By Trent Rentsch
I really had no business touching the plumbing in the first place. The mammoth wrench I was assaulting the pipes with had been purchased because of two generally male misconceptions. First, the bigger the tool, the better. Second, no matter how ignorant I might be about the task I’m about to undertake, it’s just not right to ask the guy at the hardware mega-store what tools I might really need. As I tried to maneuver the obviously over-sized implement around the maze of cleaning supplies under the sink, I silently blamed the contractor who built the house for making the vanity too damned small (in typical male fashion).
Pipes are a funny thing. They can hold billions of gallons of water pressure in check day after day, but give them a “bit” of a tug with an economy-sized pipe wrench, and they’ll snap like a toothpick and let go a spray that would make Niagara Falls jealous. I finally conceded that I was in over my head, or at least up to my kneecaps, and called the Plumber about those damned faulty pipes.
I’m not sure which was more painful, spending time watching the Plumber make short work of fixing my little self-induced plumbing disaster, or helping him two weeks later with a commercial he had decided to voice for himself. It was obvious that he was suffering from the same guy problems I had. The script was far too long for the :30s he was buying, and no matter how many takes it took, he wasn’t about to ask what he could do to make it work. After several hours of pain in the studio, he mercifully threw in the towel, and watched over MY shoulder as I fixed his nearly self-induced advertising disaster. Some people would have called it Poetic Justice. Then why did I have the same nagging headaches of frustration both times?
I know that many Producers hate it when clients do their own commercials. They have good reason. Like me playing Sink Master, most clients aren’t really sure of what they’re doing, often show up ill-prepared, and end up wasting a lot of time for the Producer who ends up fixing the mess. Some people blame the Dave Thomas’s of the world, for making it look easy, conning business owners into believing that anyone can do it. Others blame the sales staff for playing on the egos of clients, talking them into buying a big package with the promise of hearing themselves on the radio. Still others just silently stress out, watching the minutes and hours tick by, not really sure who to be mad at, but knowing that the recording session from hell is going to cost them some evening hours at the station playing catch-up. They all blame everyone but the one person who should be in control of the situation. But then, nobody likes to blame themselves.
Creative folk hate plans almost as much as clients doing their own commercials, but the fact remains that some sort of plan can not only make the recording process bearable, but might also make the end result something that you won’t cringe at every time it plays. While you might think that the best plan would be to bribe the GM into outlawing client voices on ads, keep in mind that we are not living in Never Never Land. Clients happen. Damn. So, where to begin?
As always, the sell begins with Sales. You need to get them on your page. Really, quit laughing. Somehow, you need to let the sales folk know that you’re here to help, but you need their help. I’ve found that greed can be a great ally. Simply let them know that you think there’s a way you can help them make more money. This is not a lie. A commercial, done well, will be effective. Effective commercials make happy clients, and happy clients mean repeat business… maybe up-sells. Once you have their attention, it’s time to make the pitch.
Here’s where you show them the little one-sheet you’ve concocted. I had one once, entitled, “Everything You Wanted to Know About Producing Commercials, But Were Afraid to Ask.” It was constructed of tips and techniques that I had always wished that clients who did their own ads knew before they walked in my studio. Things like pointing out that Dave Thomas is a star in his own ads, yet hardly ever says more than a few words; 1,000 words does not a :30 make; practice makes perfect. The idea is that when a rep encounters a client who wants to do their own ads, they are given the sheet along with all the other propaganda. Oh, and I made sure that I had my name and number at the bottom with a note encouraging them to call for any assistance I could give them. “NO WAY!” I hear you screaming. “Why take on THAT extra burden? I don’t have time!” Ah huh. But you DO have time for them to waste doing it wrong in the studio?
Assuming that your salespeople buy into the idea, I suggest taking it one step further. Give the client a call a couple of days before the session if possible. If they are writing their own script, ask how it’s going. If they haven’t started it, this is a good time to offer your Continuity Services. If they say that it’s “coming along,” offer to look at the script. Have them fax it to you, and see if you can help them finish it up. Always, ALWAYS take this time to remind them that the best commercials you’ve done were not read cold. Encourage practice. Again, YES, it’s extra work… but you’re saving yourself work, in the end.
Being pro-active may feel like you’re being pushy at first, but look at the benefits. You are providing great Customer Service. You’re making the client more comfortable. You’re saving yourself a lot of time trying to make a silk purse out of a bad ad, and you’re cleansing the airwaves of crappy commercials. Client is happy. Sales is happy. GM and PD are happy. And most importantly, you’re happy!