by John Pellegrini

Mr-Money-BagsOne of the many phrases that most production people hate to hear from sales reps: “When you’re done with the spots, call the client and play them for him.” Ranks right up there with, “I know this is kind of last minute…” and “I promised the client your spots could run on the other stations in town for free.” I hear it time and again from so many production people in radio; they absolutely despise having to call up the client and establishing any kind of personal relationship with them. Why is this attitude out there?

Actually many production people hate having any contact with the station clients at all, not even in the case of discussing creative ideas with the clients. The reason most often given for this is, “I’m too damned busy to waste time talking with them!” I used to have this attitude myself. It was born out of necessity, I explained. I had been burned before by having clients who call you at all hours of the day with “brilliant” ideas that had to be put into their commercials immediately. Clients who call you when they can’t get hold of their salesperson to have changes made to their schedules. Clients who call you and complain that their spots didn’t run at the correct time, and refused to believe that a person named the “Traffic Director” is in charge of fixing the problem. “You’re the one who produced it; you’re the one who must make sure it runs at the right time!”

Truthfully, I only had a few clients who were like that during my career, but it was because of those few idiots that I adopted the attitude against contact with clients. More interestingly, I was encouraged to have this attitude from many of the various Program Directors I’ve worked for as well. Not all of them, but the majority of them believed that to call clients leads to potential for abuse like that. Understandable from a PD perspective, as the production guy works for the PD and not for the sales department (though technically speaking at least 50 to 70 percent of most Production Director’s duties are generated by the sales staff). The PDs want the prod folk to pay attention to all the last minute changes they want, and not the last minute changes that the clients want. Cheap shot perhaps, but it’s primarily true.

Since those days I’ve changed my mind about contacting clients. Now I believe that the single most important relationship that a production person can have after the GM, PD, and GSM, is to develop good working relationships with the station clients, even those who have their production done with outside agencies. Also, I believe that it’s important for production people to have good working relationships with the advertising agency reps and Creative Directors that supply commercials to the station.

Why do I say that? Necessity. In these days of complete upheavals in radio corporation control, where production folk are being let go in massive numbers, any kind of relationship you can develop with radio buyers is potential income for you in the future. What would you do if your job was suddenly eliminated or given to someone else? Most of us have a goal that revolves around the idea of someday opening up our own free-lance business. Great. But where are your free-lance business clients going to come from? I know that many of you plan on doing the majority of your business as a “station imaging voice” and just do loads of voice work for other stations in your format. Good luck. For those of you already doing it, go get ‘em tiger! But for those of you who haven’t got any clients like that yet, I have a word of warning: the market for outside imaging voiceover is disappearing faster than the last 50 dodo birds facing off a ship full of club wielding sailors. And the pay scale for these jobs is dropping quickly, too.

Voice-tracking is the cause, and the big conglomerates are the reason. Station PDs no longer have the budgets they used to for station imaging purposes. And many are being told that their station imaging voiceover will no longer be outsourced. Instead, the company has a guy in another market that will do it for fifty bucks a month. Who cares if they guy’s voice isn’t as good as your previous voiceover star… this guy’s cheap and he already works for the company. Use the company choice, or you get nothing.

I’m not saying that there is no chance for doing station-imaging voiceover, but ask anyone who’s doing it for a living and they’ll tell you that the new jobs just aren’t coming through like they used to. And the ones that do aren’t paying anywhere near what these people were used to getting. Occasionally you can still find a station that will pay top dollar for the right imaging voice, but they’re becoming the exception these days.

So where does this leave your free-lance options? The obvious answer is commercial production. Which brings me right back to the point. Client contact is one of the best ways to establish your free-lance production business. Let me give you some examples from my own situation.

I had changed my mind about contacting clients before I came to Chicago. The reason for this was that the idiots were easy to get rid of by simply having the receptionist screen my calls for me. Then, I noticed that the most effective way to rid the production department of mistakes and continual revisions was for me to call the clients and get to know them. That way, if a question came up and the sales rep wasn’t around (when are they around, anyhow?), I could call up the client who already knew me, and the problem would be solved quickly. Also, there were several instances when I saw accounts change sales reps numerous times. By having contacts with the clients, I was able to avoid tons of mistakes being made by salespeople scrambling to get all the accounts straight. Many of the clients also appreciated the fact that there was always one person they knew they could call if they discovered that their sales rep was MIA or gone for good.

One client in particular really liked to call me a lot. He owned a small advertising agency and would call me to talk over ideas on copy, and ask me if certain things would work well together like sound effects and jingles. In my younger, dumber days, I would have been annoyed with this guy. But I always had fun joking around with him, and he was always complimentary toward me.

So now that I’m on my own, guess who one of my first clients was? Do you need a hint? Not only does he supply me with production business, he also has referred me to some other small agencies. He told me once that out of all the radio stations and production people that he’s dealt with over the years, I’m the only one who ever took the time to talk to him, and for that reason he pays me to do work that he could and did get for free from the stations he buys. No, he’s not my biggest client, and no he doesn’t pay a huge amount, but he started with me right away and has helped me out with referrals. When you’re getting a business off the ground for the first time, people like that are a huge amount of help.

Every station has clients who for various reasons can’t afford or simply won’t deal with advertising agencies. There is absolutely no reason why you, the production person, should not approach these businesses and pitch them your services, especially if they already appreciate your services. Salespeople do this all the time when they quit radio and open up their own advertising agencies. This brings up another source of potential income, salespeople who open their own agencies. Where are they getting their production done? If you know of any, they might be willing to work with you on some projects. You might even be able to partner up with one or two, and if not go into business together, at least joint venture on a number of things. Being mutually beneficial to all parties is a nice way to establish cash flow. If you want your free-lance business to succeed, you have to look at all possible avenues for income. The only rule I have is that I will not work with people that I can’t trust or have no respect for; if there’s any past indication of problems with salespeople or other people in radio who’ve gone out on their own, I won’t call them.

One person a while back suggested to me that the GM of their station called getting paid free-lance money from station clients a conflict of interest. Would your GM call it a conflict of interest? If so, then your GM is someone you shouldn’t be working for in the first place. Why would it be a conflict of interest if clients of the station were so pleased in your work that they’re willing to pay you extra to continue your work? The reason a GM would say that is the GM might view the money being paid you as money that he should be receiving, and if so, that’s not a conflict of interest; that’s just a stupid GM suddenly getting greedy. Stupid because the GM wasn’t smart enough to be charging for production in the first place, and greedy because they don’t want you making extra money. They have absolutely no legal right to claim this, and if they try to, get out of there as quickly as you can! You can always convince the clients later that the station you used to work for is a waste of their advertising dollars (heh heh heh).

Another benefit in having good relationships with station clients, even if you don’t open up your own free-lance business, is creative freedom. All right, I know creative freedom is an oxymoron. Creatives are never allowed freedom. But establishing and maintaining a good relationship with clients gives you a level of trust with those clients, and they’ll be more open to the ideas you have. You’ll be able to suggest things that they may not have been responsive to before, because they know that you’re reliable. You’ll find that clients who previously ran the most clichéd copy with a million price points will think that the ideas you’re pitching them are far better. And when the proof comes in with the clients getting better responses from the commercials you’ve written for them with the ideas that you pitched them, they’ll definitely be interested in keeping you as their creative source when you set up your own shop.

Yes, this is all part of the “Sales” end of the business. These are the techniques and tools that the salespeople use to obtain and establish clients for the radio station. And there are many prod folk in radio who despise the sales end of the business. Well, what do you expect? Business is business. The name of the business may change, but the means by which you establish your business is the same no matter what kind of business you have. If you want to have your own business, then you’ve got to “sell” your business to prospective clients. Nobody has ever succeeded by just simply putting their hand on a large boulder in the middle of a forest on a sunny day and shouting to the heavens, “I OWN MY OWN BUSINESS!” Although the way some people do it, you’d think that was all it took.

The name of the game in business is business and the way you sell your business is sales. You can’t do it any other way.