Greeny and Golic, but making sure guests are happy and not feeling used is huge.”
The ESPN talent producer has advice for his fellow producers in building or expanding their contacts too.
“I would say it starts with brainstorming and pitching and broadening your shows horizon on as many guests as you can get them to say yes to. From there, it’s figuring out how to get the guest on. There is always a way and the internet is a wealth of knowledge at your fingertips. Once you get your contact, dive into the relationship whether it be with an agent, PR person or the guest directly. There are a lot of fake people in this business and being authentic can be a breath of fresh air to a guest and help you stick out in their minds moving forward.”
Dave Druda, the executive producer for The Tim Brando Show taught me firsthand about the importance of building relationships with guests. Druda shares his ‘golden rule’ for guest booking for the Playbook:
“Try to put yourself in their shoes. Here is someone coming out of the blue and asking for a favor. That’s what I did, a dozen times every day. I asked strangers for favors. The guests I was seeking out owed me nothing, so I had to give them a reason to want to do it. At the very least I had to make it pleasant to appear on the show and minimize the inconvenience.
“I know it’s inconvenient to stop what you’re doing for a 20-minute phone call. I tried to be very respectful of their time and appreciated the generosity that they expressed by joining our show. Also, be prepared to reciprocate if asked. They may ask for a plug, or for the host to ask about something specific, or a copy of the audio afterward. It’s the producer’s responsibility to see that the needs of the host and guest are fully met.”
The guest booking needs can vary depending on the host you’re working with. Similarly, there will be some differences when booking on a local terrestrial program and a nationally syndicated radio/television simulcast. Through all of these dynamics, there are many constants. Druda gleaned wisdom from every area of his career in order to establish his Rolodex. I asked him whether his contact list and guest booking skills played a role in his amazing run with The Tim Brando Show.
“It was a learned skill! In local radio, I mostly leaned on ‘friends of the court’ to be guests. People my hosts already had relationships with, or that I was already connected to. It was rare to seek out a new contact unless there was a special event that needed a specific person to give comments. Once I got to Sporting News Radio, I was made aware very quickly that new big-name guests would be consistently needed. Todd Wright was very helpful in explaining the differences between the needs of a local and national show. Todd had a great policy: ‘I’ll tell you what I want, and you deliver it.’ The pressure was on, but expectations were so simple and clear.
“I took that philosophy into working with Tim Brando who required about four times the number of guests. Many of them were recurring guests that were expecting to speak with Tim at some point, but Tim also wanted more. Namely, head coaches of top 25 schools that had a big game that week.
“When I joined Tim, I had only spoken to a few Sports Information Directors. By the end of my first month on the Brando Show, I had made contact with at least 40 new SID’s. It was a crash course! Just as Todd was clear with me, I was clear with Tim. I asked Tim to tell me exactly what he wanted, and I would deliver. It worked great! Tim was happy, and I was relieved when I confirmed someone that Tim wanted.”
Druda has an acronym to accompany his advice for those looking to build and strengthen their contacts going forward in their careers and shares his experience to illustrate why using a form request is a big no-no.
“Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. The 5 P’s (maybe that should be the P5.) I learned this the hard way when I asked a West Virginia SID for their basketball coach to join our show to talk about the football teams’ big win last week. It was terribly embarrassing to get an email back that said, ‘I think you mean Coach Stewart. I’m sure Coach Huggins would be happy to join you though.’
“Thank goodness WVU’s Sports Information office had mercy on a rookie because my job as a guest booker could have been very brief. I was unprepared. I had a form email request that I was filling out, Googled ‘WVU Head Coach’ and just pasted in the first name I saw. Please, do not use form email requests! Learn from my mistakes!
“Take the time to research your guest before asking for them to appear on the show. It’s the least you can do. It will also help you toward building a positive relationship with the SIDs and media relations people you’ll speak with over the years. There will come a time when you’ll have to ask them for a favor. Give them a reason to grant your request.”