Most people will likely remember 2020 as a year they’d like to forget. Between worrying about the health and safety of family and friends as a result of the coronavirus, watching the lights go out on the sports world for months, colleagues forced to work remotely and feel out of touch with society, and seeing businesses suffer the wrath of the pandemic, including the sports media industry, it’s been a year full of bad news. 2021 holds no promises of a bounce back year either, but given what we just endured over the past ten months, I think it’s safe to say that anything else is welcomed at this point.
I’m going to produce a column next week which will look back on some of the standout performers and moments from sports media in 2020, but I want to use this space today to share a few lessons I learned from operating a company during a challenging year, and pass along a few updates and thoughts related to our 2021 plans.
For starters, I discovered that there’s nothing more important than understanding how critical it is to pivot in business and not be afraid to be bold. So many in our business use these words in conversation and they look good when printed on a website but how many have actually followed thru and done it? It’s easy to wait for the stars to align perfectly to make decisions or stand pat because things are fine at the moment, but changing tomorrow’s outcome requires having a feel for what’s coming, and the conviction to act decisively. Not doing so can hurt your brand or crush your business. I wrote a story about this earlier this year, highlighting how a local florist reacted. If you didn’t have a chance to read it, you should.
Being completely candid, I wasn’t sure if BSM was going to survive in its current form back in early April. When the shutdown hit in March, I knew it could be bad. In late February we hosted a successful BSM Summit in New York City. One month later I was preparing for likely cancelations to my consulting business. I never assume that any of my client relationships will last forever. I know I’ve got to prove my worth every year. I also know that the cost for my services don’t appear on the first page of the budget, the sheet which identifies essential staff. That means I can deliver great value and have management’s complete support, but if a station loses 50-60% of their revenue, my phone may ring with bad news.
Sensing that the worst could be headed our way, I knew we had to make a bold move and go all-in on original content. In May, we did that by adding six writers to the staff including Jay Mariotti who has been a tremendous addition to our team. Though nobody gets rich here from contributing, the collective expenses do add up. Adding all of those folks made no economic sense whatsoever at the time, but I felt this website mattered to industry people, and I knew that if we were going to continue to serve the sports media industry that I’d have to look past the short-term financial setbacks and focus on building a stronger staff to help us elevate our content, and display strength during a critical time.
We began ramping up our content, launching the BSM Member Directory to help broadcasters seeking opportunities, debuted the ‘Managing The Crisis’ podcast to share insights with executives dealing with the downward spiral caused by the pandemic, placed a greater focus on selling advertising opportunities on our website, and tightened up our SEO strategy to have our content appear better in search. We also added a new layer to the company, announcing our entry into news radio consulting in September, and added the website Barrett News Media to begin serving the news media industry. We wrap up 2020 with fourteen people contributing and earning compensation from BSM and eleven being paid to help us on BNM.
By making those decisions, we were able to triple our website traffic, grow memberships to thirty plus people, add new advertising business from multiple partners, and kick off BNM with monthly activity similar to where BSM was two years into its existence. Keep in mind, BNM has only been a brand for 90-days. I dodged a bullet and only lost two clients during the pandemic. Though it stunk to end working relationships with some great brands and people, the hard work we invested paid off as months later we added three new clients.
As proud as I am of our ability to maneuver the business thru a difficult year, I endured a personal challenge in 2020 which I didn’t talk publicly about. I went thru a struggle with my voice from September to December. I kicked off Season 5 of the BSM Podcast with a few killer episodes (Sam Savage, Mike Greenberg and Chris Oliviero) but had to halt the show because I had days where I could barely talk. Though I hate starting and stopping projects, I knew that if I couldn’t rely on my voice being strong, I’d have to stop the podcast in order to save my energy for client calls. I learned I had a cyst on my vocal chords, which thankfully isn’t cancerous and is common among folks who speak a lot. My voice has been stronger over the past few weeks but I’m planning to get the issue addressed during the first quarter of 2021. For those of you who have enjoyed the conversations I conduct with industry leaders on the BSM Podcast and wondered why the shows stopped, now you know the reason. I’m hoping to dive back in sometime in 2021.
The news wasn’t all bad though on the personal front. Despite having to delay a wedding, cancel a WrestleMania trip with my son, miss out on opportunities to work with staffs in local markets, and battle vocal chord problems, I did finally buy a home. Having rented 16 different homes or apartments in 15 towns over a 22 year stretch, it’s nice to finally be settled in. If there’s any advice I wish I had been given early in my career it’s to expect to move around a lot and rent more than you buy. Now that I’m living where I want to be and running my own company, I’m not worried about where I may have to move to chase the next opportunity. One great perk of my new residence is that it has a large finished basement area. That will soon become the working office for BSM, and in time I will build out a video room and production studio for podcasting in order to create more content in the future.
I don’t have all the answers on how to survive a pandemic. A shutdown could hit in early 2021 and cause more damage, and I may be writing a different story then. I just did what any small business operator would, I tried to analyze the situation, examine which paths would and wouldn’t make sense to explore, and create new ways to keep the business alive. I also understood how vital it is to use my platform and relationships to help people. As a consultant (I still hate that title) I do everything from helping brands improve content, branding, imaging, structure and ratings, recruiting, social/digital planning and execution, conducting research, and making recommendations or introductions. What most don’t see though is how I can help on the sales end. A few brands who I think highly of earned advertising buys from agency friends of mine in 2020 as a result of my recommending them. These things don’t happen all the time and they may not always show up in a consulting contract but during a pandemic year when profits were evaporating, it helps having people in your corner who care about helping your business grow. BSM closes 2020 in good shape and is positioned well entering 2021. That doesn’t happen without great loyal clients. To all who stuck with us thru a challenging year, it’s sincerely appreciated.
Entering 2021, I’ve been asked a few times about the BSM Summit. Due to the uncertainty in the country, it’s on pause until further notice. Once America is back to normal we’ll begin planning for it because we know it is enjoyed, appreciated, and well attended by the industry, but to lay the groundwork for it without an idea of when things will be stable again would be a bad business decision. When we do start putting together the next event I can share that it will be hosted again in either New York City or Los Angeles. Moving it around will have to wait a bit. Until then, we’ll sit tight and wait until it’s safe to assemble a large group of people.
While we wait for the green light to gather and assemble another star studded conference, we are planning to host a virtual event in 2021. We have a few ideas in mind that we’re excited about. The key is making sure we can find the right video provider who can deliver a strong technical experience without bankrupting the company. I’ve had a few productive interactions so far and once we’re ready to make an announcement you’ll learn on the BSM website what’s coming and how to be part of it.
Additionally, the BSM Top 20 of 2020 will be released February 1-5 and February 7-8. We will reveal the Top 20 local morning, midday, and afternoon shows in both Major and Mid-sized markets. We’ll also unveil the Top 20 sports stations, program directors, national sports talk shows, and original podcasts. Similar to prior years, more than 50 executives will be involved in the voting process to determine the winners. Altogether 240 shows, stations and/or personalities will be recognized. We’ve asked our voters this year to rely on the ear test, and take into account originality, and a show/hosts ability to entertain and connect across multiple platforms when making their selections. If an executive wants to factor in ratings success when casting their vote, that’s fine too. The only thing that we insist on is a show finishing the year in the timeslot it’s up for consideration in. We do have one sponsorship opportunity available for the BSM Top 20. If interested, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com. This is the biggest thing we do each year on the BSM website.
Among my list of priorities for BSM heading into 2021 is finding more sales support to help us grow our online business. We reach a lot of decision makers and influential talent on this website, and our visitors and page views are higher than the monthly cume on some top sports radio stations. Our social media impressions are also consistently between four and five million per month. We’ve earned the industry’s trust and respect as a content outlet over the past five years, and I know we can help brands benefit from promoting their products on our websites. If you need a recommendation, ask Justin Dove of Core Image Studio how advertising with BSM has paid off for him.
Two other areas I’d like to dedicate time to in 2021 are developing our BSM merchandising strategy, and growing the BNM website. We will launch an official online store in the new year on BSM, and I’m also going to explore utilizing some talent for paid marketing to help us increase the awareness of the brand. I’ll also be looking to increase editorial support and add more writers to BNM to help us grow our presence in the news media space. If you or someone you know is involved in news radio and has a passion to write about it, email Jason@BarrettNewsMedia.com.
In closing, I want to thank each of our writers for consistently producing great content, but I especially want to recognize Demetri Ravanos for not only doing a great job as our editor, but for being a great partner and friend thru some difficult times. We have an outstanding crew at BSM, and though the faces and names may change when folks land opportunities, we keep finding ways to move forward with new talented people because Demetri and I never stop recruiting people who love this business as much as we do. If we can help our readers stay informed about the business, improve at their craft, develop relationships, or position themselves or their brand for future success, that’s what makes the work we do rewarding. It’s cool to see so many people interested in reading our content, and I could write a few more paragraphs about it but this column is long enough. Instead I’ll end it by simply saying, Thank You, Merry Christmas.