Friday, January 30, 2009

Clients as Spokesmen #2

Testimonials from customers can be powerfully persuasive in a radio campaign. But they have to be real. Listeners can smell a fake a mile away, and that hurts much more than it helps.

Case in point: for the past few weeks I've been signing up exhibitors for our annual Palouse Empire Home & Garden EXPO, an event I've helped coordinate for the past eleven years. Prospective exhibitors are solicited through a combination of radio (our primary vehicle), newspaper and television ads, and direct mail to previous exhibitors.

Every year toward the end of the show the station's news director has taken time to record brief interviews with exhibitors, inviting their feedback on the show while the experience is still fresh. He then passes these recordings along to me, so that I can use them to create vendor-solicitation spots.

These two spots are running on the air as I type these words.

Think the message would be nearly as compelling without the voices of previous exhibitors? Neither do I.

Speaking of Idiots....

I remembered one of my favorite posters at

Idiots are Earning $2500 a pop....

Periodically I visit the email dungeon labeled "Spam" - scanning the subject lines to make sure someone legit trying to get in touch with me doesn't get flushed.

As I was doing so this morning, the Subject line caught my attention: "Idiots are earning $2500 a pop day after day"

"Idiots?" No kidding.

The message itself began:

Whatever you're doing, stop right now and
check out the following website....

This will, quite literally, enable you to earn any
where from $1,000 to $10,000 to $30,000
or more within the next 30 days.

Sounds just like the beginning of too many hype-driven radio commercials.

Perhaps those who insist on running ads of this type should preface them with: "And now, a message for idiots."

Switching stations is accomplished with the same ease as deleting spam. All it takes is one click.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Clients as Spokesmen

I've long been a proponent of using advertisers' voices in their radio commercials whenever it seemed appropriate.

This used to incur the wrath of program directors and indignant DJ's who felt that only mellifluous "professional" voices were worthy of a listener's attention, but the opposition seems to have mellowed of late. Even in my home market local broadcasters and advertising folk that once disdained the idea now have no problem letting their clients participate freely in their own commercials.

Done well, a client-voiced commercial offers several advantages to the advertiser:
(1) It provides a unique and distinctive sound, unlikely to be mistaken for any other personality or advertiser on the air.
(2) The authority and expertise of the spokesman may enhance the credibility of the message.
(3) Over time the advertiser becomes a familiar voice, no longer a stranger to people who have yet to patronize his business.
(4) And yes, all other factors being equal, the client is more likely to have people mention hearing the ad. What's wrong with that? If it makes his investment in Radio more tangible, that's just great.

No, not every client belongs on the air. And yes, getting most clients to speak to your listeners with authenticity and appeal, as opposed to stiffly reading or talking at them, typically requires more time and effort than simply handing the copy off to a station voice.

First, the copy has to be fine-tuned to fit the client's individual style of communicating, his personality. In my experience, this often involves editing on the fly (during the recording process).

Second, in most cases the client will need to be coached and directed to bring out the most effective interpretation of the copy, involving equal measures of persistence and patience. It can be frustrating for both client and coach to do 15 or 20 takes, fine-tuning to get everything right.

Modern digital editing tools have greatly lessened the need to get one "perfect" take. More often than not, I'll take portions of several takes and combine them into the final voice track, a best-of compilation, so to speak. Back in the days of reel tapes and splicing tape, this posed a much greater challenge, with a very small margin for error - and no Undo function. Here's a funny example from back in the day (18 years ago), a short piece I cobbled together from outtakes of the legendary Chuck "Bobo" Brayton struggling through numerous takes to voice a spot for a local Mexican restaurant. It's a hoot.)

But getting back to the issue of coaching - after many less than stellar takes, it can be tempting to throw in the towel and let a substandard reading pass. Resist the urge at all costs! If necessary, come back for another session when you're both fresh. Because if you let the client get away with a subpar reading, it'll come back to bite you every time that commercial is aired!

Take the pains to do it right, so that when the spot airs you, your client, and your listeners can enjoy it and benefit from a job well done.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

You Get What You Pay For. (Or, Advertising Salespeople Need Advertising Training, Too.)

Last week I posted a quick response to George Williams' report on the partnership between RAB and VCU Brand Center, "Incubating the Next Generation of Radio Creatives," in which I sort of wondered out loud whether one of Radio's vaunted advantages, the offer of free copywriting and production to advertisers who purchase air time, is really the value we believe it to be.

Might it not also be one of the main reasons for so much pap passing through the airwaves, purporting to be effective advertising?

To put it another way, to the extent that a radio station is in the advertising business, doesn't it make sense that management would make a dedicated investment of time and money for the purpose of training its sellers (who most often are also its copywriters) in the fine art of advertising?

During my formative years in radio ad sales (1973 into the early '90's) I was fortunate to receive a great deal of "sales training," but precious little advertising training.

From the sales trainers I learned how to get the money. Few of them had anything worthwhile to say about how to create commercials that would turn an advertiser's money into an "investment" rather than an "expense."

Most of that education I had to acquire on my own. So I bought books. Tapes. Videos. Studied Hopkins and Ogilvy, Trout & Ries, Jay Conrad Levinson and Bernice Fitz Gibbon (thanks to Chris Lytle for his tip on the latter; I even managed to obtain a signed first edition!), among many others. I stumbled across the Wizard in an interview in Radio and Production and started getting his Monday Morning Memo. When in a particular MMM he asked readers to pick up a copy of his first book, I did. Ditto the second. And the third. Good stuff.

I also listened to ads, hundreds and hundreds of ads, from stations and agencies across the country. Thanks to the RAB cassettes that came with the Monthly Sales Meeting kits (my favorite part was the "Hot Spots"), and the tapes of nothing-but-commercials they generously sent upon request, I was able to pick up many good ideas over the years.

Whether stations continue the practice of offering free copywriting and production services to their advertisers, or they start emulating their TV brethren and charging for them, the increasing demands of the marketplace for accountability and results will eventually force the issue. Stations that invest in the training and resources to provide advertisers and listeners with attention-grabbing, compelling, credible commercials will enjoy a degree of success that cannot be achieved or sustained any other way.

Monday, January 26, 2009

2009 Radio Mercury Awards Call for Entries!

The 2009 Radio Mercury Awards competition is officially underway. As soon as I received the email notification from Wendy Frech this afternoon, I headed over to the website to check it out.

What a great new look! Click on a link and up pops a new web page cleverly disguised as a radio commercial V/O script. The requested information is presented clearly and concisely. Kudos on the attractive website makeover, performed by Cabell Harris, WORK Labs.

This year's RMA competition introduces a new category ("Integrated Radio Campaign") for the best use of radio within an integrated multimedia plan. Winner takes home $10,000. This one's open to agencies, production companies, and radio stations, and clients. Here's the summary of all the prize categories this year from the RMA website:


  • One (1) $100,000 Grand Prize
  • Two (2) $5,000 Agency/Production Company Prizes
  • New: One (1) $10,000 Integrated Radio Campaign Prize
  • One (1) $5,000 Political Category Prize
  • One (1) PSA Category Award and $2,500 charitable donation
  • One (1) $5,000 Radio Station-Produced Category Prize
  • One (1) $5,000 Spanish-Language Category Prize
  • One (1) $2,500 Student-Produced Category Prize
To be eligible for a prize this year, the commercial must have aired for the first time on a U.S. commercially licensed radio station between January 1, 2008, and February 28, 2009. Deadline for entry at the standard fee ($125 per commercial, most categories) is March 20th; late entries will be accepted between March 21-28 with a higher entry fee ($150).

Full details, rules, links to previous winners and more at the RMA website.


Want to hear what great radio advertising sounds like? Spend time listening to - and learning from - previous RMA winners. You'll find a substantial library of commercials representing seventeen years' worth of winners archived at the RMA website. The library is fully searchable by client, agency, commercial title, year, and category.

Attention Station Managers: Want to get your team members fired about about selling/writing/producing more effective commercials for local clients? Get everyone together for a 30- to 60-minute meeting (around a computer with a good set of speakers) for the sole purpose of listening to commercials from the RMA archives. See if you don't come away with some fresh ideas for advertising prospects and clients.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Real-life Radio Advertising Adventures

Tempus Fugit. Indeed.

I opened this blog back in 2005, thinking it would be a neat thing to share personal stories, experiences, musings, and lessons I've learned over the many years I've worked in radio advertising.

Setting up a blog took less than a minute. Finding the time to do something with it has taken considerably longer.

That time has come.

2009 promises to be a challenging and eventful year for all of us in the radio ad business. Some broadcasters fear that the radio medium is becoming irrelevant in the digital age. Others, particularly in the small and medium markets, are thriving and optimistic. I prefer to throw in my lot with the latter group, believing (with a grateful nod to Mark Twain) that the reports of Radio's death are greatly exaggerated.

Just ask Randy Miller in Illinois, whose stations continue to serve listeners and advertisers and grow each year. His approach to selling in a recession: "Ask for BIGGER DOLLARS and long-term business...[give] the client enough frequency to MAKE IT WORK." (Small Market Radio Newsletter, January 22, 2009)

Or Wisconsin's innovative dynamo Roger Utnehmer, who early on recognized the potential of the Internet and made the investment necessary to harness it. His four local stations and companion website, Door County Daily News, now daily reap the benefits of their profitable synergism. Visit his online "newspaper" to see how he does it.

Then there's Jerry Papenfuss in Minnesota, whose Fergus Falls stations helped raise $55,000 to send their high school marching band to Washington, D.C. to march in the inauguration parade. Band members filed reports on their trip, aired by the stations for the folks back home. Think they left any sponsorships unsold?

I spent five-and-a-half wonderful years selling radio advertising at Jerry's stations in Winona. When I started working for him in 1974, he was the relatively new owner of an AM/FM combo. Today he and his wife Pat own and operate all 5 stations in Winona, along with combos in Fergus Falls and Blue Earth, and he's as committed as ever to making a difference in the communities he serves.

Broadcasters like Randy, Roger, and Jerry are the salt-of-the-earth of the Radio industry, and part of the backbone of the markets they serve. You're not likely to read about them in Radio Ink's "40 Most Powerful People in Radio" issue. Where you're more likely to find them is at their City Council meetings, serving on Chamber of Commerce committees, volunteering their time and effort in myriad community organizations. They're not looking for "power," only for ways to serve, to make a difference in the lives of their neighbors and fellow citizens.

That is why they - and broadcasters like them in communities across the land - will continue to thrive and succeed. In any economy.

This month, I enter my 37th year in the radio advertising business. As I reflect on things I've learned along the way, I'm going to take some time to write about them.

If you're a radio advertising salesperson, manager, copywriter, producer, or advertiser, I hope you'll find a few useful ideas in these posts. Thanks for stopping by!