Jacobs Media's Keith Cunningham weighs in what makes ESPN a leader and the power of owning the big stories:
Consistent readers of this blog have heard me talking about the importance of speed, mindset, topicality, relevancy, preparation, compellingness, and a host of other items as they relate to morning shows or stations. Well, consider me a broken record – today is no different, but I’ll put an important new spin on it.
Recent events have brought us three enormous sports stories. Michael Vick, Tim Donaghy, Barry Bonds. Each transcends sports – they’re cume stories, not just P1 news. And as we all know, scores of media outlets have jumped on each. However, not surprisingly, ESPN owns these stories and they’ll continue to do so. That’s not to say a myriad of other news outlets and blogs that are reporting this news shouldn’t be covering them, too.
The point is that not much is exclusive these days. Whether it’s Lindsay Lohan being busted or a sports story, news and information are everywhere. And rarely is a big story exclusive to just one brand or outlet, but many try to own the big stories. What sets apart the biggest and best brands from the others is their “treatment.”
Take the Vick story. Put yourself in ESPN’s shoes for a minute. How frustrating must it be for them to have these big sports stories, their stories, being covered everywhere? I can hear their executives ranting, “Our viewers are getting this news everywhere.” PDs can certainly relate to such a situation. It’s no different than a station across the street playing the same music, or hearing a competitor’s morning show do the same phone topics or entertainment reports each morning. That’s just the cost of doing business. And in cases where there’s competitive or content overlap, ask yourself, “What would ESPN do?”
While everyone is reporting the Vick story, ESPN has, and will continue, to do it best. They have to, that’s what leaders do. They’ve devoted countless hours of programming so they can cover every compelling angle, keep up with every detail, and shape the story and its debate. ESPN has trotted out their personalities, legal experts, former and current NFL players, widely-known columnists, and every other credible source under the sun to talk about the story. They even covered the press conferences live and used web polling and email to give viewers a chance to share their opinions and participate. And they’ve done all of this not only for viewer service and entertainment, but so the network would remain the undisputed leader when it comes to sports news. If you want the best, most in-depth, Vick coverage, ESPN has you covered.
What ESPN did NOT do was ignore the story because everyone else was covering it. They didn’t take a “rip and read” approach and come across as a lazy, “me too,” predictable brand. And that’s an important note that has many applications for radio.
In my dealings with morning shows, it’s not uncommon to hear “We don’t want to cover that because everyone else will.” Whether the content is sports, music, Hollywood gossip, politics, pop culture, phone topics, headlines or even sex talk, not much is exclusive to any morning show these days. But the treatment, the personalities and the angle of coverage can be exclusive – and the most compelling take on a story will win.
It’s always wise to seek out or to create unique, exclusive content. But it’s equally important to create the best treatment for “cume stories.” And it goes much further than just the morning show; this principal applies to all aspects of the product.
While it’s not sensationalism, ESPN has created a “sports event” out of the Michael Vick story; they knew they had to in order to be the outright leader (for their P1s and Cume). And even if new details are slow to develop, this event will continue to remain fresh on their air, due to their treatment. So as you approach morning show content or even music packaging and promotional ideas, ask yourself, “What would ESPN do?”