By Albert Berkshire
My producer loves to say, “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine.” I couldn’t agree more. Last minute creative requests are the scourge of every creative department in the radio world. In most cases, unless your Sales Manager is willing to turn away revenue, they’ll never stop landing on your desk. But you can cut them down, and it really isn’t that hard.
I’m fortunate that my job, my boss, and my own management experience has taught me that making time for research is time well spent, but only if you use the knowledge you’ve gained through research to make your life easier. It starts with changing the way you work…and you do it one client at a time.
Here’s some valid, proven ways to make your work life easier and your employers happier.
Start with putting your research and knowledge of radio marketing to work on your clients. Never miss an opportunity to educate your clients. Some will never listen, but for those who will give you their ear for a few minutes, it can be the start of a great relationship that will ultimately make your job more and more enjoyable with every passing campaign.
Retrain your client. Often your clients will see more sales reps then they ever will have writers and producers. Every rep has a different pitch. You are the only constant in your client’s “advertising world.” Point that out to them. Let your client know – every time you talk – that it is your job to keep his marketing strategies focused. Train your client to see radio advertising the way you do: as an effective, affordable and consistent way of creating top of mind awareness... the best way to “get on the consumer’s shopping list.”
Focus the campaign. Always remind the client of what your audience wants. Express its importance in his creative. Remind him that what you or he may like might not be what his customers want. When your client (or the new rep handling the account) wants to change the focus of the campaign, ask why. And then remind them of the importance of staying on track, repeating the message and remaining focused on what is appealing to the audience. Sudden shifts in the campaign have this effect: the listener no longer identifies with all the previous messages she/he has heard from the advertiser. They don’t “hear” the message as easily. For example, if Mazda suddenly shifted their campaign from “zoom-zoom” to “buy now cause we have the lowest prices in town,” they would just get lost in the crowd of commercials. The well-focused campaign you’ve worked hard to develop is worth defending, and when your client finally buys into your ideas, you’ll have less creative changes throughout the life of the contract.
Pitch the year. This one is pretty easy. Ask your client to describe his business calendar. Know when you can expect creative changes and prepare for them. Each time you talk, re-pitch the focus of the year and the month. Know your client’s goals, but also know when they need to shift the details of their creative. And always reiterate the importance of keeping the “core message” intact – even when you make seasonal changes within the campaign.
Understand the business. Ask your client what his day is like. Ask about the typical customer, the desired customer and ask how far apart they are. I do this all the time, and it’s very simple. “How would you compare age, sex and income level of your current customers and those who you want to have as customers?” It makes them think. And for you, it’s some of the most important information you can ever gather because it is a gauge of how effective his current (or if he’s a new client, his past) creative has been. Apart from the occasional visit to his business and that of his competitors, this is the best way to expand your knowledge of your client, his business, and the customer to whom you are delivering the radio message.
Build your own relationship with the client. When we have a new client, I often call them to let them know that I’m the writer – separate from the sales rep, but a part of his marketing team – and that I’m always available for questions. If his rep isn’t available, he can call me anytime of the business day. It’s important the client know that you are not after money (you may not want to say this) – but it’s good that he get the feeling that you are there to give, not take. Throughout your relationship with the client, you’ll discover things that will make your job easier. Perhaps you have similar interests or that he just likes the raw facts – no fluffy conversation. It’s a solid relationship with the client that will make creative changes smooth and the training of the client easier.
Teach them to rely on you. Let your client know that you are always reading new research on your audience – his customers. Give him the confidence to rely on you for advice. The greatest complement I ever receive is when a client calls and asks me to look at his print advertising or to write his TV commercial. I never refuse (I always invoice) because it gives me the opportunity to reinforce my radio creative in another media. I always encourage the client use parts of his radio campaign in TV and print advertising. Getting the client to rely on you is the most important part of the job and the relationship. But a note of caution: don’t let the client rely on you to make the decision. He must make the final call and feel comfortable in his decision.
All of this might sound like a lot of work, but one by one, a little at a time, your clients will come to trust your ideas and rely on your advice. And for the most part, it’ll cut down on the unnecessary last minute creative requests that always send you, the rep, the client, and the listener scrambling to understand what the hell is going on now.
Ultimately, you’ll spend less time fussing over “something new and exciting” for a client who may never understand the creative process, and it’ll enable you to work faster when it is time to make a necessary creative change. Before you know it, other people’s lack of planning will be less imposing on your office life.
Remember, your time is your time. You can spend it at work hating your job, or you can use it researching a better way to work. For me, I’ll put my research time to work so I get home for dinner.