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Creative Ops

ESPN NY’s Mike Brownsher on why riffing is the key to good collaboration

April 12, 2023 · 4 min read

This is part of our 100 Creative Directors interview series. It has been edited for length and clarity. To return to the series homepage and browse other interviews, click here.

Your title is Creative Services Director — what does the role entail?

I cover creative services and imaging for ESPN Radio in New York. I'm writing and producing promos, but throughout my career I’ve mostly just been an audio person. During the pandemic I taught myself how to video edit, and I’ve enjoyed diving into that. It's opened up my palate quite a bit, I can accomplish so much more.

The moving parts that I'm dealing with on a basic day might include resetting what happened the previous night in sports through promos or topicals. I’m writing new bits for our voice guy. I’m selecting music and sound bites — just preparing us for another day in the sports news cycle.

Outside of the everyday work, we meet to come up with the bigger concepts. Maybe we need to do a bunch of personality promos — what can we do to make them interesting, make them funny? Every day is a mix of keeping the fire going on the constant tasks while pushing along the long-term projects.

What’s the most difficult part of pushing good creative work out the door on a daily basis?

Again, sports is a news cycle. We’re reacting, we’re getting stuff out quickly and making sure it sounds good. We do bigger concept projects as well, but the meat and potatoes is daily and reactive. The pace is the challenge, but it’s also sort of a comfort. When you only have so much time, you just can’t get caught up in back-and-forths and what-ifs. So yeah, it is a challenge, but I enjoy the urgency.

What’s funny is as I delve more into the video work, the video people have so much time! There’s so much pre-planning, mapping out. I think the fast-paced mindset we have in the audio space gives me an edge on the video space, maybe for better and for worse.

Collaboration is crucial to your work — what makes a good team?

My gauge is really about one thing: are you stopping progress or are you helping progress? Usually I can tell, if I'm riffing with somebody, if we’re really going to find that progress. We’re advancing, we’re writing, you can feel the energy. But other people are idea stoppers — I don’t need you to analyze everything, let’s just throw stuff out, make it happen, and figure it out at the end.

I don’t want to work with someone who stops the process every time to figure out every little detail. Edit later! There’s an energy you have to bring to collaboration, and not everyone has it.

Riffing is the main skill I need in a teammate. For example, I recognize that writing is not my strongest skill. So I need to be able to pull people in and riff to close out that part of the process quickly. Having someone who you can just dig in and bounce ideas with is essential.

What are three things you can’t do your job without?

Number one is my laptop, obviously. I edit audio and video on it — I literally could not do my job without it.

Number two is I have a guy here who is my trusted confidant in writing. I lean on him heavily, he’s an incredible teammate.

Number three is my sources. You’re only as good as your sources. What I mean is my music libraries, some editing toolkits. The material I’m working with, in other words. Music especially is so important to me — if I’m doing a video, for example, I need to find the right music first. Everything falls into place after that.

What’s a piece of advice you were given years ago that’s guided your career?

Be likable. Don’t be a jerk. Nobody wants to work with a jerk! Be likable and be coachable — you could be the most talented person in the world, but if you’re a huge jerk, nobody will want to work with you. Those are the people who stop progress. I don’t have time for divas! 

If you’re decent at your job and you’re super likable, you’re going to be fine; if you’re great at your job but you’re not likable, you won’t last.

What’s a piece of advice you’d give to someone just starting a creative career?

Don't be if don't be afraid to fail. If you want to try it, try it.

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