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The Benefits & Misconceptions of Hiring An Agent

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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.

What do you look for when considering whether or not to represent a sports radio personality?

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.

What is the biggest misconception a sports radio personality has about hiring an agent?

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.

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John Skipper To Speak At The 2022 BSM Summit

“In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured key talent to join the brand, and in April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

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Putting on a two-day industry conference comes with a fair share of challenges. Months are spent building sessions, selling sponsorships, and talking to so many people that by the time the event rolls around, all I can think about is reaching the finish line and avoiding major issues.

But then the event happens, and there are moments where I’m able to block out the noise for 30-40 minutes and just be present in conversation. It’s what I enjoy most. Being able to sit across from an industry leader who’s been successful in business, and pick their brain on the past, present and future of our industry is both personally and professionally fulfilling. Not only does it provide me with an education, but it helps everyone in attendance too. That’s my motivation for running this conference.

When we return to New York City on March 2-3, 2022, I’m thrilled to share that I’ll have a chance to do that once again with someone I’ve professionally respected and admired for a long time. It is an honor to announce that Meadowlark Media CEO John Skipper will join us for a special on stage conversation at the 2022 BSM Summit.

If you’ve worked in this industry or aspire to, then you’re likely aware of what John has accomplished. He’s seen the business from many different points of view and remains very much involved in helping shape its future. But before we discuss his present involvement, let’s revisit the past.

During his tenure with ESPN, John spent five years serving as company president where he secured a series of long-term, multiplatform agreements with key rightsholders such as the NBA, NFL, MLB, Major College Conferences, US Open Tennis, FIFA, the Masters Tournament and British Open, the College Football Playoff, and the Rose, Sugar and Orange Bowls. He also oversaw the evolution of several brands including The Undefeated, Grantland, five thirty eight, and espnW among others.

Prior to becoming company president, John held the position as EVP of Content, which he earned after helping create and introduce one of the most successful magazine launches of the 1990’s with ESPN The Magazine. His understanding and belief in digital helped ESPN move ESPN. com forward in 2000, adding a paid section, ESPN Insider, and delivering a revamped site approach to generate more advertising. His foresight also spurred the launch of ESPN3, a television network producing more than 4,000 live events on the web and through mobile devices. If that wasn’t enough, John also supported the creation of the Watch ESPN app, played a key role in elevating the careers of many of the industry’s top sports media stars today, and oversaw the growth of ESPN Films, ESPN Radio, and many of ESPN’s key television programs.

After exiting the worldwide leader, John signed on as the Executive Chairman of DAZN. In January 2021, Skipper’s plate became even more full when he reunited with Dan Le Batard to create Meadowlark Media. Since joining forces, the group has raised millions of dollars in funding, lured a number of key talent to become part of the brand, and established a strong presence in podcasting and on YouTube. In April, Meadowlark closed a deal with DraftKings for a reported fifty million dollars over three years. Not too shabby for year #1.

What I’ve appreciated about John is that he’s never been afraid to roll the dice and take risks. Some of his moves have worked out, others haven’t. The wins have been recognized across the industry, but so too have the losses. He’s had to lead a company thru high profile talent controversies, cord cutting challenges, understand the world of video, audio, print, digital, advertising, subscriptions, talent, and rights deals both domestic and internationally, all while keeping his finger on the pulse of the present state of the media business while turning an eye towards the future and knowing which areas the company should make significant investments in.

John has been thru all of it as a media executive, and he’s still doing it while building the Meadowlark brand. A recent story in Bloomberg captured some of his views on growing the Le Batard empire and navigating various parts of the industry. I highly recommend taking time to read it. You can do that by clicking here.

We have five and a half months until we’re inside the Anne Bernstein Theater in New York City, so who knows where the industry will shift during that time. One thing is for certain, John Skipper will be ready for whatever lands on his doorstep. I’m eager to spend time with him in New York treating industry professionals to his insights, opinions and leadership lessons. I’m confident those in attendance will gain value from hearing his perspectives on the industry.

I invite you to join us either in person or virtually for the 2022 BSM Summit. Tickets to the event can be purchased by clicking here. For information on sponsorship opportunities, email JBarrett@sportsradiopd.com.

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2022 BSM Summit Adds Pablo Torre, Joe Fortenbaugh, Kazeem Famuyide & John Jastremski

“By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day Summit.”

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The announcements continue for the 2022 BSM Summit. After recently sharing the news that former ESPN Radio executive Traug Keller would join us in the big apple to accept the Jeff Smulyan Award, and previously revealing the first fourteen participants scheduled to appear, it’s time to inform you of a few key talent who will participate in sessions at March’s show.

I’m thrilled to welcome ESPN’s Pablo Torre to the 2022 BSM Summit. Pablo’s been with the worldwide leader since 2012. During that time he’s served as a senior writer for ESPN.com, the host of the ESPN Daily podcast, and has appeared on shows such as Around The Horn, Highly Questionable, and The Dan Le Batard Show. He also previously co-hosted High Noon with Bomani Jones. Prior to joining ESPN he spent five years writing for Sports Illustrated. Having worked with a mixture of talent from various backgrounds, I’m looking forward to having him share his insight and opinions on the value of it at the show.

Pablo isn’t the only ESPN personality joining us in New York for the conference. I’m excited to welcome back a great friend and one of the smartest sports betting analysts on television, Joe Fortenbaugh. Joe is regularly featured on ESPN’s sports betting program Daily Wager. He also appears on other ESPN programs and segments on television, radio and digital platforms. Prior to joining the network he hosted 95.7 The Game’s morning show in San Francisco, and hosted “The Sharp 600″ sports betting podcast. He’ll moderate a conversation with sports betting executives at the show.

Given that this two-day sports media conference is taking place in the heart of New York City, it’d be silly to not include someone who’s passion, energy, sound, and content embody what New York is all about. The Ringer’s John Jastremski will make his BSM Summit debut in 2022. The ‘New York, New York’ host is known to many for his years of contributions on WFAN. It’ll be fun picking JJ’s brain on the differences between performing on a traditional platform and the digital stage.

Jastremski isn’t the only one with a connection to The Ringer who will participate at our 2022 event. My next guest is someone who I’ve followed on YouTube and Twitter for years, has infectious energy and likeability, and has taken his life experiences and sports passions and turned them into opportunities with MSG Network, SNY, The Ringer, Bleacher Report, WWE, The Source and various other outlets. Kazeem Famuyide will join us to shed light on his journey and offer his perspective on the value of traditional vs. non-traditional paths.

By the time March’s conference rolls around, we’ll have somewhere between 50-60 people announced to participate at the two day event. I’ll be announcing the addition of a very special executive in mid-October, as well as a few high profile speakers and awards recipients in the weeks and months ahead. I’m appreciative of so many expressing interest in speaking at the conference, and as much as I’d like to include everyone on stage, I can’t. Keeping the Summit informative, fresh and focused on the right issues is important, and to do that, I’ve got to introduce different people, perspectives and subjects so our attendees gain value to further improve the industry.

A reminder, the 2022 BSM Summit is strictly for members of the sports media industry and college students aspiring to work in the business. It brings together people from more than thirty different media companies and focuses on issues of relevance and importance to media industry professionals. The show takes place March 2-3, 2022 in New York at the Anne Bernstein Theater on West 50th Street. Tickets and hotel rooms can be secured by visiting BSMSummit.com. For those unable to attend in person, the Summit will also be available to view online. Virtual tickets can be purchased by clicking here. Hope you’ll join us!

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Traug Keller Named 2022 Recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award

“Former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award.”

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Photo Credit: ESPN Images

Sometimes decisions are difficult. Other times they’re not. This was one of the easiest ones I’ve made since launching the BSM Summit in 2018.

If you haven’t attended the Summit before, one of the cool parts of the conference each year is that we take time to honor people who have left a permanent mark on the industry we love. Awards ceremonies are held both days to recognize difference makers who have made positive contributions to the sports radio business. At our 2022 BSM Summit, I am pleased to share that a great man will be celebrated for his life’s work.

It is my honor to announce that former SVP of ESPN Audio and President of ABC Networks Traug Keller has been chosen as our 2022 recipient of the Jeff Smulyan Award. Keller becomes the third industry executive to earn the honor. Kraig Kitchin and Dan Mason were the first two to be recognized at the 2019 and 2020 BSM Summit’s.

Upon learning that Traug had been selected as the next Jeff Smulyan Award winner, Emmis Communications CEO Jeff Smulyan said, “Traug Keller has left an indelible imprint on not only sports radio, but on all of broadcasting through his remarkable career. I’m proud to call him my friend, but I’m just one of the legions of people who have loved every minute of their time with him. He’s a broadcaster’s broadcaster, but more than that he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known.”

“I am humbled for sure but thrilled to be receiving an award with the name of my good friend on it, Jeff Smulyan,” added Traug Keller, now the EVP and COO of American Media. “Jeff did what all too few leaders in business do, he took risk and action against all kinds of headwinds and the rest of us in the great business of Sports Audio were the beneficiaries of it. Thanks to BSM for this great honor and I look forward to seeing a bunch of old friends in March!”

Anyone who has crossed paths with Traug over the past three decades knows how important he was to the success of ESPN Radio. He’s been a friend to many, a great partner to hundreds of radio affiliates, and a champion for talent. His support for BSM has also meant a lot.

Perhaps even more impressive was Traug’s ability to connect with his affiliates, clients and colleagues, offering steady leadership and on-air stability for ESPN Radio. No executive leaves with a perfect record, but Keller had a knack for landing on the right side of many decisions. None as impressive though as retiring from sports radio in February 2020, one month before the sports world came to a screeching halt and a global pandemic rocked the entire advertising industry. Talk about timing Traug, haha.

In all seriousness, having Traug and Jeff together on the same stage in front of the industry to give folks an opportunity to show their appreciation for their accomplishments is a real treat. So many enjoy professional success today due to bold and smart decisions made by each of these men, and I couldn’t be happier to spend time with both in New York City this March.

For tickets, hotel and additional details regarding the 2022 BSM Summit visit BSMSummit.com.

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