There are many challenges to succeeding in the sports media industry. Some of them take place on the air. Some happen when the microphone is off. Phil Mackey of 1500 ESPN in Minneapolis provides four key things which every host and producer should think about on a daily basis.
1. Take up an interest in ALL areas of your company’s (and show’s) business model
Sometimes it’s easy to get caught in the weeds of the daily content grind, which is understandable considering hosts’ and producers’ jobs revolve primarily around content.
But the content creators are the front men (or women) for a media company’s business model — and if the hosts and producers aren’t at least moderately familiar with each aspect of the model, it’s likely the company (and the show) won’t thrive to its fullest capability.
In general, your media company’s 30,000-foot-view business model can likely be simplified down to three main pillars:
1.) Creating compelling content
2.) Audience building (and the discovery + distribution + promotion of the content)
3.) Generating revenue
It always drives me nuts when I hear hosts say things like, “They pay me for my opinion.” Actually, that’s incorrect. Your company pays you to build and cultivate audiences – and help connect those audiences to money-spending clients.
Or, “Hey, those technical questions aren’t in my job description. Ask somebody else.” Well, if nobody knows your content exists, you aren’t as valuable.
By understanding the entire model, maybe you – as a front man — can offer solutions or ideas to help the company thrive in all facets.
Take up an interest. Every day.
2. When prepping segments/talkers, “Level 3” should be the goal
I come from a poker background, where the best players are keenly aware of the multiple levels of thinking required to be successful.
Level 1 = What hand do I have? (A pair? A straight? A draw?)
Level 2 = What could my opponent have? (And how should I proceed while considering this thought?)
Level 3 = What does my opponent think I have?
Level 4 = What does my opponent think I think he/she has?
And so on.
The higher you can climb this thought ladder as a poker player, the more money you’re likely to win in the long run.
Radio and podcasting are similar — if a host isn’t prepping or operating on more advanced thought levels, he/she probably isn’t regularly creating compelling content for the audience.
The equivalent radio prep “levels” look something like this:
Level 1 = What happened? What are the newsworthy items?
Level 2 = What is my opinion of what happened?
Level 3 = How can I take what happened – and my opinion of it – and craft something compelling, memorable, unique, funny and/or thought-provoking? Or spin it in a way that’s otherwise more compelling to the audience.
Many hosts spend a majority of their mic time on Levels 1 and 2. And for shows that fill 12 or 16 segments per day, it’s nearly impossible to avoid spending at least some time – and possibly several segments – on these levels.
But the truly creative hosts – Colin Cowherd, Dan Le Batard, etc. – are regularly on Level 3.
3. “Find the funny”
Speaking of Le Batard, his show with Stugotz is one of the best, most entertaining shows in the country – and one of the cast’s main mottos is to “find the funny” in all possible situations.
Sports talk can become incredibly stale and cliché when hosts spend the entire show, well, just delivering sports opinions. “Finding the funny” doesn’t necessarily require a PhD in stand-up comedy – just an openness to embrace things like …
* A “yes, and …” mentality — the first rule of improv, which means always taking what someone said and advancing it forward rather than shooting it down.
* Honesty and transparency. Did something embarrassing or funny happen off air or behind the scenes? Tell that story on the air. Is a segment turning into a trainwreck live on the air? Bask in its trainwrecky glory and call it out.
* Self-deprecation. Do the hosts have potentially annoying or aggravating tendencies? Highlight them in fun ways by creating bits.
4. Think visual
78% of online American adults use Facebook.
32% of all American online adults use Instagram.
These platforms are, quite obviously, extremely valuable for building audiences, and they are much more visual than audial. In fact, according to Digiday, roughly 85% of video content on these platforms is consumed without sound.
It’s not enough to simply use these platforms as spam vehicles. People on Facebook and Instagram expect real, valuable, quality content on the spot – not a constant barrage of links and teases. And consumers probably aren’t going to turn the volume up on their device, so molding the content to make it more visual – with captions, graphics, block text, etc. – is essential for holding attention.
Phil Mackey hosts “The Mackey & Judd Show,” 9a – 1p weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities. He also oversees podcast content development at Hubbard Broadcasting in Minneapolis-St. Paul and was named 2012 Minnesota Sportscaster of the Year by National Sports Media Association. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at /PhilMackey.