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Shake it Off – Mike McVay

Not talking about the song by Taylor Swift, although the message could be the same. October’s arrival signals cooler weather, fall foliage, the start of Q4, budget planning, College Football, Halloween, the baseball playoffs and the World Series.

A couple years ago, a friend and I went to an Atlanta Braves game on a Sunday during their Braves Alumni weekend. We met several former players and got to talk to many of them. These legends were all friendly, engaging and loved sharing stories. Because we’d met one particular legend in the past, he spent more time with us, and the lessons learned were valuable.

The player was Ryan Klesko. Former outfielder and first baseman. He played for the Braves, Padres and Giants. His biggest years and World Series win was with the Braves. A player who in his early 50s looks like he could still play, the man spoke of competition, strategy and the drive to win. You could see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice. It was the strategy of the game, and his commitment to strategy, that most interested me.

If you’ve been to a Major League Baseball game in recent years, you’re aware that music is played as players walk to home plate to bat. These songs are called Walk-up Songs. The players usually get to pick the song that they’d like to be played. The Guardians player Oscar Gonzalez has the Cleveland team play the theme song for Sponge Bob Square Pants as his walk-up music. He’s obviously having fun with the game and wants to throw-off the opposing pitcher. How can you want to attack anyone who makes that his walk-up music?

Ryan Klesko shared that his self-selected walk-up song was “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood. He said that it psyched him up, but it also fired up the pitcher, and that was his strategy. Ryan’s theory was that if the pitcher was pumped up, the odds are that he would shake-off whatever pitch the catcher wanted him to throw. Mainly because the pitcher wanted to throw a fast ball. Klesko said that if the pitcher shook-off the catcher, he knew what pitch was coming. He would sit on a Fast Ball in the strike zone and look for that pitch to hit. The former Braves batter credited this strategy with him getting many first pitch hits.

It begs the question “do you have a competitive strategy to win the ratings battle?” How do you psyche out your competition? It’s a lost art whereby we, as PD’s, pay attention to what the competition are doing, analyze it and look for opportunities to outsmart them or take advantage of a mistake they might make. I’ve listened to hours and hours of audio, examined clocks, gone nearly blind staring at music monitoring from various services of “US versus Them,” digging into the music scheduling system for my station, and pouring through the ratings looking for a nugget that can be turned into a secret agent.

The approach of many programmers today is to execute a plan in a vacuum. They have what they do and they always do it. They’re not changing that routine for anyone. If a pitcher keeps throwing balls that are hit for a homerun, someone steps in to teach them how to pitch without giving up the longball, or they’re pulled out of the game. Maybe traded. Pulled from the starting lineup and sent to the bullpen. Possibly even sent down to the minor leagues. To be fair there are times when the routine is prompted from someone above the program director and thus the PD is an executor and not an innovator.

Competing means that you are fully aware of what the competition is doing on-air, on the streets, in marketing, on social media, their content (Music or Spoken Word), talent level and history of their on-air personalities, what their research shows and what contests they’re considering. You have to know them.

My advice to those responsible for programming would be to take advantage of the tools that exist today to know as much as possible about who you’re up against, what their history is when it comes to competing, what actions do they take when attacked, and how seriously do they attack a competitor. Do they block a serious attack, or do they stick to their strategy (routine) no matter what that is for them? These are things that you need to know.

Most importantly you need to know yourself and your station. You need to understand the value of the opportunity to be successful. Is there an opportunity to attract and satisfy the audience you’re desirous of attracting? Do you know your audience’s wants, likes and dislikes? Is there a clear path to success or is the battle going to be long and hard? If it’s the latter, are you, management and your company prepared for such a battle? Are your expectations of the timeline and resources realistic to be successful?

Your competitor is watching you closely. They want to psyche you into a mistake. Work harder, be better informed, be better prepared for a long arduous fight and avoid falling into a routine. Respect your competition, and take their moves, seriously. Don’t fall victim to their tactics. They’re watching for you to “Shake it off.”

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