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A Time For Reflecting Back and Looking Forward

With each passing year, it’s customary for many to introduce new goals and promise holding themselves accountable to them over the next twelve months. I’ve personally never been a big New Year’s resolution guy because I’ve always thought that it was silly to declare yourself ready to chase a higher standard on January 1st when you could’ve already been doing it. However, I am a proponent of reflecting on where you’ve been the prior twelve months, sharing what you learned and explaining how the experiences of the past will guide your brand and yourself to better times in the future.

Some of you may feel it’s a waste of time to recap your brand’s prior year of wins and losses because the members inside your operation should all be aware of what took place. I used to make that mistake myself. But, as you gain more understanding in this business you discover that not everyone inside your organization recalls every detail as vividly as the brand leader. That doesn’t mean they care less than you do about the brand. It just means your attention to detail is stronger (which is supposed to be the case when you oversee a brand) and if you can re-energize your team and arm them with evidence to have greater success in 2018 then that certainly isn’t time poorly spent.

As I reflect back on my own share of experiences during the past year, I’ve been reminded of a great number of professional victories. I also endured a personal scare which I’ll cover first since the majority of this piece will focus on professional matters.

Prior to 2017, I never needed to rush to a hospital for a shortage of breath. But that changed on Saturday May 13, 2017. I only remember the date because despite a scare that day, I was at MetLife Stadium the next day rocking out to Metallica. In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best decision but if I was going to spend a few days on the sidelines, then I was going to enjoy myself and finally catch the band live after never having seen them perform before.

On that morning, I woke up with severe tightening in my chest. I called my father and told him what was happening and he told me to get over to a hospital immediately. I got in the car with my son and drove to the Emergency Room, grasping for air as I drove. I then spent close to ten hours inside the hospital with tubes in my arms and fluids being pumped into my body. As I laid on the hospital bed I wondered to myself “How the heck is this happening when I’m not even 50?” Then when the doctors returned and told me I may need my Gallbladder removed in the future, that added another layer of concern.

Being a dad to a fifteen year old and an independent business owner who had never gone thru a health scare before, I began thinking “What if something happened to me, how would it impact him? How would I operate my business if I couldn’t get around?” Fortunately everything turned out OK, but when that unexpected moment happens and you’re twisting in the wind waiting for feedback from doctors it leaves your mind to wander. I hadn’t been doing anything different in my day to day life to trigger the issue but what that taught me is that you never know when the unexpected can pop up and quickly alter your plans. If 2018 passes without any of those type of situations rearing their ugly heads again then the year will be seen as a personal success.

Although there were other obstacles to overcome personally in 2017, the year served as a confirmation that I was on the right track professionally. When I launched BSM in September 2015 I had no idea if this was the right path but I was determined to try. I felt I could be an independent asset to many in the format given my knowledge, relationships and passion for the industry, but the radio business isn’t one that moves quickly and sometimes talks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand it preaches the importance of investing in support, knowledge, ideas, mentoring and promotion yet as soon as an investment is required to gain those assets it becomes a tougher sell since most managers are under corporate pressure to keep expenses down.

My mindset entering the year was to not only retain and strengthen the relationships I had established, but to expand my professional partnerships and relationships, especially with new groups and people who I had previously not worked with. I also wanted to create more web content and elevate the reputation of the BSM brand. That was a big reason for the creation of the BSM Podcast and the decision to add five industry columnists and a news contributor. You guys reading this are ultimately the judge of whether or not we’ve hit the mark but partnerships doubled this year and the web traffic, social media engagement, podcast downloads, emails, texts, calls and direct messages give me reason to believe that we’re on the right track in 2018.

What I’m most proud of is that the clients which I’ve been working with for an extended period of time, are all enjoying consistent success. Two are consistently rated in the top 2 in their markets and another just cracked the Top 10 after being ranked 13th-17th the prior year. Three others who I added late in 2017 are primed for bigger things in 2018 especially as we’ve now gotten a better understanding of talent, roles, systems, trends and opportunities.

If my clients don’t succeed I don’t eat. I’ve never lost sight of the fact that I’m the additional line item on someone’s budget. It’s my job to make sure the programmers I collaborate and work with feel they’re gaining from the experience and the market managers and corporate people I come in contact with know they have someone in their corner who champions their cause and can be trusted. I’ve enjoyed playing a small role in the development of some talented programmers and personalities and hope to work with many more in 2018.

One thing that began to change this year was the reduction in speculation about my return to programming from industry folks. Throughout 2016 I’d often hear, “Where do you think you’ll program next?” “How long are you going to do this side gig until going back into a building“? Each time I heard those remarks I smiled because they knew my resume, not my motivation. They had a built in perception of consultants, not an understanding of my approach, strategy or value. More than anything, they underestimated the power and influence of a website, social media, and podcast and why it was important for sports radio stories to be told by someone who understood the inside of the business, could sell its benefits to industry professionals and advertisers yet wasn’t a mouthpiece for one particular company. Many assumed the lure of a title and paycheck would draw me back into a building, not knowing that I had received multiple inquires to program stations and politely declined.

The year wouldn’t have been complete if it didn’t involve a ton of travel. That part of consulting is both exciting and exhausting. 2017 took me to San Antonio, Los Angeles, Houston, Seattle, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Charlotte, St. Louis and Las Vegas. I attended three conferences, spoke to aspiring sports broadcasters in college and broadcast schools and was either asked to contribute or had my work featured in respected publications such as Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, Radio Ink, Inside Radio, All Access, Talkers, Jacobs Media, The Ringer, The Big Lead, Awful Announcing, the Washington Post, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Houston Chronicle, the Tennessean and I also appeared on sports radio programs and industry podcasts all across the country, voted on a number of awards and hope to be even more involved in 2018.

One part of the role which I don’t enjoy but is necessary when writing opinionated columns is knowing that your words are going to generate mixed reactions. I try to practice what I preach and express my views on the issues at hand and without malice towards any particular individual but not everyone sees it that way. When stories pop up and involve people that I know, like or respect, the subject becomes even harder to discuss but I think it’s important to remain objective. I take that same approach when producing the annual Top 20 in sports radio, even though it can create additional headaches with clients, and those not working with me will feel I favor those I work with anyway.

When I conducted research earlier this year on ESPN’s public image, Scott Van Pelt wasn’t thrilled with the results. The same occurred when I wrote my piece on Jemele Hill’s social media commentary towards President Trump. Stan Verett was not a fan. Those stories were tough to write because there are a lot of people I like at ESPN but I also felt they were important to discuss. I felt similar when writing other stories such as Entercom building a sports radio empire, Good Karma selling local digital content, CBS Las Vegas blackballing the Golden Knights, and columns on the challenges of sexual harassment and diversity in the sports media business. Regardless of my position on each topic, I hope you learned something from the columns and felt they were worth your time.

The one thing I try to avoid when producing content is creating material simply because it’ll produce the most traffic. That’s a different approach then the one I took when running stations and chasing ratings. If I was going to use that approach running this website I’d just produce lists and columns on controversial issues. 2017’s Top 20 in sports radio represented six of the top 10 stories on the BSM website this year. The same was true in 2016. The other four stories that produced a large amount of attention this year were Mitch Levy’s arrest in Seattle, my columns on Mike and Mike splitting up and Jemele Hill’s remarks creating problems for ESPN and the in-depth conversation I conducted with Mike Francesa.

I saw the same thing with this year’s podcast episodes. The top three episodes were Jim Rome, Doug Gottlieb and Colin Cowherd. Given their national exposure and large social media followings, that didn’t surprise me. Fortunately each of those discussions were very good and gave those who listened something to take away from them.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that people enjoy the lists and each of those episodes because I put a lot of time and effort into them and am proud of how they turned out. But not everything I do is for the sake of traffic. Maybe that should be the only goal that matters but I believe that informing, analyzing and discovering are also necessary, even if the activity for those pieces is smaller.

Although I wish I had a crystal ball and could see what’s in store for the sports radio space during the next twelve months, I learned long ago that this format is rapidly changing and you’ve got to prepare and adjust frequently. Just look at how conversations about sports audio content have been amplified thru print, television and social media in recent years. It shows there’s a huge appetite for what’s being produced, talk show hosts are now among the most influential in the industry and the focus for each brand and staff needs to be on finding ways to create compelling content which is easy to access, visually enticing and unique in presentation. If you take care of those things consistently you’ll find yourself in a position to succeed.

Personally I’m looking forward to producing the 2017 BSM Top 20 in sports radio. This year’s lists will be released January 29-February 5. I’m also hashing out ideas for the 3rd season of the BSM Podcast and plan to launch the first episode in mid-February. In March I’ll be holding the first BSM Programming Summit for programmers, executives and select market managers. If all goes well, I may consider doing a public event down the line. I’m also hoping to increase my Twitter following this year from 5800+ to 8000+. Any help on that front is greatly appreciated.

Another focus of mine right now is reviewing the feedback I’ve received to determine which areas of the website should be expanded and which material is less important. I think Brian, Demetri, Dave, Tyler, Kevin and Brandon have done a nice job on the website and am looking forward to adding some additional support in the future. I also have a few new ideas that I plan to develop and introduce this year to help future broadcasters and hiring managers. If that’s not enough, I’m already booked for a few speaking engagements and market visits and look forward to adding more to make 2018 as productive as possible.

If there’s one professional wish I have for 2018 it’s for industry folks to support one another more. There are times where I literally have to hunt down my fellow peers and friends to share a quote, job listing, piece of information or hit the Re-Tweet button and it shouldn’t be that hard. Most of the time it’s something that benefits the individual, their brand or their audience. We too often in this format get tunnel vision and get so consumed by our work that we forget how important it is to let people near and far know what we’re up to. I’m happy to help advance the sports radio conversation if you’re willing to share your feedback and help promote the stories that inform folks of your success.

To bring this column to a close, 2017 wasn’t perfect by any stretch, but it offered some valuable lessons which I plan to carry over to 2018. I’m optimistic about the future of our business and hopeful of working with many more people and brands over the next twelve months. To those who have frequently visited the website, listened to the podcasts and supported my work, I appreciate your loyalty. Here’s to another year of health, happiness, growth, and success!

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