By Mark Margulies
“A man’s got to know his limitations“—
The line is from one of the early Dirty Harry movies, starring Clint Eastwood, but it just as well may have been written for us in the radio business as a warning. That’s because this is a business where the tendency to over-promise starts at the very top, works its way down through sales, and ends up, finally, with us, in the writing and production end. That’s where a Production Director and creative specialist have to keep that great line in mind——know your limitations. It’s the key to helping to prevent tune-out during stop sets.
Clients will ask for the moon. It’s natural. It’s part and parcel because they’ve come to expect they’ll get it. And why not—they’ve been fed with the pabulum of “it’s your money, whatever you want, we’ll do” for so long, they know of no other way. Plus, they’ve been told, in many cases, to brainstorm ideas with the salesperson or provide copy for their spot. That means they’re completely involved in the process, and thus, have all the wonderful freedom that ideas bring us, without the restrictions that are incumbent upon us. The client comes from a reference point that can’t determine the difference between a national spot that cost $15,000 to produce, and a local spot that cost $50. To them, anything can be done at any level. Thus, clients will ask for everything from spots using cuts of popular music to spots requiring intricate voice imitations and impersonations. They’ll even ask for creative knock-offs of established commercials. (I may be dating myself here, but my favorite in that vein was always, “Hey could you guys do a spot like that Molson couple? I love those.”)
Now, in theory, you CAN deliver anything that doesn‘t involve copyright infringement. But doing it and doing it WELL, are two distinctly different camps. And if you can’t do something well, you CAUSE tune-out. Because trust this as fact—piggybacking a national spot with a local spot that sounds bad is the best recipe for losing listeners in droves.
So we come back to the basis of this article—know thy limitations. That means never try to create or perform things that are foreign to you, or that you and your staff just don’t do well. In that same vein, it’s a good idea to have a “chalk talk” about 4 times a year with the sales staff, and explain the good, the bad and the ugly with regards to talent. Give them reasons for why you’re putting restrictions on them——maybe even play a “Molson type” spot you had to do, not involving the actual Molson couple, but starring the midday guy who can’t act, and the receptionist who was on lunch break and wanted to get the job done in “one take or less.” Take the time to explain your logic, and the staff will work with you.
Then, it’s in your hands. You understand what you do well. Put out a memo and let the salespeople read it. Let them understand going into meetings with their clients what’s a good track to be on, and what’s not. Clients will listen, and given proper, intelligent guidance, will want to do the best thing possible to give them a chance to be successful.
After that, it’s up to you to grow and develop. Try new voices. Experiment a little with different production techniques. You know how good you can be—you also know what to stay away from. Keep your sales staff in the loop, and together, you all can be responsible for production that sings, and gets noticed for its power and excellence.