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You can’t help it. When you hear an interesting conversation nearby, you try to catch what’s going on. It’s like peeking through a keyhole into someone else’s life. This is an exercise you already engage in. Here’s how to make it productive.
Next time you eavesdrop; take a moment to write down what you’ve heard. Speak the words if you can into that unobtrusive recorder you carry with you for just such occasions. At least write down as close a version of what you’ve overheard as possible – maybe a 20-30 second snippet of conversation. Keep these audio snapshots as idea starters or reminders of speech patterns.
The wait person joking with the cook, the construction crew as they interact while fixing the deck on your house, the mechanic explaining what the problem is with your car, the doctor breaking hard news to a patient, a retailer explaining to her son what she does, the musician trying to define the meaning of a song, a mom relearning math as she helps her child with homework.
Each will have a different style, pace, timbre and flavor. Each of those qualities comes from the elements and experiences that make up the lives of the participants.
With just these short records of conversations you’ll have enough information to create back-stories for each of the people.
Keep these bits together in a file so you can pull them out when you start writing. As you create your spot, match a couple of these characters from real life and see how the contrast or compliment of their styles makes for an interesting story. It’ll keep you from writing dialogue that sounds “like a commercial.”
It’s a way to break writers block. It’s a way to create magic. It’s a way to make sales.
Jeffrey Hedquist: Email Jeffrey@Hedquist.com
Whether your station streams its content over the Internet or not, today we have the ability to listen to radio stations from all over the country and the world that we might never normally have the opportunity to hear.
In fact, I would say that a few hours radio station surfing a week should be a required activity for programming and sales people in radio stations everywhere. If you're lucky, you'll come across a station that contains something just different enough to get you thinking.
The other day I was listening to an Australian radio station over the web. Aside from the host's accent and a less format-oriented playlist, it could have been a station here in California. But then I noticed their commercial placement; a commercial break almost every two songs, but never more than two, thirty-second commercials in a break. As I listened longer I realized that this commercial spread was actually promoted on-air as a reason to listen, "Never more than two commercials at a time."
From a listening point of view, it seemed to work - the commercials were on the whole nicely produced, and having them spread so thin allowed them the opportunity to become more of a part of the programming than a 'break' from programming.
It wasn't perfect, but it got me thinking and it opened up some old issues I've had about our attitude to commercials that I have to have a rant about today. It seems more and more as if radio stations see commercials as the enemy of programming. Especially in our love of the "more music, less talk" equation, we seem always to make apologies for commercials, shoving them up together in blocks so that our 'programming' can remain clear and unadulterated.
Let me say right now, I don't care if the surveys tell us that that's what our audience wants. If you ask 100 people if they think their favorite radio station 'has too many commercials', what answer do you think you will get? I can bet if you asked 100 people if they think donuts have too many calories the answer will be 'yes' as well, but I don't see the lines shortening in Dunkin'.
Whether we like it or not, commercials are the lifeblood of the station. We need them, and we need our listeners to listen to them. It seems to me that promoting 'uninterrupted' programming and apologizing for commercial breaks is actually training our listeners not to like commercials.
Instead, we need to be looking at creative ways to make the commercials complement the rest of the programming. Never before has creativity and quality in commercial writing and production been so important. But we also require flexibility in other areas - commercial lengths, placement throughout the hour, the very format of commercials themselves. And we need programming and sales to get over each other and really work together. I'm looking forward to the day when a station's attitude to its commercials is promoted as a plus to its listeners; "The best music, the most personality and the most commercial variety in town."
One thing's for sure; acknowledging to our audience that our commercials are the low point of our output is, in the long term, commercial suicide. It's another step on the slippery slope towards 'commercial-free' zones, opt-out formats and subscription channels.
Be clear about this - radio works because it's free-to-air. We know there's no such thing as a free lunch, but as long as our listeners aren't paying, let's keep giving them a meal to remember without constantly reminding them about the bill.
If your client has a sense of humor, but his voiceprint is deadpan, contrast him with a voice who is truly excited (maybe even overexcited) about the benefits his business has for customers, interspersed with just his unemotional “yup” or “you bet” comments.
Record short phone interviews with the client’s relatives about him and build a campaign around the family stories about the client, using short clips from his family members.
Or…take a “goes nowhere” story told by the owner in a flat unemotional voice, cut it apart, intersperse it with a very enthusiastic announcer and create an epic:
Frank: My customers are regular, consistent.
Anncr: Frank Ambrosio, owner of Frank’s Restaurant with another amazing story!
Frank: She comes in ‘bout noon on Wednesdays, orders the soup and the grilled cheese…
Anncr: Incredible! What a great combo!
Frank: Yep. That’s her favorite, sometimes a salad.
Anncr: Whoa, hard to top that one!
Frank: Well then, she has the lemon meringue pie for dessert, sometimes not. Guess she likes it. Always comes back.
Anncr: Another amazing customer story from Frank’s Restaurant!
Find ways to use your clients’ voices without making them carry the ball for the whole spot. You could end each commercial with the client’s voice delivering a tag line that embodies the client’s personality or maybe their positioning statement. You might record a series of comments from them like “Yes. No. Tell ‘em about our guarantee. Your next car is waiting for you. Here’s something you might not know.” Then you simply write spots around each comment.
Use the “translation” technique: Have your client describe in technical terms his product or service, in fact, have him be even more technical than he usually is. Do a translation over his voice or between each phrase, explaining to the listener in layman’s terms the benefits of what he’s describing.
If your client speaks a foreign language, this technique can work well also.
Is your client someone who uses lots of jargon or vernacular? Then an approachlike this could work:
“Dude, these boards are mondo gnarly!”
Anncr: These surfboards are the latest…
“You’ll be totally stoked when you see our rad new rags at Quicksilver, etc…”
Anncr: We think you’ll be inspired by the new fashion looks.
In any case, don’t take the “easy” way out by letting your clients just read 60 or 30 seconds of copy. Find an interesting way to use their voices to best advantage, and build them success stories.
Jeffrey Hedquist: Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s the easiest way to get a client on the air? Put them in the commercial!
What’s the quickest way to make a bad commercial? Same answer!
Unfortunately, there are very few Frank Purdues, Lee Iaccoccas, Victor Kiams or even Dave Thomases out there. Most clients think they can pull off being great spokespersons. Most are wrong.
Are there ways you can fulfill their desire for 30 or 60 seconds of fame and still make a commercial that works? Yes.
If the owner is a great storyteller, or has an exceptional personality – because he’s so outgoing, (or because he sounds so deadpan); if he has an exceptional passion for what he does, or if her name is on the letterhead, it might make sense to use your client’s voice on the air.
For Bob’s Automotive, let’s hear from Bob – how he got started repairing cars at 14, about how he got his first fixer-upper before he could drive, how he ate, slept and breathed cars all his life, continues to take courses and makes sure he hires people with the same love of cars & trucks as he has. His name is on the door. His pride can say a lot. But make it interesting.
Do an open-ended recording with him. Get him talking about himself and record lots more than you’ll ever need. Most clients have great stories tucked away in their memories. You just have to be patient and probe for them.
“How did you get started in business? What do you love about what you do? What do you hate about your business? What do you do for your customers that no one knows about? What emotional needs do your customers have that you meet for them? What’s the hidden secret you wish everyone knew about your business? What interesting or unusual customer service stories can you tell?” Then edit the responses into several spots.
If he can’t tell a great story, tell it for him. Just have him do the intro and outro to each spot. In: “Hi, I’m Bob and this is my story…” Out: “I’m Bob, and my name is on the door at Bob’s Automotive.”
If your client has a sense of humor, create a campaign that lets her poke fun at herself. Maybe it’s a pseudo-interview, where she never gets a word in edgewise because the announcer keeps interrupting to tell the audience what the client was about to say. Maybe customers keep interrupting, or little emergencies keep appearing that allow you to work in benefits by the way the client handles them.
Jeffrey Hedquist. Email email@example.com.
A useful habit for anyone interested in making a difference (and yes, that also means a difference in your monthly billings) is to question everything you're told, at least once.
My very first job was in the promotions department of a TV station, run by an extremely successful but sometimes intimidating executive who had the words "Never Assume" in bold type on a sign on the wall behind her desk. It had come to be her personal mantra after so many instances of being told that there was "a way" to do something, disagreeing but doing it anyway and having it go horribly wrong.
This is not to say there aren't rules and good and bad ways to achieve results. But it's worth bearing in mind that broadcast media, especially, are hostages to fashion, perception and environment and have to change with the times. Because of this, the methods and rules we rely on can become cyclical; the things we took for granted two decades ago no longer apply, the perceived wisdom changes for a while but then may begin to cycle back again.
Take commercial lengths for example. Readers of this column will know my personal preference (in a general sense) for thirty-second as opposed to sixty-second commercials, especially as most of the perceived wisdom regarding the advantages of 60's seems vague at best. It is interesting to note though that a few decades ago, successful commercial campaigns were mostly based around shorter commercials - even ten, fifteen and twenty-second lengths, with greater reliance on frequency. (You can see great examples of old commercial campaigns, at the website www.oldtime.com. It's also useful to see how the construction of some of the radio premium campaigns from the forties make many of today's supposed "Non-Traditional" revenue ideas look positively prehistoric!)
Never assume. There are other examples too. Like overnights. I've met and trained many sales teams who won't sell overnight sessions at all. Often the reasoning is that "nobody listens". True, it's likely that you don't get the same ratings as the morning show - these hours may not even register in the ratings. But they can be a great earner. Some people do listen overnight, and what's special about the people who do, is that they're often not the same people who are listening to mornings and drive times. Think about it - shift workers, students, hospital employees, cab drivers, truckers, emergency services, insomniacs, creative types of all sorts. If you're wide awake listening at 3.30am, you're probably not listening at 7.30am or 5pm.
Now figure that if you don't normally sell that airtime, then anything you can get for it has to be an improvement over the status quo. This gives you enormous flexibility in pricing and allows you to target clients who want and need to advertise but can't usually afford prime slots. Its also great airtime for packaging up for phone blitzes and for adding perceived value for wavering primetime clients.
Never assume. It could really cost you.
Some of the most effective commercials ever created have not been written by copywriters, but by regular folks - employees, customers or people on the street. They will say things that no copywriter could or probably ever should write. How can you make your interviews with them more productive?
Dress appropriately. If you're interviewing corporate officers, dress more formally. For people on the street, dress more casually. If you're interviewing people in a mall, store or an office setting, then dress somewhere in between. The key thing to remember is to make the interviewee comfortable.
Let’s assume it’s just you alone, without an engineer to assist. There are many portable recorders available digital, Minidisc, CD, DVD, flash card, hard drive; laptops, iPods, smart phones, even audiocassettes. Although some devices have built in mics., external mics. will give you more control. The microphone could be a small hand-held (leave the RE-20 home), or a couple of lavaliers in the right location might the least obtrusive solution. Most people are not comfortable with a large mic. thrust in their face. Another possibility would be a stereo mic. that picks up your questions on one channel and their answers on the other, eliminating the need to move the microphone back and forth as much between you and your interviewee.
Spend some time capturing a few minutes of room tone, ambiance, whatever sounds are in the area. You’ll need these for editing later.
It's important to engage non-professionals in conversation and talk to them about things they're comfortable with - their business, family, leisure activities. Gradually get around to the kinds of questions you need to ask them to get responses for the commercial. By then they'll be used to talking to you and will have forgotten about the fact that they’re being recorded.
Ask open-ended questions. Don't ask questions that can be answered with a yes or no. Don’t be afraid to ask for more than one response to a question. If they give you something that's too long, too short, or not focussed, ask them to rephrase it. Most people will be happy to do this. Simply say, “Please say the same thing in one sentence” Or, “Tell me a little bit more about that.”
If you only want their words, resist the urge to comment on what they're saying. If you want to give them some acknowledgement, do it with eye contact, or with a nod. Let body language do the talking for you. That way you'll have a good clean recording of their voice. If you want your interaction to be part of the commercial, then self-monitor your responses, and if you’re not happy with your part don’t be afraid to re-record any of your comments on the spot which will give you more options and save you the trouble of trying to match attitude, pace, energy, levels, EQ, ambiance and mic distance in postproduction.
Have a list of questions and possible responses prepared in advance. It's best not to read from a list but it isn't terrible if you do that either. As you're going through your questions, if what they're saying leads you to another question further down the list, just follow them. If they lead you somewhere unexpected, let them. In some cases you'll end up with a much more inventive and interesting response than you might have expected.
Finish by asking them to tell you what they would have liked to be asked, or if they have any interesting stories to share that might fit the commercial.
If you're interviewing customers or people on the street, keep in mind that you have only a few seconds to convince them to talk to you. Approach them gently, ask permission before you begin, let them know the interview will be short and explain to them that their words will be used in a commercial.
In an ideal world you'd get a signed talent release from each one of them but even under the best of circumstances this is difficult. At least record their name and permission to use their comments. If they refuse, simply smile, thank them and move on to next person.
You’ll usually have to interview dozens of people to get a few good comments. It will be a challenge to remain fresh and interested for each conversation, but will pay off with the "off the cuff” remarks, which often can be the most powerful parts of a radio commercial.
Make your job easy: interview people at an event where a business owner invites his or her best customers to a reception after work with refreshments. In this kind of atmosphere almost everyone there knows they're going to be interviewed, and they’re predisposed to tell good stories.
I've called Radio: "The branding iron of the imagination." Since radio is an interactive medium, the most important part of that interaction is something we all came in with...our imaginations. Emotion is the heat for your branding iron.
When you excite, interest, feed your audiences' imaginations, they actually become active listeners, participants. They create with you, and your name, your store, your USP, can imprinted on their DNA forever...if you engage their imaginations and do it with consistency.
Too many advertisers, especially retailers, feel that the only way to get listeners to respond is to offer lower prices, and they use that ploy instead of a consistent branding campaign that reinforces benefits.
For an advertiser to get caught up in the "price-only" cycle is like living on a diet of sugar. You get that immediate high, that feeling of energy, but it's always followed by a letdown. And if you continue this up and down cycle, it will eventually damage the system.
That's what it's like with non-branding sale advertising. The advertiser might see an immediate increase in customers, cash flow and gross revenue, but the surge (which yields much less profit) doesn't last once the sale is over. In the long run, you're conditioning the audience to think of the advertiser only in the discount context. You could damage the advertiser’s reputation, or maybe shorten the life of your client.
So, what am I advocating – a complete switch to complex carbohydrates? For some advertisers, it might be worth a try. You may not see the immediate surge you get with price advertising, but you will build longevity, image, a share of mind, a niche, strength and a continuity of customers that could last into the future. Now this doesn't mean that you can't have a fudge brownie once in a while. Just don't base your diet on them.
When you have a sale, don’t forget to brand at the same time.
All good commercials are designed to capture a share of your audience’s mind. You could call it branding. As Roy Williams says, “Branding is implanting an associative memory with a recall cue.”
As you craft commercials for an advertiser – hopefully as part of a continuing campaign, keep in mind that no matter what kind of commercial it is – image, event, co-op, item, or sale – make sure it brands. Make sure it tells the story about the listener’s involvement with the advertiser, positions the advertiser, reinforces the advertiser’s USP, is set within the larger context of the campaign, and not just a stand-alone commercial.
Now, name two sale commercials or holiday commercials that you still remember. Difficult, isn’t it? Too often special event spots sound nothing like the rest of the campaign. An event spot that focuses only on the items, prices or discount, and time frame will only live in the memories of the listeners for the duration of the sale or event.
If you create the story of that sale or event in the same context as the rest of your 52-week campaign, it will reinforce the branding that you’ve already worked so hard to establish.
For example, if your campaign is created around the adventures of two characters, have those same characters tell a story, or do humorous interviews, give news reports about the sale, relate their experiences at the sale, or after the sale.
The vast majority of your audience won’t immediately respond to the sale or item, or event for a variety of reasons. However, don’t waste the opportunity to leave them with information, a good feeling, a reinforcement of the USP, because sometime in the future, they will be ready to make a purchase. If every commercial they’ve heard for the advertiser consistently reinforces the branding, they’ll be more likely to remember them.
Jeffrey Hedquist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Salespeople are the driving force behind the success of every business In today's increasingly competitive and economically accountable commercial environment. the demand for highly skilled, driven, passionate, and professional salespeople is greater than ever.
Do you know why you are in radio sales?
I've never met anyone who when asked as a child what they wanted to be when they grew up answered, "a salesperson".
What's your primary purpose and reason for being in selling let alone selling radio advertising? Is it to get by? To make money, or to make piles of money? Is it to serve the greater good? Is it to help grow your radio station and company? To help grow your clients business? To play a role in society, or is it because you just like to meet other people? Is it to provide for your families present or future needs (and expectations)? Are you simply biding time and waiting for an announcer's slot to open up, or did you just settle for what you thought was second best?
Do you know why you are in radio sales?
What aspect of your job do you really (really) feel passionate about? Because to survive today you'll need to have a valid reason for being there, and to be successful you'll need to be passionate about it.
How did you get here?
As I travel, speaking at conferences and working on radio sales training projects (meeting salespeople) it never ceases to amaze me how few people I've actually met in radio advertising sales who actually deliberately and consciously chose the sales path. Something happened to them. They didn't do as well as expected at school. They lost a job, quit, or got fired. They got divorced. Needed something to do until a real job came along or they simply showed up and just hung around.
Don't misunderstand what I'm saying; selling is a dynamic and integral profession in the world today yet sometimes I believe both sales people and non-salespeople deeply disrespect it as a vocation. I feel this lack of respect is perhaps a result of selling's inherent difficulties. Whatever the reason, it's time it stopped.
I don't care how good a particular product or service is, I don't care how many people listen to your radio station, great products and services don't sell themselves, they are just easier to sell, which means we need great salespeople. If you don't believe me, fire the sales team, sit back and see what happens to your business.
Salespeople have to deal with disappointment, pressure, constant rejection, and failure on a daily and sometimes hourly basis. These are not challenges that most people in other professions have to experience, nor do they have the heart or mind to. Yet if you don't know why you are in the profession of selling you will surely succumb to these pitfalls.
Selling is extremely hard work, always was and always will be and if you are to be successful you must be strong enough to overcome these difficulties and your self-doubts.
Every day can be an emotional roller coaster for salespeople. We can go from the top of the highest peak to bottom of the lowest dip and screaming right back up to the top again and all without taking a breath or as much as a by-your-leave from those around you.
I love salespeople. We're a unique, often misunderstood, and courageous breed.
For the most part it is agreed that the essential elements for success in selling are the desire to sell and the willingness to work hard at it. However from today I want you to also add in a good dose of respect. Self-respect and some respect from others.
They say respect needs to be earned and to some degree it does, but I believe it needs to be demanded. Demanded from the inner you and from the actions of others.
You're a hard working, brave, creative, pioneering, and creative human being - demand respect.
Certain structures for radio spots can provide inexpensive ways of getting more mileage out of a campaign - making them more immediate. They allow an advertiser such as a retailer to update spots almost on the spur of the moment, breathing fresh life into a campaign and yet keeping it consistent. But there may be more creative ways to this than we’re used to.
If you have a spot that is to be tagged with specials, then write the tags so they sound like they’re a part of the spot and not something that was simply slapped on. If it’s a humorous spot, give the tag a flavor of the spot’s humor. If the spot is dramatic then create the tag with some of the drama. At least create the tag so it responds to what has preceded it. Your soft image spot will not be enhanced with a hard sell tag. Write your co-op spot so it satisfies the requirements of the manufacturer, but sounds like it was done for the retailer. Don’t just tag on a retailer’s contact information.
It’s definitely worth the effort because it will get results for the local advertiser even if the listener doesn’t respond to a pitch for that particular product.
Another non-conventional approach to doing a tagged commercial is to spend the portion of the commercial that precedes the tag or insert introducing it. Build the audience’s anticipation for the important information that is about to be delivered. Tell a story with the tag as the punchline. Ask questions that will be answered in the tag. Tell an intriguing story about the person who will be delivering the tag. Create a scenario illustrating the value of the tag information in the life of the listener. In other words, turn the whole premise around. Make the tag the entire focus of the spot not just an add-on.
Everything I said about tags applies to those mid-commercial inserts called donuts. Make your transitions in and out of ‘em as seamless as possible.
In a pretzel spot (one containing many inserts) try designing the inserts so they interact with what is on either side of them. Maybe they’re read by someone who comments on the other characters in the spot. Make the entire commercial a conversation so the insert information becomes part of the dialogue.
The wealth of new media and communication devices and platforms out there is simultaneously baffling, exciting and fear-inducing. What to go for first? How will radio compete? What will media look like in ten years? Or five years? Or by Christmas?
We can't know for sure. But we do know that the massive increase in the number of niche choices in everything 'media' makes the number of big media events which get watched or listened to by a huge number of people shrink. In other words, there become fewer and fewer blockbusters, and more and more (lots and lots more) of niche programming plays.
Through all this remember that the total amount of media being consumed is not getting smaller; quite the opposite. In total more media is being consumed now than at any time in history. The problem is that getting millions and millions of people to watch / buy / listen to any one thing, is so much harder.
This is the issue that will have the biggest effect on radio as we know it, because it changes the model upon which radio's fortunes over the last twenty years at least have been based. With so many choices out there, it becomes almost impossible to program via music alone, any one station, especially in a large market, in a way that satisfies a big enough number of people to make money. This is the fact radio has to face. It may be avoidable now; it may be avoidable for another couple of years. But it's a fact.
Of course though, there is a flip side to this; a silver lining if you like, and it's one that radio has to grab with both hands. The vast majority of all the niche programming being produced, whether by podcasters, bloggers, Internet radio stations, whatever, is just OK. Not fantastic, not ultimately satisfying, but OK enough that, when paired up with all the other choices, it makes for a varied experience.
Producing really good, authentic, human, entertaining audio content is really, really hard. Really, not just 'anyone' can do it. Few people can, actually. It's a real skill, and one which is best learned on-air, live, while receiving real feedback from happy or disgruntled listeners. That kind of environment is really hard to find online, from your bedroom, creating podcasts.
Radio's huge advantage, should we decide to take it, is that we have the history and experience and talent to make really good, compelling, human content. We can make content that, in large markets, if we maintain locally relevant content, will continue to deliver sizable audiences; audiences as big as anyone else can deliver, for sure.
In small markets we can continue to dominate and improve that reputation. Content is king, now more than ever before. Localism is the key to content. And humans are vital in the mix. The era of making money from playlists is, basically, dead.
Indeed, this simple formula is more important than worrying about any of the technology involved in delivery of content. It's the content itself that has to be right first. Today we have the means for delivering content in many different, exciting ways. That's really all these 'technologies' are. Delivery mechanisms. But without content, what have you to deliver? If you do have great content however, it can be spliced and diced and the same shows delivered in bits and pieces via a hundred different routes - which can only be good news; more ways than ever to get to our listeners and more ways than ever to create interesting combinations and tie-ins with advertisers.
The future really is bright - if we're willing to take it. It's just that, like when trying to solve anything complex, you have to make it simple first. If we get back to basics; investing in people-driven, locally-focused, truly professional, entertaining content, the battle is already half won.
Which sounds more believable? “Hundreds to choose from!” or “We have 324 of these widgets in our showroom right now.”
Want to give your commercials more power? Use specifics. Examine each of the claims that you make in a commercial. Replace the generalities with specifics and you’ll have a more believable story.
Instead of saying “we have great service,” describe how when you come into the store our sales consultant will ask you 4 important questions about how you’re going to use this product and then demonstrate a variety of choices for you, explaining the pros and cons of each one.
Or you can say, “One week after your purchase, one of our representatives will call you to answer any questions you might have, show you additional ways of using the product and even offer hands-on help should you need it. Why do we do this? Simply so you will have a successful experience with our product. So when it’s time for you to buy another one you’ll come back to us.” In other words, tell the listener why you’re offering a benefit, don’t just throw out a cliché.
Yes, it takes more time to paint a word picture of this experience, but you’ve now given the listener a reason to buy that doesn’t sound like a pat phrase.
People are so used to hearing generalities like “lowest prices,” or “friendly sales staff” that those words have no meaning anymore. Comb through your copy. Take every single phrase and make it come alive by using specifics. And where do you get those specifics? Simply tell the truth in detail.
Do you have factory-trained mechanics? Tell us, “Last July three of our mechanics attended a two-week training course where they learned how to repair the six most common ignition system problems. They took apart and reassembled the ignitions of 7 domestic and 8 foreign car manufacturers. Does your mechanic get that kind of training?”
Your commercial will be more convincing if you tell the truth – in detail. Amazing.
As creators in the most powerful communications medium, we sometimes dig ourselves too deep into the radio commercial groove. After a while, our commercials start sounding like…commercials. Developing skills in other kinds of writing can add breadth to our radio.
We can expand our writing horizons. The time we spend honing our craft should be fun and profitable. Here are some possible writing avenues to explore:
Poetry – you’ll develop more colorful, non-linear, metaphorical, ways of expression.
Screenwriting – A radio commercial is a mini screenplay, so learn the techniques that make writing for the big screen work and apply them to writing for the Really Big Screen – the human imagination.
Storytelling – some of the best commercials are stories. Got kids? Don’t read ‘em a story tonight, make one up and follow it with new episodes from time to time. They won’t hesitate to let you know when you’re succeeding or falling on your face.
Comedy – the most challenging writing to do well. Study the masters.
Improv – one of the best ways to train for brainstorming and lateral thinking. It’s the best training for radio writers
Songwriting – even if you think you don’t have musical talent, practice writing to a tune you love, then give the lyrics you’ve written to a songwriter and/or musician (without telling them what song you used) and have them put music to it.
Audio theatre – explore the resources of the National Audio Theatre Festival http://www.natf.org/
Your learning can be in the form of workshops, classes, seminars, books, audio or video, online courses, forums or informal groups. Check out the resources available in your area or go online to your favorite search engine and search by topic.
Each of these different writing disciplines will stretch your abilities and contribute to making you a better radio commercial creator.
The underlying laws and principles of selling have remained relatively unchanged since the dawn of time. Yet a great deal of us who sell for a living continue to search for some secret in the hope of finding an easier, softer way. Some method by which we can reduce the need for our courage and commitment to be applied to the selling process.
Selling can be distilled to very simple laws and principles. And whilst there are literally thousands of branded selling systems (all purporting to have the answer) from which to choose, generally these only serve the purpose of helping differentiate one sales book and selling system from another in order to market them more effectively to you.
The bottom line - assuming your radio station's advertising features & benefits have been identified, and your sales team has defined & identified your prospective advertiser target market, the sales process works like this: prospect; interview; analyze needs; present; negotiate; close; then service and follow-up. Required of course are large quantities of action and courage.
There are no easy answers, only simple ones.
It is by doing our duty that we learn to do it.
If we continue to dispute whether or not a thing is a part of our duty, we never get nearer. Even if we go about our sales day full of fear and a lacking basic sales skill sets, even if we believe failure is imminent, because we have merely taken some action the face of things will alter. We will find in ourselves strength and be given courage, which we knew nothing of. And difficulties, which it seemed insurmountable, will soon disappear.
Learn, act, and apply.
What is the goal of your radio commercial? What do you want your audience to do?
1. get their attention so they‘ll listen.
2. include enough cues from their lifestyle so that they’ll stay with you.
3. provide enough seeds for their imagination so that they’ll co-create your story
At the end of this wonderful sharing experience, hopefully they’ve fallen in love with your product or service. At least you want them to be interested enough to call you, visit your place of business, tell a friend, or go to your web site.
How can you help insure one of these activities takes place? Create a story about the listener taking the desired action (making the call, coming into the store, clicking on the site) and getting the result that will change his or her life.
Make your story about the prospect walking into that place of business, that restaurant. Describe the listener buying that book, participating in what the advertiser has to offer. Have your customer-to-be tasting it, seeing it, feeling it, touching it, making it part of their life.
If you tell the story in an imaginative and engaging way, then taking that action won’t be as foreign to the listener, because in their mind they’ve already done it. If you can get the listener to take the action in their imagination, then it’s a smaller leap for them to take the action in their lives.
Remember, the story that you tell is about your listener and the advertiser - a team participating together to enjoy life more. Rather than asking someone to do something, tell a story about them already doing it and the result that it will have in their life. Have them see it in their mind’s eye. Get them to resonate with it in their heart. Use the power of their imagination to help them make the decision.
Jeffrey Hedquist. Email email@example.com.
When you write your radio commercial from a specific point of view you give it focus. The more specific it is, the more believable the spot can be. That perspective might be of someone who lives right smack in the middle of your demographic/psychographic bell curve. It might be a real or fictional character related in some way to your intended audience – a spouse, distant relative, paper boy, driving instructor, English teacher, parent, boss, future offspring, or doctor.
Remember that whether you’re using a narrative, dialogue, or multi-voice ensemble for the spot, it’s still a story – a story about the listener.
How would the person whose point of view you’ve adopted describe the experience of visiting and buying from the advertiser? In your imagination (or in real life), take your sister to the advertiser’s place of business. How would she describe her experience? As you write, become her. Create a conversation she might have in her head, or with store employees, or other customers, or with her friends as she relates the experience. What’s her speech pattern like? Does she have any phrases that she repeats? How old does she sound?
What would your little cousin Troy think if he went to Discount Software City? If Mr. Jenkins, your driving instructor could see the hot car you’re thinking of buying at Testosterone Motors, what do you think he’d say? If you showed your grandmother the site where you buy music and let her listen to a few selections, what would her reaction be? Imagine the person you love opening a present from you. They peel back the wrapping and gaze. They smile. Their eyes may fill with tears. What would they say or think?
Those are the words that will bring your story to life, and touch the hearts of your listeners.
Jeffrey Hedquist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The use of contrast in a radio commercial will draw attention, make it interesting, create the unexpected and keep listeners from falling asleep. Too often commercials are all one flavor – a sea of audio beige. Try juxtaposing silence and noise or two widely differing music cuts to tell the story of two aspects of a product or service.
Use differing sound effects to switch the scene from one locale to another.
Your biggest opportunity for contrast is with voices. Play contrasting emotions off each other. Write your spot so that each character has one strong consistent emotion, different from the rest of the cast. After you’ve written the spot you can modify the interplay to build in some subtlety, to show some transition. The old Bud Light campaign with Charlton Heston and the ‘normal” people was a good example of contrasting voices and attitudes.
Something as simple as alternating a hard sell voice and a soft sell voice, both doing parodies of their genres can be both entertaining and effective.
The “Slow Talkers of America” routine made famous by Bob and Ray would be a good basis for a commercial. You could contrast lifestyles: Old money / entrepreneur; formal / informal; timid / bold; irrepressibly happy / deeply depressed; Mr. Optimist / Mr. Pessimist. Two characters like Felix and Oscar, The Odd Couple, could yield possibilities for a long-running radio campaign.
It could even be a single voice, demonstrating different aspects of his or her personality talking to each other that could provide contrast.
However you show it, contrast will add life to the story you’re telling and perk up the ears of those jaded radio listeners. Dump the bland, bring on the salsa!
Jeffrey Hedquist. Email email@example.com.
Increase the believability of your radio commercials by understating the benefits. Benefits are all the listener cares about, but they have to be realistic.
Features and benefits tend to get overblown. So much of advertising is based on hyperbole. Advertisers feel they have to promote themselves as the greatest, best, cheapest, largest, most efficient, latest, coolest, most fun. After hearing claims like this a few thousand times, consumers don’t buy them anymore. We (and our clients) sometimes forget this. When we continue to use these adjectives, they become part of the great wave of “commercialese” that simply washes over us. They just blend into the background and signal the listener that there’s no need to pay attention. Not exactly what we were hoping for.
Do something different. Tell the truth. Simply be more conservative in the claims you make in the commercial. You’ll catch the attention of the listener and increase your client’s believability. With benefits we tend to be more realistic, because we’re describing the effect a product or service can have on someone’s life.
Ask yourself what the true benefit would be to the buyer. Then talk about the benefit in realistic terms. Describe how the buyer will feel.
“We can’t promise you’ll turn heads or stop traffic everywhere you go wearing this shirt, but we can say that you’ll feel cozy with the soft brushed natural cotton next to your skin, and you might be a little more confident knowing the 5 color plaid goes as well with jeans as dress khakis.”
“How much can you save if you buy a new system during our grand opening sale? Enough to buy 12 of your favorite CDs. Now that’s something to listen to.”
“We understand that adding 3 tellers and 2 loan officers from 11 – 2 won’t completely eliminate lines, but we hope they’ll move a little faster so you’ll have time to do your banking and still get lunch.”
Listeners are pretty smart. You may get more of them to respond when you under- promise and make more of them into repeat customers when you over-deliver.
Jeffrey Hedquist at Hedquist Productions, Inc. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This technique is so simple, so seemingly self-evident that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you about it. Almost.
We’ve all been told over and over to “write for the ear” when doing radio, yet we constantly hear commercials that assume every listener has been issued a script and is reading along. This frightening belief lurks in the minds of many advertisers.
In a good radio commercial, people talk like people talk, not as if they were reading a newspaper ad. There’s a certain spontaneous feel to a conversation or even a monologue in a well-written radio commercial.
What keeps us from writing something that sounds natural? Most of us have internal "editors" - those left brain tendencies that want to tidy up sentences, correct punctuation and grammar, and make people agree with each other, in other words, take all the fun, energy, and conflict out of the commercial.
How can you bypass the internal editor? Don’t write your radio commercial, "talk" it. Speak into any kind of portable recording device instead of writing the commercial. Don't worry about length, sentence structure or even if it makes sense at first. Just start with an idea and let the words flow.
You'll discover that Mr. Editor creeps in less and less and some of those spontaneously recorded thoughts will actually be some of the best radio you've ever created. It's a way of accessing the right brain more directly. The time for a thought to be transformed from an idea into words on paper or on screen can allow a lot of the magic and many of the original ideas to be lost.
Dictating is instant. Concepts that might not be accessible later on will be preserved. You can do this while your hands are doing something else, like washing dishes, driving or disarming nuclear devices.
Later you can edit your spot to the right length, develop characters more fully and create a beginning, middle, and end. Now you’ll probably have enough material for several spots.
Recording your words can be your best technique to become a more effective radio creator. Just use it to “talk” your spots.
Jeffrey Hedquist dictated this article while walking to work at Hedquist Productions, Inc. http://www.Hedquist.com
Every day you can hear radio spots that were created by committee: politically correct, watered-down, automatically written radio ads that offend no one…and motivate no one. Commercials that sound like…well, like commercials. They make you want to change the station, or at best, ignore the message.
If you want your spots to make it all the way from the ears to the brain, you’ll need to take a few risks: that your idea won’t work, that you’ll offend someone, that it might not get immediate results, that people will think you’re crazy. You’ll also need to risk having phenomenal success, that you’ll be thought of as a visionary, that your clients will bow down at your feet (well, maybe I’m dreaming).
Surprise the listener. Present the unexpected. Turn the rules upside down. Try writing a 300 word :60, or one with only 14 words. Mix two cuts of music together. Use 56 voices in a spot. Create a spot backwards. Use operatic music for a dance club. Have a spot for retirees narrated by a child. Cast an ancient voice for a young hip audience.
Go in the opposite direction. If your competition has a jingle, use straight talk without music. If they’re listing lots of features (they probably are), do a spot featuring only one: the way the lettuce is chosen at a restaurant, the way a car is washed at a dealership, the 14 steps a plumber takes to make sure he leaves your house spotless after a service call…but make sure you sell the benefits.
Create a continuing story and make each spot an episode that picks up where the last one left off. Design a quiz that listeners have to call in, log on or come in to complete.
Remember, even with a risk-taking approach, the goal is to sell, so get the listener’s attention and keep it while motivating her to respond. Go ahead take some risks. Safe radio is dull radio, and is only useful as a sleeping aid.
Jeffrey Hedquist. http://www.hedquist.com.