The past twelve months have provided a series of twists and turns that have been a combination of exciting, challenging, confusing, and rewarding. It’s because of those experiences that today is extra special. Last year at this time I hadn’t thought about where Barrett Sports Media would be one year later. I was simply trying to build a brand that I could be proud of and hope that others in the industry would take notice. Much to my surprise and delight, they have, and because of your support, I’m able to celebrate the first anniversary of what I hope will be many more, of running BSM.
When I look back at September 2015 I do so with a smile because it was then that I decided to announce my intentions to travel down this path, despite being told by many that it would be difficult to sustain. I was encouraged to pursue programming jobs and avoid this journey at all costs, but anyone who knows me is fully aware that I perform best with my back against the wall, and I welcome taking risks, and am not afraid to fail.
I moved to New York after a four year stint in San Francisco to be closer to my son Dylan. I had no job lined up but thanks to some advanced planning I wasn’t pressured to find work immediately. I started thinking about my professional future and starting my own company was an idea I was intrigued by but I wasn’t sure I could do it. I had never run my own business or considered entering the consulting space because I felt that not enough companies valued outside support to help their stations get better. I recognized that the world of sports media was rapidly changing though due to the rise of podcasting, websites, and social media. Although there was more interest in talent and content, I also knew that I couldn’t rely on business finding me. Instead I’d have to create demand by demonstrating my value.
Before making the commitment to launch BSM, I talked to a few people about a few job opportunities. I felt it was important to weigh all of the options before deciding. In going through meetings and processing the information, I kept feeling unfulfilled. The money would be better, but the idea of doing the same thing I had just done for four stations in three markets over the past decade didn’t excite me. I learned long ago to never make a career decision based on economics, so I wasn’t about to start now.
I started thinking about the various successes and experiences I was fortunate to be a part of, and the relationships I had built across the country and felt my knowledge, network, and abilities could make a bigger difference. My true passions are teaching radio, scouting talent, and creating strategies to help people win, and I felt that I’d be limiting myself by working in one market for one organization.
So in August of 2015 I began sending a few emails to a number of industry friends to let them know what I was planning to do, and on the day after Labor Day, September 8, 2015, I officially became an entrepreneur and launched Barrett Sports Media.
The past year has provided a number of valuable life lessons and it’s opened my eyes and ears to many different parts of our industry. I’ve learned how numerous companies operate, why many brands win or lose, who understands the importance of networking (and who doesn’t), and which areas of our format have significant challenges. I’ve seen how powerful the web and social media can be in growing your brand and content, and why the ratings system is one that poorly represents our industry and will never truly capture the reach of many of our greatest sports radio brands.
Indulge me if you will for a little while longer as I go through a few specific areas that have stood out since I launched this company. I appreciate every business partnership and relationship that I’ve developed over the past year, as well as every social media follower, website reader, new industry connection, and the various radio stations, newspapers and websites who have sought me out for insight on industry related subjects. It’s been a very rewarding year and I wouldn’t be in position for a solid second year without your support.
The Growth of the Website: When I started SportsRadioPD.com I was still programming 95.7 The Game in San Francisco. I did it as a labor of love and focused mostly on writing a few blogs, not necessarily reporting a ton of news. The updates were sporadic and I wasn’t heavily promoting it. None the less, I started to see that there was interest in reading the content since it was very industry specific.
Upon launching BSM, this became a huge focus. I looked at the end of 2015 as a time where it was more important to build my brand rather than worry about adding clients. I felt that if I produced great content on a regular basis, and expanded my network, that it would lead to opportunities when brands had needs.
During that time I reconnected with an old friend Zach McCrite to bring his “Podcast About Sports Radio” to the website. I also started focusing on my writing and reporting. If there’s one thing I learned about myself this past year it’s that I enjoy writing. Typing a column isn’t easy to do. There were many nights where I didn’t go to sleep until 5AM. But there’s a certain creative freedom that comes from producing your own material, and as long as people continue to have interest in reading it, I’ll keep doing it.
Little by little the interest grew in the written content. I wrote stories on specific subjects with perspectives added by industry friends. I traveled to radio stations to better understand their approach and share their story. I traveled to conferences and shared my findings including having the privilege of attending Mike and Mike’s Hall of Fame induction in Las Vegas where I’m pretty sure Kim Komando is still speaking. I connected with radio executives in large and small markets to help them better share their brand’s successes, and I gave radio folks a platform to tell their own stories. I even began to tap into my various relationships to get the inside scoop on a number of stories, and in doing so, my social media following tripled on Twitter, and doubled on LinkedIn.
I quickly recognized the value of social media because it’s where we all reside throughout each day. By producing quality content and promoting it on multiple platforms, BSM generated 1.5 million clicks over the past year, something I never could have possibly imagined.
There were many pieces I was proud to publish this past year but the one that provided the biggest impact were the inaugural Barrett Sports Media Awards. I thought they’d do well, but the interest far surpassed my expectations. I was stunned yet flattered by the publicity that came from it. Various shows across the nation talked about them on the air. All Access gave consistent promotion to it on their website. It even got attention on sports television. It worked because of the contributions of many top executives in the format and I look forward to a second installment coming your way in late January or early February. To those that discussed or promoted the awards I simply say thank you.
Two other projects which I was happy to invest time in were the columns on Tackling The Issue of Diversity in Sports Radio and 15 Talents You May Not Know But Should. These two pieces taught me that there are a lot of great people performing in this business but sometimes they fly way below the radar. By highlighting their work, a few performers with some exceptional talent were able to be recognized for the great work they provide on a daily basis.
I also discovered how important it is to explore subjects that may make some uncomfortable yet need to be brought into focus. I don’t believe any hiring decision should be made based on the color of one’s skin but I also realize that as an industry we need to do a much better job of looking at candidates from all backgrounds. We tend to gravitate towards what we know or are comfortable with yet the audiences we broadcast for are very diverse.
From the Awards to the Minority Voices to the 15 Talents Undiscovered and many other columns that I wrote, I learned that written work touches a nerve. Not everyone was pleased with my columns or reports, and they took the time to express themselves either through email or social media. Whether I agreed or disagreed I always tried to respond. I was told by an industry friend “there’s power in the pen” and he certainly wasn’t kidding.
A few friends labeled me the Adam Schefter of the sports radio space, and while it was funny and probably rang true in a few instances since few outlets were breaking industry news, I realized that reporting is tough. There’s a fine line between breaking a story for the benefit of your readers and costing yourself a relationship with an individual and/or company. If I was building a career as a writer or reporter, I could break news on this industry on a daily basis. But I enjoy working with brands and their staffs and if jumping out in front on a story is going to burn a bridge or cost me a valuable relationship then I’m willing to let someone else enjoy the glory of being first. Some who read the website may prefer a different approach but I do have a responsibility to balance business and news.
Networking and Promoting: If there’s an area where the radio industry needs major work it’s in these two words. Networking is something that many struggle with yet it’s critical in everything you do. I’ve learned that many individuals reach out to a programmer only when a job opening is posted. They don’t invest the time in getting to know the executive prior to it. The same holds true for many programmers. Let’s be honest, most jobs in this business aren’t filled through sending in an application. It’s word of mouth, and internal and external relationships, and although it might be a pain in the ass, you control your own fate in deciding whether or not to get to know people. The more people you know, the more options you’ll have. The only thing standing in the way is your own effort.
As it applies to promoting, this is more on brands and their leaders than it is on talent or producers. If you want people to change their perceptions of your market, ratings, competitive picture, or your brand and talent, you have to tell them about it. When you add an employee, that’s worth promoting. When you create a new promotion, add a weekly guest or make a programming change, that’s worth promoting. When you have a great month in the ratings, that’s worth promoting. Too many in our industry treat their information like it’s damaging material hidden inside of Hillary Clinton’s emails when the reality is that if you get out in front of the story and control the narrative, more people are likely to pay attention and reward you for it. You have thousands of fans following your brands on social media because they care about your product. All you have to do is keep them informed.
Think about the irony for a minute. We use the airwaves everyday to produce content and run advertiser messages yet don’t use them or our social media platforms and industry relationships to help grow our profile. You can have the best ratings in the nation but if nobody knows besides the 50-100 people inside your building then it’s your own fault if you don’t receive the credit you deserve. It may not be comfortable but to change perceptions you have to give people new information and it has to be sent to the proper locations. I offer to help every station in this format. All Access, Radio Ink, Inside Radio and many others offer the same. We’ll help you get the word out. You have only one small job to do – share your story.
Becoming a Consultant: When people refer to me as a sports radio consultant it still feels weird. In a sense it is what I am but I believe the role can be further developed. In many ways I see myself as a sports media strategist. Too often when you talk to people in our industry about consultants, they view them as people with expertise to share but who have been away from a building for two to three decades. In my case, that’s not accurate. I spent the past decade programming and just left a building last year.
Secondly, most of the time the instant perception is that the consultant gets paid to provide advice, strategy and information on how to develop your ratings. That’s part of the job, but digital and social media has become a huge priority for brands, generating revenue is a bigger responsibility than ever before, and I don’t believe you can measure an individual’s impact on ratings alone.
I want to help the brand’s I work with enjoy stronger ratings, but I also want to arm the programmer and market manager with every bit of information that I can to help them enjoy success in all departments. Whether it’s helping them create a strong digital and social media strategy, assisting with recruitment, meeting with a sales team, sharing success stories and ideas from other markets, writing a story to showcase the brand’s growth, offering insight on employee negotiations and how to retain or land a deal with a play by play franchise or network, or listening to the competitor and offering observations, all of those things are valuable. I also make myself available for radio hits on the subject of sports media.
When I work with a brand on an annual basis, I become deeply invested in their success. I care about my clients, the challenges they’re going through and I listen to and analyze their progress to help them make a bigger difference. Too many radio operators expect the program director to solve every issue, but even the best PD’s need a trusted advisor and shrink. Many groups are content to keep doing things a certain way without adjusting, but as the audience changes their habits, so should a brand. I’m not saying I’m the answer for everyone, but whether it’s me or someone else, companies should always be looking to find new ways to lift their performance.
Adding an outside perspective does make a difference. I speak from experience, not as a salesman. I grew as a programmer the past six years because I had access to a consultant. We didn’t agree on everything but I valued the additional insight, information, and differing of opinion because it helped me grow and put the brand in position to have better success. If there’s one thing that still surprises me it’s how intimidated some programmers get when the idea of working with a consultant comes up. The best in any profession look to surround themselves with as many smart and talented people as possible. If you’re confident in what you do and delivering good results, you don’t need to look over your shoulder. If you’re successful and the company you work for is foolish enough to let you go, someone else will be ready to welcome you into their organization with open arms. Good talent is always wanted.
Closing: The interest in sports media is extremely high and it’s not slowing down. That’s great news for all of us who love this type of work. I get asked often “are you going to go program radio station ____ (fill in the blank)” whenever opportunities arise, and I can’t say it more definitively than this – I went into this space because I saw a void in it and I thought I could be good at it. I enjoy it, have a passion for it, and love where I’m at. I have no desire to enter one building and program in one market. I’m also committed to getting my son through high school in New York and am not interested in relocating. Plus why would I want to give up working from a home office in pajama pants? Seriously?
As I move into year #2 I have a lot more I want to accomplish. I’m thrilled to be working with some great companies and stations and I hope to increase my reach with other organizations who are seeking to gain a competitive edge. I’ve added a new layer to my business (customized in-market training) for brands who can’t afford regular support but want to help their staffs, and between listening, writing, reporting, promoting, and networking, I’m fortunate to be busy. I’m also looking forward to further expanding my relationships with the sports agents I’ve gotten to know during the past year, and if it works out, I may even do another international project. I’ve begun getting more involved in public speaking too and am looking forward later this month to being part of the NAB in Nashville. Over the next twelve months I anticipate adding other engagements.
If there’s one goal I have for the immediate future it’s to grow the business strong enough to afford adding someone to update news content on the website. That’s become a big area of interest for readers and I recognize the importance of keeping it updated regularly. However, my first priority is to serve my clients, and then try to cram in listening to other brands and talent and write a column so managing it all isn’t easy. I’m not in position yet to make an addition but I hope to do so before next Labor Day,
To bring this full circle, it’s been a fantastic first year. I appreciate everyone who’s played a part in it. But this isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning. Onward and upward we go.