Bruce Gilbert Is Still Learning
“The minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now.”
A lot of ego exists in sports radio. Many people in the business have inflated opinions of themselves. Bruce Gilbert is not one of these people. He’s one of the most humble individuals you’ll ever meet in the industry.
Bruce could walk around like a peacock as the Westwood One/Cumulus Media Sports SVP and the guy who once hired Colin Cowherd at ESPN. But Bruce still resembles the younger version of himself that was elated to call high school hockey games in Wisconsin for 25 bucks a pop.
The tie-in with hockey makes a lot of sense because Bruce truly does resemble a hockey player. He’s an incredibly hard worker, but when it comes time to receive accolades, he’d rather put his head down as if to say, “I can’t achieve anything without my teammates.” Maybe it’s his Midwestern roots as a kid born in a little town north of Champaign, Illinois. Maybe it’s because Bruce is simply a genuine dude who gets respect because he shows respect.
Bruce is one of the brightest programming minds the business has ever seen. He hasn’t just randomly stumbled onto success; the guy knows what he’s doing. When Bruce talks about what he looks for in a host and stresses the importance of attending conferences like the upcoming BSM Summit, there are a lot of people that can benefit from his views.
We also chat about what the sports radio industry does best and worst, as well as what Bruce would change about his career. Enjoy!
Brian Noe: When in your life did you think, hey, sports radio might be what I want to get into?
Bruce Gilbert: Well, I’m so old, Brian, that there was no sports radio when I decided I wanted to get into radio. My dad was in the radio business. I had great parents and a great dad. He would let me come to the radio station. Every radio station he worked at was just magic to me. From the equipment to the announcers to just the activity and the buzz in the building.
I think I was probably about five years old when I was like, this is what I’m doing. I wanted to be a disc jockey, man. I wanted to play records and talk up the intros and be a disc jockey. To me it was like, you get paid for this? You got to be kidding me. I had a destiny that started at a pretty young age.
BN: What was your first radio gig?
BG: My dad was the general manager of a radio station in Binghamton, New York. WNBF. It’s still there. It’s a news talk station. It was owned by Stoner Broadcasting at the time. They were the flagship station for the Binghamton Broome Dusters, which was the minor league hockey team that played there. My first job was board-oping Binghamton Broome Dusters games at the age of 14. I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade.
I prayed that the game would go really fast because if it got over between 9:30 and 10, I got to play a few songs before the network news at the top of the hour. That was my dream. It turns out it’s funny, I ended up in sports radio; I started in sports and ended up in sports. It was awesome. It was the coolest thing ever to be able to do that.
BN: What led to you being on the programming side of the business?
BG: That’s just what I fell in love with. It was probably at that time, being a teenager, it was about the music and listening to music radio. In that part of the country, we were all influenced by legendary radio station WLS. WLS was in 50 states, a huge 50,000-watt Clear Channel AM radio station that played top 40 music. We all wanted to be big-time disc jockeys on WLS.
I think the other thing is my dad was in sales and it just didn’t seem as sexy. Even though he tried to tell me and he was right, he’s like don’t you see all the sales people drive the really nice cars and all the disc jockeys drive the really shitty cars? [Laughs] And I said I don’t care, I want to be on the air. That’s what I want to do. That’s where it all came from.
BN: When you’re evaluating a sports radio talent, what are you looking for and what are you drawn to?
BG: I know this sounds like the cliché answer, but the number one thing I’m looking for is authenticity. With authenticity, I think I would add to that you’ve got to be real, you’ve got to be self-deprecating, but you also have to have a life. By authenticity, it’s not just being authentic in your sports opinions, like I’m going to be authentic in what I think about that coach or that player. You have to be authentic about how you live, where you go, who you talk to, what you’re into, what movies you watch, what television shows you binge, what motivates you, what aggravates you, and all those things.
I guess what I look for, it’s one thing to be authentic, it’s another thing to be openly authentic. I’ve often said that the greatest talk show hosts, regardless of what they’re talking about, are willing to basically perform open heart surgery on themselves every day. I’m going to open it up and just throw it out here. I’m not going to apologize for it because that’s what’s in my gut. That’s what’s in my heart. That’s what’s in my soul.
You can get away with a fake persona or an over-the-top personality that you create that is some sort of alter ego for a little while, but it’s not sustainable in the long run. The only thing that’s sustainable is being you.
BN: When you look at the sports radio industry as a whole, what do you think is working well and what do you think should be a lot better than it currently is?
BG: What’s always worked well, when done right, when sports radio is done effectively and in a compelling and engaging and authentic way, it’s the ultimate escape. We’ve seen that again during these incredibly odd times we’ve been living in, now going on two years.
Like every radio station, we had a dip at the beginning of the pandemic. As sports came back, so did sports radio; 2021 was a really good year for the sports format. I think it’s because people got burned out on all of the negativity and the depressing news stories that were repeating themselves over and over. On top of it, how everything became politicized and the country got more and more divisive.
The only true uniting thing was sports. Sports unites us all. It unites people and galvanizes people in a really tight-knit community kind of way. You and I may be polar opposite politically, but if we end up sitting next to each other at the game and we’re both rooting for the same team, I don’t care what your politics are, I’m high-fiving you when we score a goal, or we get a touchdown, or we hit a home run.
That is what sports radio does best. When it’s in its prime and it sticks to the fun of the games and the storylines of the real-life heroes and villains in sports, it’s the perfect escape from all the madness of life. That’s the positive. I don’t see that ever not being a positive in a really true way. That’s motivating to me and what I love about this format.
Now how did you phrase that; what are we not doing well?
BN: Right, yeah, what isn’t where it needs to be currently?
BG: I know it sounds like I’m programmed to say this and it’s the hip, cool thing to say and everybody’s woke and all that stuff, but sports radio is way too old and way too white in general.
Look, there are people that are doing a great job of bringing in new voices from different backgrounds, but I think it’s problematic. Especially when you look at television sports and how much better they’ve done with female anchors, female reporters, female play-by-play announcers, and we’re just behind.
I think it’s a product of not digging deeper or going wider. It’s also a product of radio maybe not paying as well as television, radio maybe not being as sexy as it once was. But those are just excuses, right? If you look at the audience of the marketplace and you look at the demographics and the ethnic backgrounds of those that participate in America’s most popular sports, I don’t think sports radio is close to being reflective of those constituencies.
It’s incumbent upon those of us that are in this format to make that happen. It is true you want the best person for every open job, but you also just can’t keep recycling the same people over and over. You’ve got to go give some new people a chance. They’re going to have to stumble a little bit and figure their way through it, but if they have the right support, it will make the format more relevant and I think give the format more life moving forward.
BN: The word escape stands out to me. When sports radio dips into a political issue, it can be an interesting conversation, but it becomes less of an escape. Where do you stand on that dilemma?
BG: Yeah, it’s a great point. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how to address that. My personal opinion — and this is based heavily on watching how those things impact research and ratings — is that we can’t be an escape if we go down the political path. Sports radio is most successful when it’s apolitical because being apolitical is one of its true positives. That’s the uniting part. The minute we get political, we’re not uniting anymore, we’re divisive.
As much as you want to be authentic and you want to talk about what people are talking about, I think my experience is saying, and what I’ve seen as I’ve watched it unfold, I would say it’s a mistake to get political or go into those areas that could be perceived as political. We have a small audience to begin with. It’s a niche format. Why do you want to alienate part of that audience by taking one side or the other on a political issue that’s going to actually run people off?
BN: With the BSM Summit coming up, why is it important to be there?
BG: Well, first of all, we all miss each other, right? None of us have been able to see each other because we haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years, and a lot of us know each other and go back a lot of years. There’s a real value in just being able to connect with people.
The side effect of being able to connect with people is I think you learn in those situations that some of the things that you see as obstacles or problems that you’re dealing with, it’s really healthy to talk to other people that are going through the same thing and realizing, oh, I’m not alone in this. They’re having to get over that hump as well. It works in the reverse in a positive way. You see somebody that has come up with a solution or done something unique, that becomes contagious and that drives us forward.
The other reason I think it’s important is because when somebody like Jason takes the time and makes the effort to pull all those people together, and he works his ass off on this thing, I just really respect that. That is a strong message from a person that this is worth our time and worth getting away for a couple of days and shutting ourselves in a room and trying to make it better.
One of the problems with any business, I think, is complacency. If we don’t sit down in a place like that and be honest with each other about what our challenges are and how to address them, then we’re going to become complacent. I think what Jason’s done really well is he’s made it a point to not allow it to be a place where we all just sit around and pat each other on the back and talk about how great we are or live in the past. He’s done a really good job of making it about the now and going forward.
I look forward to that because look, I’ve been doing this a long time; the minute I stop learning is the minute I should stop doing this job. I think there’s always something to learn and that’s never been more true now when you look at video platforms, all the different digital platforms, how to get your things out on social media, the algorithms, all the different things that we never had to deal with that we now need to deal with. You can’t deal with it if you aren’t willing to learn it and understand it and grow.
That’s why I think it’s critical. I think it’s even more critical because of the work that Jason puts in. It’s not just a hey, let’s get together and scratch each other. It’s let’s really, really make this worth our time.
BN: What’s something valuable that you’ve taken away from the Summit before?
BG: I get two really critical things out of Jason’s Summit in particular. One, a lot of affirmation. You’re always experimenting and trying new things. It might be one little thing that you’re doing in one little market and you wonder if that’s the right thing. Then you go there and you hear somebody talk about something similar or maybe even something exactly the same and you’re like, okay, good, I respect that person and that person is trying the same thing or thinks that’s a good idea. There’s an affirmation aspect to it.
The second thing that I always get out of it is just motivation. What comes out in two days with a group of people like that is that most of us aren’t in this for the paycheck — although we all like to get paid — but we’re in it because it’s a passion. I think about outside of my wife and kids, my two loves in life are sports and radio. I get to do them both every day. What happens is you see that passion come out in different ways. Not all of them that are there are radio people specifically. They may be in a tangential business, but that passion is overwhelmingly motivating to me and I find myself recharged, re-energized.
I think affirmation, motivation, and sometimes those two actually drive you to try something that maybe you’ve been thinking about. I know I’ve had this happen where I’ve been thinking about something for maybe years and you go to a conference like that and you’re like, why the hell haven’t I done that? Now I’m going to because I keep putting it off, and if so-and-so can do it, or so-and-so believes it’s a good idea, then I’m going to go forward.
BN: What’s the most gratifying aspect of your job?
BG: That’s easy: Watching other people succeed. When I see someone who I know is busting their ass or has been trying to get something to work for so long and it clicks and it happens, or the ratings finally happen, I totally am driven by that. I love seeing it.
Those are the people I then absolutely want to help as much as I can. By help, I mean help their career, help them grow, help them find the next job or whatever they want to do that’s important to them. That, to me, it’s all about that. It’s about watching people win that really deserve it and earned it.
BN: What’s the most difficult part of your job?
BG: I don’t dwell on the bad stuff but certainly over the past couple of years, the most difficult thing has had to be downsizing our teams. Everybody has been through it, but that doesn’t make it okay. Nobody ever deserves to lose their job, especially if they love what they do. But everybody can’t keep their job. It’s just not realistic. It’s not how it works.
You’ve experienced it yourself, unfortunately, and you’re an extremely talented talk show host that I think is remarkably bright and unique. So if guys like you can lose your job, it can happen to anybody.
I have to admit, I’ve met a couple of people in my career that actually enjoy firing people and I’m telling you those people are either the devil or they’re just not human. There is nothing fun at all about having to tell people that their position no longer exists. It absolutely blows. That’s the worst by far.
BN: Yeah, absolutely. That’s crazy; I can’t imagine someone enjoying that.
BG: There are some people that do. They’re proud of it. It’s like something’s wrong with you. [Laughs]
BN: Put your current job to the side, it doesn’t count toward this question. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had during your career?
BG: Maybe this is nostalgic and we romanticize things, but probably when I was working at my dad’s Wisconsin-owned radio station. I think when I had the most fun was doing play-by-play. I used to do high school basketball and high school hockey, believe it or not. I loved it, man. I thought it was the greatest thing ever. The hockey games were outdoors. I was standing in a snowbank with a headset on calling a high school hockey game, freezing my everything off.
I think about those times and I’m like, that was a freakin’ blast, man. It was so much fun. I’m sure I had some worries, but I don’t remember having a single worry in the world then. I didn’t have a family to support yet, so it was just like, make your 25 bucks doing play-by-play and go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and life is good.
BN: [Laughs] Totally, man. For you personally, do you look to the future as far as goals or are you an in-the-now type of guy?
BG: I think for me personally, I’m definitely a here-and-now person. That’s how I was brought up. That’s my Midwest upbringing. My parents were like, as long as you’re getting a paycheck from somebody, you give them 150%. You get up in the morning, you bust your ass and go to work for them, and you do everything to make them look good and smart and make them money. If something else happens to come along, then you consider it.
That’s the reason I say I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a lot of things just organically come my way. I don’t know why or how I was lucky enough to fall into those places. I guess a lot of really good people that have helped me and looked out for me, mentors of mine.
But yeah, I don’t get fixated personally. There’s no guarantee. For me personally, I’m all about today being as great as it can be and tomorrow being whatever it’s going to be.
BN: If you could change anything about your career, would you?
BG: No. Not at all. And that doesn’t mean that I don’t think I’ve made some mistakes. I absolutely have made some mistakes. I think I made them with good intentions. Even when I made the wrong step, it all made sense when I did it. That’s not because I’m smart or I did everything right because like I said, I’ve made some mistakes.
But just because you make mistakes doesn’t mean you have to have regrets. I don’t regret it. All of those things get you where you’re at now, good and bad. I’ve made some mistakes, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve been extremely lucky, man. Extremely lucky.
Brian Noe is a columnist for BSM and an on-air host heard nationwide on FOX Sports Radio’s Countdown To Kickoff. Previous roles include stops in Portland, OR, Albany, NY and Fresno, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @TheNoeShow or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ian Rapoport Is Competing Against Everyone
“When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive.”
The 2023 NFL Draft was a weekend filled with speculation, intrigue and musing among football fans and experts alike. After two quarterbacks were selected with the first two picks – C.J. Stroud by the Jacksonville Jaguars; and Bryce Young by the Houston Texans – Ian Rapoport had the inclination that something was about to break at the event in Kansas City.
The third pick of the night was held by the Arizona Cardinals, but through previous intel, Rapoport knew there was a chance the team would trade it. His phone then lit up with a text message from a source that simply read, “Texans trading.” Receiving a message of this magnitude takes years of networking, credibility and immense trust from the people you cover. Rapoport has worked hard to attain all of them.
He replied by asking, “Did the Texans trade up to three?,” as the team was not set to pick again until No. 12 overall. Once he got confirmation of the scenario, he began to visibly shake in excitement and captured the attention of the NFL Network team.
“I sit there with a camera in front of me that’s not always on air – this is during the Draft – and the producer gets in my ear and he goes, ‘Can you go on air with whatever you have?,’ and I just say, ‘Yes.’” Rapoport recalled. “And then I hear Rich Eisen go, ‘Ian, you have news,’ and I was able to break that the Texans have traded up to three to go get Will Anderson.”
This is the craft through which Rapoport has cultivated a successful journalism career, ultimately distinguishing him as NFL Network’s goto insider. He hardly ever separates himself from the job, equipped with an unparalleled work ethic to ensure he can communicate messages accurately and in a timely manner. While some people may argue that he is in direct competition with others in his position, such as Adam Schefter of ESPN, Jay Glazer of FOX Sports and Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports, the reality of the situation is that it is Rapoport vs. the world.
“It’s such a small world now and everyone is interconnected – and with Twitter, literally anyone could break a story and have it go viral,” Rapoport said. “Obviously, you want everything first, but really you’re competing against everyone that exists because anyone could get the story at any moment.”
Work-life balance in such a role is usually quite insurmountable in today’s dynamic, interminable breaking news environment. Rapoport strives to find some level of normalcy in his life by playing golf and attending his sons’ sporting events. In the end though, he knows the world of football never sleeps, and it is up to him to remain in the know at all hours of the day, essentially always on standby to break the next big story.
“I do not turn my phone off because that’s actually way more stressful,” Rapoport said. “At least now when my phone’s on and near me, if something crazy happens, I can react rather than having a fake relaxation moment and then being caught off guard with something.”
Rapoport recognized that journalism was the field for him almost immediately after stepping onto the Columbia University campus. He worked his way up at The Dial to ultimately become its associate sports editor. In the summer preceding his senior year, he landed a coveted internship with ESPN where he gained invaluable experience in the world of television production.
By the time he graduated, Rapoport envisioned himself becoming a nationally acclaimed sportswriter, but he knew it was going to require he start small. Three hundred eleven job applications and two interviews later, he landed a part-time role with The Journal News in Westchester, N.Y. covering high school sports. It gave him a start in the highly-competitive business – and kept him close to home while trying many new things.
Two years later, he found himself moving from the bright lights of New York City to the quaint town of Starkville, Mississippi for a notable opportunity. He had landed a job covering the Mississippi State Bulldogs for The Clarion-Ledger in the nearby capital city of Jackson and was under the direction of sports editor Rusty Hampton.
“I knew how to write, but I really didn’t know how to report,” Rapoport said. “He was probably the best [at] showing me, ‘This is all about reporting. It’s all about telling people something they don’t know rather than how well you can pen a sentence.’ To be really valuable to society or your newspaper, you really need to inform rather than entertain. I think he was probably the first and best person to teach me that.”
After spending two years in Mississippi, Rapoport became a beat reporter for The Birmingham News tasked with following the Alabama Crimson Tide. Just months into his new role, the program made a coaching change and hired Nick Saban, who has since led the program to six national titles.
Rapoport learned the thoroughness necessary to cover the Southeastern Conference as he rapidly watched the program become a perennial contender. In turn, he became an eminent college football reporter and his work began to be consumed nationally.
Simultaneously, Bill Belichick, another accomplished football head coach in his own right, was in the process of trying to lead the New England Patriots back to championship glory. Known to be stoic and restrained in his press conferences, reporters asking him questions knew extrapolating answers was not the easiest of tasks.
When Rapoport saw a job opening to cover the team with the Boston Herald that required NFL experience, he knew that he was not qualified verbatim per se. Yet he figured the experience he had in covering Saban and Alabama would serve him well in the role, and articulated such in a protracted email to the newspaper’s editors. His strategy worked, proving why Rapoport is considered one of the industry’s best communicators at the micro and macro levels.
“You don’t see a lot of sources within the Patriots or sources within Alabama – there’s not a lot of that,” Rapoport said. “So I learned to report despite that and kind of work the edges and get the information I needed, despite head coaches who weren’t always the most forthcoming with information.”
NFL Network oftentimes has local beat reporters on the air to interact with studio talent and give their perspectives about teams, and it was something Rapoport did while at the Boston Herald. He had no television experience outside of other appearances he made on Comcast New England and certainly no intention to pursue the medium as a career.
In Super Bowl XLVI, the New York Giants overcame the New England Patriots, who were undefeated for the year entering the game. Rapoport was on hand for the proceedings, and shortly afterwards was called into a meeting with NFL Network executives.
He didn’t know he was interviewing for a job until he asked just why he had been summoned. He expressed his lack of television experience to the executives, who said the network would teach him everything he needed to know.
Once the meeting concluded, Rapoport called his wife, who he had met while living in Starkville, Mississippi, and told her what had just happened. She tempered his expectations, warning him not to get his hopes up as he remained optimistic. One month later, Rapoport received a job offer and found himself moving once again – this time to the Lone Star State.
“I hired an agent and moved to Dallas and basically spent the next year reporting on the Cowboys and some other things being very, very bad at TV, but learning and eventually figuring it out,” Rapoport said. “At the time, this guy, Eric Weinberger, who was our boss, kind of mentioned to me the possibility of transitioning [me] from reporter to insider.”
Rapoport acknowledged that he did not have the contacts necessary to effectively work as a league insider for a national outlet, but through his years of experience, he knew how to network and he was ready and willing to take the challenge.
Once he began the new position, Rapoport, along with reporter Michael Silver, was on the road for Thursday Night Football and contributed to its pregame and halftime coverage. While his television skills improved, Rapoport was hard at work bolstering his contacts and took somewhat of a geographical approach.
Every time he arrived in a new city, he would contact anyone and everyone he could conjure up, including general managers, scouts and head coaches. If he could not schedule a meeting time with them, he would introduce himself by roaming the sidelines at practices and before games. He engaged in a similar practice before the NFL Draft Combine, training camps and the Super Bowl along with other premier events, always staying focused on the task at hand.
“It probably took me five or six years to get a baseline of sources where if something happened, I had someone to call,” Rapoport said. “And then it took me a couple more years to get to the point where I would know before a lot of people when something was about to happen. It’s all a multi-step process, and just [the] layering and layering and layering of sources is really the sort of engine that drives this thing.”
Ian Rapoport always attempts to triangulate his sources to verify information before he releases it publicly. There is no guarantee sources are always truthful or acting in a professional manner. Therefore, it is incumbent on a journalist to ensure the validity of content before publishing it themselves.
“If you’re only right some of the time, then none of it is really worth it,” Rapoport expressed, “because then you say something and they’re like, ‘Well, wow, that’s a big story if this is true.’ The whole point of doing this is when I pop up on TV or when people see my Twitter alerts or whatever, they have to know that it’s true – they have to know.”
One day, Rapoport was having a conversation with a source and discovered through their conversation that Rob Gronkowski had informed the New England Patriots that he would return to the game of football under the stipulation he be traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to reunite with quarterback Tom Brady. There had been much speculation pertaining to Gronkowski’s future after he had worked as an NFL analyst with FOX Sports, and now Rapoport realized he had a monumental scoop – that is, if it was true. Within six minutes, Rapoport verified the story with three sources, contacted his editor and reported to the world Gronkowski’s intentions. The story was picked up virtually everywhere.
“I just think about the job all the time, and I make little lists for myself of things that I need to track down, and I just make a lot of phone calls for it,” Rapoport said. “When I’m working, when I’m not working – my brain is still going on overdrive. It ends up just a brain full of football thoughts, and then I spend the rest of the time trying to figure out what I can learn from it.”
Working for a league-owned entity can sometimes epitomize an inherent conflict of interest. For Rapoport however, he has found working at NFL Network to be hassle-free. He knows, however, the nature of his job means he will not be universally liked.
“Whatever you do, you’re going to report and the people you report on are going to be happy or upset or neutral – or whatever it is,” Rapoport said. “I’m never going to criticize a referee, for instance, because that’s a nuanced thing and people might say, ‘NFL criticizes referees.’ I’m never going to do that, but I wouldn’t do that anyway.”
Rapoport continues to appear on a variety of external media outlets, perhaps most notably The Pat McAfee Show, which recently concluded its “Up to Something Season.” The grand conclusion of the proceedings was McAfee announcing he would be bringing his show to ESPN’s linear and digital platforms starting in the fall.
While McAfee is retaining creative control and has expressed on multiple occasions that his show will not be changing, many have wondered whether insiders employed by other networks will be able to continue making appearances. It is an answer Rapoport himself does not know, nor has he asked about.
“When the news broke, my phone blew up with all sorts of people saying all sorts of different things,” Rapoport said. “I have no idea. I really don’t.”
Even so, Rapoport is elated for McAfee and his team taking the next step in their show’s journey and is genuinely glad to see them succeed. He does not think McAfee’s goal was to reshape sports media, but rather to cultivate a distinctive sports talk program built for fans and today’s generation of consumers.
“You get to know someone and you think they’re a good person and you respect the way they work. Some people have success and some people have a little success and some people don’t. It’s really rare to see someone who has every bit of success that’s essentially possible and deserves every bit of it, and that’s kind of how I thought about Pat. It’s really cool, honestly. He’s built it himself.”
It was on McAfee’s show where another prominent football insider – Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk and NBC Sports – said it would be a matter of “when,” not “if” the NFL would have games seven days per week. While devoted football fans like Rapoport are open to such a proposition, he is not sure the league would ever go that far.
“I don’t even know that it would affect my schedule that much,” he said. “It sort of doesn’t matter. I’ll report all year round anyway.”
Derek Futterman is a contributing editor and sports media reporter for Barrett Sports Media. Additionally, he has worked in a broad array of roles in multimedia production – including on live game broadcasts and audiovisual platforms – and in digital content development and management. He previously interned for Paramount within Showtime Networks, wrote for the Long Island Herald and served as lead sports producer at NY2C. To get in touch, find him on Twitter @derekfutterman.
Face-to-Face Sales Meetings Have Never Been More Valuable
“With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F.”
When did you last attend a face-to-face (F2F) in-person sales call? Let’s imagine for a second.
In New York, Sarah, a determined sports radio salesperson, got tired of chasing a major client for months. Despite her calls, emails, and text, she couldn’t break through to get a meeting.
Throwing caution to the wind, Sarah decided to go for it. She loaded her deck and took her burning desire via airplane to Florida to make the pitch. She showed up unannounced at the client’s office and startled the decision-maker. She was given the meeting and won over the client, getting a substantial annual contract and a movie deal in Hollywood.
We have all seen that storyline. F2F meetings used to be the obvious choice over a phone call, and most buyers were open to that idea. We even conducted market trips to meet our buyers in person and create better relationships.
With the increase in virtual meetings, new buyer preferences, limited time, and better tech, we have our work cut out to get the F2F. Lots of us work and listen from home.
Gartner Research points out that live, in person selling is superior to virtual selling in financial services or, as I think, in radio sales. Now, prospecting new clients F2F is much more difficult. You have never met them, you don’t know who you are looking for, and gatekeepers and remote decision-makers make walk-ins more challenging.
How about getting out and seeing your current or former clients F2F? 65% of outside account executives attain quota, 10% more often than inside reps. Here are some simple strategies to get outside and F2F:
STAY IN TOUCH
Turn the sales faucet on ‘drip’ and contact your current clients with whatever works: phone calls, emails, or texts. Tell them you are checking in to see if anything has changed, give them a local business lead, or share your latest insight on their favorite team. When doing so, tell them you want to meet F2F and go deep into the next quarter’s ad plan or a new idea to get them back on the air. They may start looking forward to your communication.
Schedule an annual review ahead of their busiest time of year to review the upcoming messaging in ads. Go over what worked or didn’t last year. Share a success story of a similar advertiser in another market or show them a new opportunity that fits.
Be upfront that with F2F, we can get more specific, work with better feedback, and partner on hitting their goals. Be the person who looks ahead and helps keep your client focused.
Organize workshops for your current clients. Teach that about streaming, OTT, or Google ads. Get your digital person involved. Let them know you are bringing in other local businesspeople they may want to know or network with and meet F2F! A Mortgage broker may want to meet a realtor who wants to meet a wealthy local businessperson interested in meeting the local head coach. Stand out as a leader in the industry and watch clients brag about working with you.
HIT A TRADE SHOW
Attend trade shows where your current clients will be. This will show you are serious about their business and want to stay current so you can learn and earn. Set up a meeting over coffee or a drink. Share what you learned.
Client Appreciation Events held at your town’s most meaningful events or places. Do whatever it takes to get hospitality tents at big games and concert suites to show appreciation and bond with your current clients. Host a luncheon at the hottest new local restaurant. Focus on providing an atmosphere or experience everyone wants, but not many can attend. Be the exclusive person in town.
GET PERSONAL REFERRALS
Leverage your existing client relationships to seek referrals. Do it in person. Tell them you want to see them and ask for help and advice. Ask for introductions to potential new clients they know, and you will be surprised how much they like working with you.
Bring your Digital manager to them and do a free review of their SEO, PPC, whatever. Working off your client’s pc and bringing them an expert at no charge or obligation is much easier. Watch your partnership grow by providing so much expertise at no extra expense.
Don’t forget the value of F2F meetings. It’s a great way to build trust, connect, and unlock new opportunities. We are in a people business doing business with tons of local directs who still make most of their money serving retail customers F2F. Let’s get out and sell!
Jeff Caves is a sales columnist for BSM working in radio, digital, hyper-local magazine, and sports sponsorship sales in DFW. He is credited with helping launch, build, and develop SPORTS RADIO The Ticket in Boise, Idaho, into the market’s top sports radio station. During his 26 year stay at KTIK, Caves hosted drive time, programmed the station, and excelled as a top seller. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or find him on Twitter @jeffcaves.
All Jason Timpf Needed Was A Moment of Clarity
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this.”
There was once a time when Jason Timpf always included Colin Cowherd in his commute to work. As he made his morning drive to a sales job at Verizon, The Herd was appointment listening each morning for Timpf. The ex-college basketball player would marvel at Cowherd’s ability to make relatable references and break down all of the same basketball games he would watch the night before.
One of the unique things Timpf can remember from listening to The Herd during that time was Cowherd saying if FOX ever put someone in front of him, he could tell in five seconds if that individual had the skills to be a host. It was far from a hot take on the Lakers, but still a distinct moment that stuck with Timpf for many years. Little did he know at the time but Cowherd would soon give a five-second evaluation of Timpf’s career.
Jason Timpf was a late-bloomer in basketball. He played college hoops at an NAIA school in Utah, but not until his third year, after being a regular student the first two. After graduating, he pursued a basketball career overseas in India. However, after the league folded, he left the game for a normal job in the States.
There was a real desire for Timpf to get into the sports media business, but he was having difficulties finding the right fit. He wanted advice on the best way to start, but the tips he received just didn’t feel like the right initial path.
“I’d hear, hey, go bang on a radio station’s door and ask if you can work the soundboard,” said Timpf. “Or, try to go to a journalism school. Another big one that everyone was doing was the SB Nation blogs and FanSided blogs. I briefly tried to do that a little bit. But none of it was materializing the way that I had hoped.”
But then the lightbulb went off for Timpf and it happened during the middle of a podcast interview. In October of 2020, Jason Maples of Blue Wire reached out to Timpf to talk hoops on his podcast. It was in the middle of that interview when it all made sense. It felt exactly like the camaraderie he enjoyed with his old teammates and friends talking basketball. It was relaxed, fun and what he used to do for enjoyment. The perfect fit had just found Timpf organically.
“It was, ‘this is it,’” said Timpf. “‘This is how I want to do it.’ It was like a moment of clarity. Like, this is the way I want to talk about the game. Fortunately, I was working in real estate at the time, so I was super flexible, so I literally was just trying to fake it until I made it.”
While Timpf was grinding away on his new platform choice, he was constantly putting out his content on social media. For a handful of years, he had used Twitter as an outlet for basketball talk – not because he was trying to build his brand, but because it was his preferred method of sharing his takes during and after basketball games.
“My wife actually played basketball in college but she, like a lot of people, got out of it and was like, ‘actually I’m so sick of basketball, since it’s all I did growing up, that I’d rather not talk about it,’” laughed Timpf.
As Timpf had built up years of basketball takes on Twitter, he also built up followers. Not a crazy amount, but enough to have regular interactions with several basketball fans. He had no idea at the time, though he remembers occasionally interacting with him, but one of his followers in the beginning was Logan Swaim, who just happens to be Head of Content at The Volume.
Being such a huge fan of Cowherd, Timpf was absolutely familiar with The Volume, a company started by the FOX Sports Radio host. In fact, during his first plunge into podcasts, he quickly took note of how much success The Volume was having with instant reaction and video content. He wanted to emulate what they were doing and would host a Twitter Space after each Lakers game.
Swaim kept up with Timpf’s journey and continued to be impressed with what he saw. He was so impressed, in fact, that a video eventually made it in front of Cowherd’s eyes. It was the moment Timpf had always heard about while driving to his job at Verizon. Cowherd was about to make a declaration on Timpf’s abilities.
“I didn’t know it until after I was hired, but they said they played my video for Colin and he knew right away that I could do this,” Timpf said. “That was a huge boost of confidence for me, because it meant somebody I deeply respected believed I could work in this business.”
Timpf made his dream come true. He was offered a job by The Volume hosting Hoops Tonight. As much of a dream as it was when he was initially hired, the experience since has been nothing but ideal for Timpf. He gets to cover his favorite sport the way he wants to cover it.
“When I first started and Logan and I were structuring out the show, he kinda viewed it as my show would be the slower, more methodical pace, where I work through my thought process of a game. And also that I’d be a guest on other Volume shows for more conversational podcasts. I really wanted to break down pick and roll coverage. It’s just going to take me a while, so trying to do that in a debate show format or conversational format can get hard. It’s a place where I can let more of my crazy depth out. And I can also have a side format where it’s more conversational.”
Timpf has learned prep for podcasts is one of the biggest elements to being successful. As Hoops Tonight continues to draw impressive numbers over audio and YouTube, he’s figured out the best method to prepare for a long-form podcast where he’s hosting solo.
“I digest the game from the simple concept of how the game was won,” said Timpf. “Where was it won? There’s 100-something possessions in this game, there’s seven different storylines and several runs and sequences and sways in momentum, but what’s the one? Usually I’ll target that first in the opening segment of the show.
“While I’m watching the game I’ll take ancillary notes. About five minutes before I record, I sift through everything I’ve written down and limit it down to the things I think are most important. But generally the flow of the show is how the game was won.”
The whole experience has been gratifying and a full-circle moment in many ways for Timpf. Not only has it been vindicating to do things his way and see it become a success, but he’s gotten to do it with someone who he considers an idol.
Sure, Timpf always envisioned growing up he would be talking to Cowherd as a pro athlete, but talking to him as a colleague is certainly the next best thing. So when he got the call to talk with Cowherd during last year’s West Conference Finals, he didn’t hesitate.
“I was so incredibly nervous, as you could imagine,” laughed Timpf. “But I immediately remember him making me feel comfortable and confident. It immediately calmed me down.
“This is probably my favorite part of the entire experience, I think a lot of people think that these networks try to shove people in certain directions and The Volume has given me such freedom to cover the game exactly the way I want to and nobody is telling me to say crazy stuff. Nobody is pushing me in certain directions, it’s like total creative freedom. The way that Logan and Colin have been letting me do me, so to speak, has been so cool. To see my version of what I want it to look like makes me feel vindicated for talking about it the way I want to.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.