By Craig Jackman
I learned some valuable lessons recently in the rules of email etiquette. It’s called, “Wait-24-hours-and/or-get-someone-else-to-edit-you”.
The first lesson was learned through my own frustration. Like most installations, I don’t have exclusive use of my production studio. Actually in our setup, 2 shifts run out of my studio, and it’s up for grabs all weekend. Normally this doesn’t bother me, getting the most out of resources and all that, but there is this one person who puts together a DJ mix show for our Alternative station. He brings in his DJ mixer and CD players and re-patches my console and effects sends to meet his needs. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me either except that he ends up tweaking knobs or settings that aren’t changed—ever—like preamp settings and pre-fader switches on aux sends, and he often neglects to reset everything to the way he found it.
I hate that. I particularly hate that at 6:30 a.m. on a Monday morning when I hit the CD player for the first time that week, and all hell breaks loose when I try to load in the first of the week’s religion shows into automation while I try to check my email.
This particular Monday was worse than the others. Not only were the preamp settings off where they should be, but the pre-fader switches were set opposite of where they should be, and the EQ was cranked to his positions as were the aux sends. Since his DJ equipment was still plugged in, the normal production equipment was then left unplugged, and his CDs strewn here and there across the work area. The only thing that wasn’t there was his sandwich (which actually happened to me with another DJ years before, but I digress). I cleaned up so I could go to work then let my temper get the best of me in an email to the DJ, the PD of that station, and the General Manager of that station. I thought I was being reasonable, pointing out that this wasn’t the first time his carelessness had cost valuable production hours and that the company isn’t paying me to rebuild the studio every week. I think the one thing I shouldn’t have done is ask for the respect that I thought came with the position. Then I hit spell check and send.
Later that day, I got called into the GM’s office for a closed-door chat. Did I get yelled at? No, as there was a basis of truth in what I had said. That being said, he wasn’t tremendously pleased with my behavior (or the DJ’s—but that wasn’t my problem, it’s the PD’s). His recommendation was a good one. The next time that I felt the urge to rip someone in an email, I should write it, then save it as a draft for 24 hours. Once you hit send in email, what you’ve written exists forever and it may be impossible to clarify the meaning of what you wanted to say. After that 24 hours, read it, and if I still felt the same way then send it. Given that hindsight is 20/20, I’d probably want to change things and say it differently. I tried it, and of course he was right. 24 hours later I read what I had sent. I was over the line, and given the chance I would have said things differently.
I had an opportunity to put this lesson to good use. A novice sales rep submitted a series of spots to run on the Alternative station for a computer store client that we’d had problems with in the past. Essentially, the spots consisted of the store manager (who the rep wanted to fake) saying that he was tired of normal radio ads and wanted to do something different by playing music from bands the listener hadn’t heard of before, inserting a music clip, and then tailing out with a “better because we’re different” line and address. Fine concept you’d think, except that the EXACT SAME concept is already running on that station in a series of national spots for a small Canadian brewery called Sleemans. A series of spots that had become more than an advertising campaign and had crossed over into a front-page news story that ran in national newspapers.
With warning bells ringing in my head, I pointed out to everyone involved (Rep, Creative Director, station Music Director, PD, GM, GSM) that we shouldn’t do these spots for any number of reasons—faking a real person is just lazy, copyright issues over the band clips they wanted to use, copyright and agency ramifications of outright stealing this idea, and loss of listener credibility when they hear the same spots for different clients in the same spot island. Until these were resolved, and particularly until we received written permission from the music copyright holders, I explained that there was no way in hell these spots were going to get done. I think, for the first time in my career, I drew a line in the sand.
The response I got was priceless. The concepts were totally different claimed the Rep. And what’s all this fuss about copyright? There’s no copyright concern here! Why they’re going to hold a big concert with these very bands in their parking lot this summer! Quit whining, be a team player, and by the way, would the writer involved please remove himself from the account.
I was so pissed I could barely type the email response; I was shaking so hard. I ran through the concerns I had. If word got back to the agency—which it might—how pissed would they be that a concept they should have been so rightly proud off was so blatantly ripped off? When they informed the client, how pissed do you think they’d be after spending so much money on the agency? How many seconds would it take them to decide to pull their month’s worth of spots? Would this little contract cover the potential loss of the beer contract? In this case, blatantly stealing an idea that is still on the air is not the sincerest form of flattery. I then did a short review of copyright laws, potential punishments, and how I didn’t see anyone jumping up to cover any of my potential legal bills. I reviewed what the little “c” on the back of the CD meant, as well as the phrases “unauthorized use” and “prohibited by law.” Why did he think we spend thousands of dollars a year in fees for production libraries? If there was no copyright, why not use the latest Top 40 hits for “Mom & Pop Retail Store Inc.”?
Lastly, and already being a team player, I suggested some changes. If I as the producer didn’t know about this upcoming concert, how would the listener? Let’s put that in, and since it’s running on the Alternative station, this would be a major selling point for the listener. Since everyone is dead set on keeping the concept, let’s at least get some credibility back by making the first person voice a generic character and not a fake store manager, and lets at least be honest by saying that we’re copying a current popular beer commercial by playing music you’ve never heard of. It doesn’t assuage the guilt of stealing an idea so blatantly, but at least we’re not talking down to the listener by assuming that they’d be too stupid to notice.
After I hit the spell check but BEFORE I hit send, I called someone into the studio to read the email (I didn’t have 24 hours to wait, as this was a Friday for spots that were to start Monday). She pointed out where I’d gone too far. Loss of income and agency relations are beyond my area of expertise, so minimize that into a concern. Nobody really cares that we have to buy production music, in effect it’s like buying paper for the photocopier, so cut that, and a few other choice editorial comments about not using copyrighted music in advertising being the first thing you learn in broadcasting school. I steered clear of the “withdrawing from the account” landmine. That’s for someone else to blow up (which they did). Send.
When the client approved all the suggested changes, the spots were produced to the client’s satisfaction. We did draw up a waiver, and got it signed by the songwriters, just to calm copyright fears. Will the spots work? I have my doubts. As a consumer why should I care that you’re supporting a bunch of local bands I’ve never heard of. All I want to know is will you fix my computer so it works, and do you have the cheapest price on a new processor and hard drive? However, with my initial concerns covered, there was no reason to keep that line drawn in the sand.
Later, I got called into the GM’s office again. Did I not learn anything the first time? I sure did, and I got someone else to edit it first, so I could honestly stand by every phrase in my response, and it was done for legitimate business concerns with no personal characterizations included. After 24 hours I could still stand by everything I said, and the job got done to (at least) the clients satisfaction.
We all have artistic elements in us to do this job, and going too far in email is all too easy to do when you let your emotions get the better of you. Don’t be afraid to ask a third party in to neutralize some of the emotions that set everyone else into a defensive mode. Better yet, wait 24 hours if time allows, and make sure what you are trying to say is what you’ve said. We are in the communications business after all.