Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

Sometimes It Pays Not To Have a 5-Year Plan

“When you consider that 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small businesses fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years, it’s rewarding to know that we’ve beaten the odds so far.”

Five years is a long time to run a media consulting business. To put it in perspective, that amounts to sixty months, two hundred and sixty weeks, one thousand eight hundred and twenty five days, forty three thousand eight hundred hours, and two million six hundred twenty eight thousand minutes spent operating a business, knowing it could end tomorrow if I don’t stay on top of my game.

When you consider that 20% of small businesses fail in their first year, 30% of small businesses fail in their second year, and 50% of small businesses fail after five years, it’s rewarding to know that we’ve beaten the odds so far. However, 70% of small business owners fail by their 10th year in business, so the next 5 will be our toughest challenge yet.

When I started this venture I had no expectations or five-year plan. All I wanted was to move home to NY, be with my son, continue making a difference in the radio business, help people, and make enough money to pay bills. I didn’t have a writing team, member directory, a podcast, website advertisers, or an annual conference, just a home office, website, a few social media accounts, and a whole lot of time to turn my passion and ideas into online content. I’d love to tell you I saw this role lasting longer than my previous programming gig (4 years) at 95.7 The Game, but that’d be a lie.

Yet here we are.

When I reflect on the past five years, there are so many parts of this ride worth recognizing. For starters, I’m glad I trusted my gut and pursued being a front facing consultant rather than one who operates in the shadows. The demand to know who you are, what you’re about, and where you stand on industry issues is high in 2020, and having this platform to share strategic advice, opinion, insight, news, and details about brands and individuals, has helped me create and strengthen relationships, expand my knowledge, and ultimately grow my business. If I had stayed in the background I don’t think any of this would’ve happened.

Secondly, none of this happens without the support of tremendous clients and friends. I’ve had the pleasure of helping and learning from so many great people, but I’m especially proud to have worked with Matt Hanlon, John Kijowski, Dan Seeman, Phil Zachary, Matt Hutchings, Brenda Egger, Dan Mason, Greg Strassell, Dave Alpert, Elizabeth Hamma, Carl Gardner, Dave Pridemore, Keith Barton, Mike Kelly, Joe O’Neill, Lisa Decker, Dave Fleck, Ken Barlow, Steven Griffin, Todd Mallinson, Scott Mahalick, Mark Hannon, Pat Paxton, Dave Tepper, Tommy Mattern, Chris ‘Hoss’ Neupert, Phil Mackey, Darrin Ariens, Terry Foxx, Tony DiGiacomo, Mike Salk, Joe Zarbano, John Hanson, Steven Spector, Tom Parker, Justin Dove, Mark Rider, Brady Farkas, Nick Cattles, Tim Donnelly, Jeremy Menard, Bruce Collins, Paul Mason, Ken Brady, Chadd Scott, Jim Villanucci, Sam Hauser, Aaron Custodio, Matt Apana, Josh Pacheco, and every talent, producer, sales manager, and industry professional I’ve crossed paths with on the road.

Though I spend a lot of time listening to brands, talking to clients, and researching opportunities to help my clients improve their business, the rest of my professional time is spent in some capacity with the BSM website. To know that people care enough to read our content, share it on social media, spread the word to others, and pass along tips and ideas thru text, email and DM’s is a cool feeling. It’s even more rewarding knowing the material helps people improve and gain a stronger understanding and appreciation of the business they’re in.

To date, our industry focused site has published 8,195 pieces of content since launching in 2015, and we’ve had over 4 million visitors consume more than 5.5 million pages of our work. I’ve always told our crew that traffic mattered less here because our content is targeted to an industry audience, and I’d rather reach 100 PD’s, GM’s and Corporate Execs than 10,000 fans because it opens more doors to potential business. But now we’re starting to appeal to more than just the industry professional.

Between June and early September, we generated a million page views. It would’ve taken us a full year to do that during our first 2 years. That’s a credit to the tremendous work done by Jay, Demetri, Brandon, Brian, Stan, Tyler, John, Chrissy, Ricky, Jacob, Andy, and Rob. Jay, Brandon, and Demetri have especially been on fire lately cranking out thought provoking columns and timely news stories on a daily basis.

Having spent five years operating this brand, there’s one old saying that continues to ring true: ‘you have to spend money to make money‘. That approach was necessary in launching the BSM Summit in Chicago in 2018, and expanding it into Los Angeles and New York the past two years. Though we won’t have a show in early 2021 due to the pandemic, I know that when it’s safe to gather again, a successful show won’t be possible without making investments to assure a positive experience for attendees.

Ironically I learned an important lesson with our last show in NYC. We managed to survive the early stages of a pandemic, but almost had our schedule altered at the last minute by an executive who shall remain nameless. Despite this person’s attempt to hurt the event, I took the high road and emailed them afterwards to explain why the event mattered to people, and offered a free ticket to join us for our next one. They didn’t reply. It reminded me that no matter how much good you do for people and companies, there will still be external forces trying to stall your momentum.

But overcoming obstacles is all I’ve done since entering this business in November 1995. It’s something I dealt with in making this website work. During the first two years, I wrote daily, but if a business trip or conference came up, the site would go dark while I was away. I knew that wasn’t a great plan, but the only way to change it meant spending money for help. When you’re only earning enough to get by, and unsure if the business will be viable, that’s a scary thing to consider.

I got lucky and met good people like Demetri Ravanos, Brandon Contes, Brian Noe, Dave Greene, and Matt Fishman who shared a similar love for the business and wanted to write about it, even if it was for free or just enough to fuel their car or cover a trip to the movies. With their help, the site improved, more eyeballs read the content, and it helped a few of those guys land industry opportunities. We now have 12 members contributing content to the BSM brand, earning a monthly check, and I’m proud to share we’ll be expanding to 14 this week with the additions of Jeff Caves, and Vik Chokshi.

Jeff is no stranger to sports radio folks. He spent three decades in Idaho where he contributed as a host, program director, general manager, and salesperson. He’s also worked on television. His background in sales though especially interested me, and I’m excited to have him add a weekly sales column to the site. His first column will be published this Thursday.

Vik on the other hand has a strong passion for sports betting, and has written for The Action Network, The Big Lead, and Front Office Sports. With the gambling space continuing to grow, we’re going to increase our focus on brands and individuals in the sports betting space. Vik’s first piece is on the site today, a feature on ESPN’s Joe Fortenbaugh.

But that’s not the only area we’re expanding in.

If you listened to the last episode of the BSM Podcast which featured Entercom New York’s Chris Oliviero, you heard me tease that BSM would be expanding into News/Talk. This has been a move I’ve considered for the past 2 years, but I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew as BSM was growing. I also knew that if I started consulting News/Talk stations, that I’d need help because there are over 1,900 stations in the format, and as much as I enjoy being busy, I don’t want to compromise my effectiveness by spreading myself too thin.

I’ve felt for a while that similar to sports radio, News/Talk talent and brands don’t receive enough online attention. You’ll see stories on high profile hosts, the TV ratings battle between FOX News-CNN-MSNBC, and details about people signing new deals or getting taken off the air for making controversial remarks, but there are so many more stories out there waiting to be told. The format is triple the size of sports talk, and I’m curious to see if we can do for BNM what we’ve done with BSM.

The BNM of course stands for Barrett News Media, a separate entity of our company, which will debut online as https://barrettnewsmedia.com on Monday September 14th. By the way, save the URL, but don’t click on it, because the website isn’t live yet. Also be sure to add @BNMStaff on Twitter as we will use that account to promote daily content.

Unlike BSM which started with only me, the BNM brand will launch with 5 columnists, 3 features reporters, 2 daily news contributors, and 1 TV ratings writer. I expect to add a few more writers too during the first 30 days to complete out our coverage. A huge thanks to Steve Stone Voiceovers for signing on as our first advertising client to allow us to get the BNM brand off the ground. If interested in learning more about our advertising opportunities email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

Joining us for BNM’s maiden voyage are columnists Pete Mundo, Angel James, Rick Schultz, Evan Donovan, and Ryan Maguire, reporters Kyle Thomas, Kim Redmond, and Catherine Maddux, ratings writer Douglas Pucci, and news contributors Ryan Hedrick and Eduardo Razo. Our collective goal will be to offer insight, opinion, education, and storytelling on News radio, television, print, and digital brands and individuals. We are fortunate to have a strong diverse group contributing to this product, and I am looking forward to our readers getting to know more about them and their abilities in the weeks and months to come.

Since I know there will be questions let me address a few up front. BSM and BNM will function as two different websites. We may share content on social platforms from time to time if we feel it’s of value to our followers, but the goal is to run the two brands separately. We will also not be doing stories on presidential candidates, protests, policies, vaccine updates, or other world news. We’ll leave that to bigger brands. The only way those items will come into play is if they’re connected to a media personality or brand (EX: TV host leads a protest, Reporter breaks news on Biden or Trump, Host trades jabs with Fauci over vaccine, Radio exec runs for office, etc.).

In terms of goals for the site, all I care about right now is highlighting the news media industry, and giving those who make a living in it an online platform to learn more about the business and ways to excel at it. Will we do a BNM Summit, BNM Top 20 or launch a BNM Members Directory in the future? Maybe. I don’t want to think about traffic numbers or other ways to grow the brand yet. We need to start with delivering compelling content on a consistent basis, and grow our relationships. If we do that, then we can discuss ways to make additional improvements down the line.

As it pertains to consulting, I will offer my services to news/talk stations who are looking for fresh ideas, strategic insight, and an ability to maximize talent, content, and ratings. The news format has seen a surge of sports programmers join it in recent years, and I’m excited to take the plunge as well because it’s one I have great interest in. I’ve worked on a few smaller projects with news/talk stations as part of my sports consulting work, and after starting my career at a news/music station, I’m looking forward to expanding my horizons and relationships, and helping more people and brands get better.

But I won’t be alone on this adventure.

BNM is pleased to add Ryan Maguire, a seasoned program director who’s managed 610 Sports in Kansas City, WQAM in Miami, 105.7 The Fan in Milwaukee, 97.3 The Fan in Pittsburgh, and KIRO-FM in Seattle, where he was part of the team that delivered the Marconi award for Best News/Talk Station of the Year in 2019. Ryan and I have known each other for over a decade, we’re both in our mid-40’s, and his ability to coach talent, dissect content, and help brand’s elevate their performance is reflected by his track record. Ryan currently works as a producer for SpokenLayer, the leading provider of voice media for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and he will remain in that role while lending consulting support to BNM clients. I’m looking forward to working with him and having him help our partners.

“When Jason approached me with the idea of working with him on helping build Barrett News Media, saying ‘yes’ was a very easy decision,” said Maguire. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for JB not only as a programmer, but how he’s been able to grow BSM so quickly over the last five years. Most importantly, we share a lot of the same philosophies on what it takes to build, grow and monetize spoken word brands and talent.  Radio is going through a metamorphosis right now, but my passion for the business and for creating great audio content has never waned. It’s a big part of what fuels me every day. I can’t wait to get started.”

When you look at the News/Talk format today, it’s had the benefit of consistently featuring a lot of elite personalities. But soon some of those familiar faces and voices will depart, forcing brands to add new talent, ideas, and strategies. When those big changes happen, will your brand be ready? Do you know where to turn next? Are you positioning your product to meet the needs of the past or the future? How does social media and podcasting factor into your overall strategy? These are just some of the things we’re excited to explore. When you’re ready to talk, let us know.

If I’ve learned anything over the past 5 years it’s that you’ve got to keep your foot on the gas, and be ready to pivot at a moments notice. No year has taught us more about that than 2020. If we can continue to be of value to our clients and readers, and tackle new challenges successfully, I’ll be more than happy to do this til I’m old and grey. To make it that far though we’ll need to keep evolving and improving so if I can bug you to click this link and answer a short survey I’d greatly appreciate it.

Two things that remain difficult are convincing larger companies to invest in outside support, and getting market managers, program directors and corporate executives to adjust their perceptions. I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it, I dislike the word ‘consultant‘ because too many ‘think‘ they know what I do based on others who have come before me. Except not everyone operates in the consulting space the same way. For example, I’ve met many music consultants over the years who don’t do what Fred Jacobs does, yet somehow they’re all lumped into the same category.

If I could find a word that defines a writer, host, creator, ratings analyst, advisor, researcher, influencer, seller, sales connector, recruiter, coach, social strategist, and brand builder I’d make the switch, but for now I guess I’m stuck with an outdated title. What I do know is if it involves content, creativity, sales, and management, I speak the language, and my track record of results shows I know how to help brands win.

To those I’ve had the good fortune of working with, it’s been a privilege to be a small part of your success. Your trust and partnership matters more than you know, and without it none of this is possible. To those who read our content, thank you for the continued support. We have a great team here at BSM who care deeply about the industry, and I appreciate you making time each day to digest the words that appear on your screen.

I’m lucky to wake up each day and pour my energy into something I love. We’ve made it five years, and I’d like to do this for another five. I guess that means I should probably start working on that five year plan.