The decision of when and if to retain an agent is an important one for a sports radio personality. When you rise through the ranks in this business, you do it based on your own hard work, and negotiating skills. But when you reach that point in your career when you’re beginning to make a mark on the industry, it’s fair to ask the question “what else am I capable of accomplishing”?
Having the right person in your corner who has confidence in your abilities and possesses the relationships necessary to open up doors is worth its weight in gold. But if the only reason you’re retaining an agent is to help put your resume and on-air samples in front of top decision makers, you have the wrong strategy.
Truth be told, most personalities won’t become dominant national figures or the next Mike Francesa in a local market. Sports radio is ultra competitive and for every person with talent, there are a thousand more with similar skills. It’s not always a question of whether you’re good, it’s a matter of whether or not you’re the right fit for a brand, and if you have the right relationships with key decision makers.
I’m asked for career advice on a regular basis by many members of the sports radio community. While I’m happy to pass along whatever wisdom I’ve gathered from two decades of experience, I don’t pretend to be an agent. I do have friendships with many executives, and understand how many of them think and operate, and I’ve been fortunate to develop friendships and knowledge of how some of the best agents in the business work as well. Whether or not an individual reaching out to me for advice makes sense to put on their radar depends on a variety of factors.
One of the biggest misconceptions I see involves upcoming talent, often younger people, and what they believe is going to happen if they retain an agent. They assume that the agency is going to spend each day chasing down leads for them, and making sure they locate employment. They approach the situation with the mindset of the agent being their personal recruitment center, instead of understanding their role as a career adviser and business partner.
That’s the wrong way to approach the relationship.
First things first, nobody will work harder to find a job than the person without one. But when an opening is identified, it’s often the relationship between the agent and potential employer that can help place the candidate at the top of the list, especially if the agent’s track record is considered strong by the hiring executive.
For example, FOX Sports 1 employs Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless. Both individuals are represented by CAA. If FOX Sports 1 has a future need, and CAA recommends someone else they’re working with, hiring officials at FS1 are likely going to take a look. This doesn’t mean they’ll hire that person, but a strong track record gives them an advantage over someone else chasing the same opportunity.
There’s also this belief among some on-air talent that being skilled should be enough to warrant a high profile position. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by an on-air host “did you see who ESPN hired? I’m ten times better than him”. My immediate response is usually something to the affect of, “the hiring executive obviously had an interest in what they provide, and if you don’t have the right people talking to that executive, it doesn’t matter how good you may be or think you are”.
I’ve seen industry people with limited experience as a night or weekend talk show host apply for positions on First Take and Undisputed. I’ve seen board operators with one year of experience apply for afternoon drive jobs in top 10 markets despite not having hosted regularly at the radio station where they’re employed.
Newsflash folks, if you’re John Skipper or Jamie Horowitz, you are more than likely going to want to see more proof of performance than a couple of hours on the weekend in a local market. The same is true of those Top 10 market hiring managers who are going to see a resume with no hosting experience and toss it to the side when considering applicants for their vacant position. There are exceptions of course, but a strong track record in a top market often helps candidates stand out.
Hosts have little idea of how sought after these jobs are or who’s in the mix for consideration. Having hired people many times in various markets, the flood of activity is enormous. If a market is desirable, and a brand has a good reputation, a PD is going to receive hundreds of applications and air checks, and phone calls. That’s not taking into account the couple of people who drop by the radio station unannounced and decide to try and infiltrate the PD’s office to let them know they’re the next big thing. By the way, that approach rarely works.
If you’re in charge of a sports television network and under the microscope for every hire you make, especially when it involves large dollars, you’re more likely to pledge your commitment to someone with a strong track record and a relationship with a well respected agency than a possible diamond in the rough who nobody has given a big break to.
As it applies to sports radio, it’s slightly different. Local stations don’t work with the budgets that national television networks do, but that doesn’t mean that a good agent can’t be extremely valuable.
Personalities who have built a good foundation in a local market and choose to handle their own business often assume they’ve emerged victorious when negotiating with their employer. If they were offered a 2 year deal with a 2% raise and negotiated a 2 year deal with a 5% bump, they’re heard in the halls bragging about their big victory.
Except they have no idea if the company would have been willing to extend the deal to three or four years or if they had 10-20% available in compensation and other perks. In that case, did the host really get the best deal available?
When personalities handle their own negotiations they also have a harder time separating business from their personal feelings. Many can’t hear that the company doesn’t believe they’re worth more, and they want to believe that because they’ve invested the past 2-3 years of energy into the brand that they simply deserve to receive better compensation. Unlike the federal government though, a raise isn’t granted for time served in broadcasting.
In numerous cases, the host isn’t familiar with the station’s expenses, sales performance, budgets, or additional challenges. They also don’t know how they’re perceived internally when it comes to working with other departments and station advertisers who are attaching their dollars to the station and/or individual. Before they find out those hard truths at the negotiating table, a good agent is able to prepare them, and hopefully guide them along the way so they can fix any issues that arise and ultimately impact the talent’s earning potential.
This is why smart personalities with a long-term view of their careers invest in good representation. It doesn’t always result in an overnight success story, but having a strategic long-term game plan in place with someone you trust, who has your best interests in mind, who’s willing to invest in your development, and has the ability to present your story to prospective employers is how you ultimately help advance your career.
I wanted to get a better understanding of how agents think and approach a variety of these situations so I reached out to four people who I know and have a ton of respect for in the industry. These men have represented some of the best talents in the sports media business, and if you’re considering working with an agent in the future, or looking to gain perspective of what to expect from such a relationship, I encourage you to pay close attention to their advice.
- Matt Kramer – CAA
- Steve Herz – IF Management
- Mark Lepselter – MAXX Sports
- Matt Miller – Miller Broadcast Management
Herz: Personal character issues first and foremost. Are they hard working, passionate and committed to the business for the right reasons (a love of the craft as opposed to a desire for fame)? Are they coachable people (on and off the air), and do they have a growth mindset about life and learning? We have made a policy of meeting every potential new client so you can generally tell in that face to face meeting if your personalities are in sync, and that generally serves as a mutual weeding process.
We ask people to do a writing sample and reflect on their reasons for being in the business and childhood/life influences. It reveals a lot and helps us make an educated decision on whether we think it’ll be a mutually beneficial long term relationship. Obviously, we also look at their talent and skills and while that’s subjective, after doing this for so many years you like to think you develop a good gut/sense of the marketplace.
Miller: I look for a solid combination of talent, skill and radio business acumen. The latter can be taught or honed. Natural talent is of course a driving quality, but it’s not everything. I have known a lot of naturally talented people who just couldn’t get out of their own way on the business side, often because they weren’t willing to listen and learn. I would share their names but unfortunately you wouldn’t have heard of them. Had they received the proper guidance, and listened and followed that advice, they would be household names today.
Kramer: While there are many attributes we look for in a client, we first consider if he or she is a next level talent. If so, we try to determine how we can help elevate them to that next level across multiple platforms.
Lepselter: We are very selective about who we look to represent in the radio arena. We consider, in no particular order, depth of knowledge, ability to entertain and engage listeners, age, work ethic, background and experience.
Herz: That agents have magic pixie dust. This business is a process and careers take time to develop and involve a lot of factors including timing and luck. Agents who sell the career equivalent of lottery tickets should be avoided by talent. Clients who expect immediate results should be avoided by agents.
Miller: That all agents are equal and able to accomplish the same goals on behalf of their client. Our sole focus is to represent broadcast professionals on a local and national basis. Another misconception is that agents will represent anyone who inquires. Maybe some will, but we won’t. As much as an agent is a reflection of his or her client, a client is a reflection of the agent as well. I work with some of the best and brightest in the industry, and if I’m known as the agent that also represents that “nightmare” of a talent, it reflects poorly on all my clients. My clients are my family, and I won’t bring a negative force into my house.
Kramer: The agent is a facilitator who must be knowledgeable about the entire marketplace – television, radio , digital platforms, and beyond. It is important to remember that the network is king, and therefore, has the keys to the kingdom. The agent works for the client and the client works for the network, so the agent must be useful in helping to maintain, manage, and grow that relationship.
Lepselter: I think that’s a question you’d need to ask the talent, more so than an agent.
Once you’ve agreed to work with a personality, how do you help them in their career beyond negotiating their contracts and helping place them on the radar of potential employers?
Herz: We like to find out what the marketplace thinks of their strengths and weaknesses and if we agree and/or there is a general consensus on that, we try to work with them on improving the areas holding them back. For example, we’ve had clients where the feedback was about the lack of authority in their voice so we engaged a professional voice coach.
Miller: Once we dive in it’s more than just placement and negotiation of contracts. We work with the talent to improve their knowledge of the business, and guide them to be a greater asset to their broadcast partner and to their future success threshold. If you are looking for someone to “yes” you to death and just keep the status quo, we probably aren’t the company for you. If you are looking for someone to be honest and challenge you to raise your game to the next level, both on and off air, then we may have something to talk about. I’m tough (my clients reading this are nodding voraciously), but it’s because there are only so many hours in the day and if I represent you I dive in 100%. If you aren’t listening or working with me to raise your game, then it’s wasted effort.
As to getting on the radar it’s about career planning and taking advantage of our network of contacts and reputation with broadcast companies. But beyond that I am goal oriented. There has to be a plan. Let’s target particular companies for which your skill set is a match and start creating familiarity before there is an opening, so that when opportunities arise the decision makers are already familiar with you.
Kramer: A successful relationship is incumbent on the sharing of information. The agent has to obtain the information and then be able to help connect the dots for the client. The agent needs to convey information – positive and negative – quickly and efficiently to the client. As an agent, if you have information, and know how best to utilize it, your client usually wins.
Lepselter: Listening and reviewing their shows certainly is important. Helping them diversify their portfolio is imperative. You can no longer be a one trick pony in this business. Introducing our clients to the decision makers is critical for them.
For a personality to warrant consideration for a high profile national or local opportunity, what must they already possess? (track record, market familiarity, industry relationships, unique style, etc.)
Herz: They must have some track record of success, hopefully some level of relationship/connection to the potential hiring executive either direct or thru a referral, and they have to be consistent with the goals of the hiring company. Someone who might work on ESPN might not be a fit for CBS. In our case, since we represent a small select number of clients, we hope our clients merit a serious look based on prior success with those execs.
Miller: Track record of success, and a reputation for being a positive force in a company environment. Look, it should be enough to just be talented on the air, to garner ratings. But it’s not. This is a business and the talent who can drive ratings yet understand that we live in a revenue driven world, who can partner in and give the extra effort to help their company drive revenue, develop relationships with sales clients, get out and participate in promotional and sales events and meet current and future P1’s, will always find success. A good agent can get you in the door, that’s the industry relationship portion, but it’s very easy to find out everything about you through various sources. If you’re known as a pain in the ass or unable to work with sales, or countless other shortcomings, you will be passed over.
Kramer: You have to have a laser-focus on what you do to have a shot at making it. You must watch everything and have a strong take on what is happening and what might happen. You can’t fake it through a three or four hour daily radio show. It’s too easy to get exposed in a 24/7 social media world if you aren’t on top of your game.
Lepselter: All of the above. I always say that in this industry, timing is everything.
What advice can you pass along to a personality who has established a good track record and is considering utilizing an agent to help him get to the next level?
Herz: Make sure your personalities, objectives and expectations of each party are consistent and aligned when you enter the relationship. And continue to be an active part of the process of advancing your own career. Continue to build a track record and relationships. The best agent/talent relationships are partnerships.
Miller: I have spoken with hundreds of personalities for whom the timing wasn’t right to hire an agent. Every circumstance is different. I would say reach out to an agent if you think it’s time, but be wary of the agent that will rush to sign you. Research that person or company, and talk to them more than once. As I said earlier, your representative is a reflection of you, and the right agent can reflect positively on your reputation and be effective in accomplishing your career goals.
Kramer: Be meticulous when it comes to the actual representation agreement. Agents know when a client wants to be represented by them. Too many agencies use that to their advantage; pressuring a new client to sign an agreement that requires them to pay that agency in perpetuity – literally forever – for what, in many instances, may be an unsophisticated approach to representation. I would advise talent to take a step back and understand why an agent, who has a fiduciary responsibility to put the client first, would ask for this.
Lepselter: If you truly believe you have the “it factor” you have to decide if you are willing to invest in yourself.