‘How to Land a Whale’ – Steve Davis’s Lessons on How to be Unstoppable

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What do sales and journalism have in common? More than you might think. Whether you’re trying to bring on a new client or get the scoop on a news story with a politician or sports personality, you’re facing similar challenges. In each scenario, you need to outmaneuver the competition, make it past the gatekeepers, and get in front of hard-to-reach decision-makers — all things veteran broadcast journalist Steve Davis knows a lot about.

Speaking to a full house at a PSA Partnership event on September 30, Davis shared takeaways and strategies learned from his 25-year sports broadcasting career in his talk, “How to Land a Whale.” Co-host of the popular morning radio program, “The Norris and Davis Show” on 105.7 The Fan, Davis has been a staple on Baltimore TV and radio since 1994. On a national level, he has reported for FOX Sports and hosted radio programs on SiriusXM radio.

During that time, Davis has won dozens of awards, including the National Story of the Year, an Edward R. Murrow Award, Best Sports Anchor, and numerous honors from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has interviewed sports legends like Michael Jordan, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose, and Wayne Gretzky, and he landed an interview with Bill Clinton.

“None of these people called me up and said, ‘Can you interview me?’” said Davis. In some cases, they were difficult to reach or downright elusive, and he had to figure out how to navigate through barriers and gatekeepers. Never was this more the case than with what Davis considers the best “get” of his career:  interviewing President Bill Clinton at the White House, in the middle of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Don’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer

In January 1998, Davis was on assignment for FOX to cover a story about President Clinton meeting members of the Stanley Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings. “The team’s visit to the White House was my assignment, but my goal that day was to interview the President,” said Davis. When Steve made his request to White House press secretary Mike McCurry, he laughed. “The President is not giving interviews,” he told Davis.

“Remove the word ‘no’ from your vocabulary,” Davis told the audience of PSA partners. His strategy is not sheer persistence, though — one of his proven tactics is to put himself in the gatekeeper’s shoes, and considers how his request will benefit the other party.

He made the case to McCurry for why the President should meet with him: because he was a sportscaster and the Super Bowl was coming up, an interview with Davis could be good for the beleaguered President’s image. The negotiations went on for the next hour and a half, until Davis convinced McCurry to agree to an interview: three questions, two minutes with Clinton, in the Blue Room of the White House.

To secure his interview on TV, Davis called up FOX in L.A. and persuaded them to allot some time during the national sportscast. Soon after, he received the next “no” — McCurry said actually there was not enough time. Not willing to give up, Davis spotted McCurry’s boss, and ever so subtly suggested that cancelling at the last minute would not win the White House any popularity points. She waved Davis into the Blue Room. “And there, leaning against the mantle is the President of the United States,” he told the audience. Davis did not know it was the first interview the President had done since the scandal, which has been over a year, until the story hit the news.

Anticipation is Key

Another takeaway he shared from this experience is the importance of believing you’re going to get what you want. “No one else even tried. I assumed that day I was going to get the interview,” said Davis. While persistence and confidence are crucial, however, you also must be willing to fail. “Don’t be deterred by a fear of failure; be motivated by the opportunity for success.

Davis also discussed how staying one step ahead of the competition has benefited his career. Often, by anticipating upcoming events, he has been able to get the scoop before other journalists even knew there was a story. That’s what happened in 1999, when the sports world was abuzz about the first time the Cleveland Browns (aka, the “old Ravens”) were playing the “new Ravens” in Baltimore.

Looking ahead at the game schedule, Davis knew this might be a big story at some point in the season, so he set up an interview in the middle of the summer with former Browns owner/then Ravens owner Art Modell. “I rolled the dice and held the interview for several months until the big game,” said Davis. “I was the only one in the country who got an interview with Art because I thought ahead.” And that’s how you get the opportunity when no one else does. Davis further illustrated this point with a quote made popular by another sports legend, hockey great Wayne Gretzky: “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.

Make your Own Rules & Opportunities

In every industry, there are unwritten rules about how things are done — or not done. But Davis urged the PSA audience, “Don’t always follow ‘the book.’ Write the book.” That means doing the things that others won’t, and creating your own opportunities rather than waiting for opportunities to come to you.

This is what Davis did when he graduated from Boston College with a degree in finance and was told that sports broadcasting was not in his future. He volunteered at a community access TV station, found a voice coach to help him shed his Boston accent, and cold-called nearly every TV station in the country until he landed himself a job.

Davis’ go-getter mindset is also what helped him score an interview with Johnny Unitas on national TV, and get access to Pete Rose when no one else could. He said he believes in “networking with a purpose.” Instead of collecting dozens of business cards at an event, target one or two people you want to meet. And avoid complainers. While many of Davis’ colleagues were complaining that they didn’t even know Pete Rose was in town, Davis had already interviewed him.

Many times throughout his career, Davis said he’s been asked by fellow journalists, “Hey, how’d you get Rose? [Or Modell or Clinton?]” His answer is, how come you didn’t get him? Said Davis, “No one else took that extra step.”

The next PSA Partnership event, “Get to Yes Faster: Yescalate,” features sales coach Dean Minuto and takes place on October 28. Register today.

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