By Trent Rentsch
“Here’s the plan. We completely gutted out the building, all traces of the last failed restaurant are scrap. We put in a $300,000 custom bar, stocked with only the finest, the rarest, the most expensive liquors and wines from around the world. Plasma screen monitors engulf the walls; we’ll be playing every match-up on game day, every soap opera, talk show, and Food Network for the lunch crowd, and Thai techno-punk videos for our supper patrons. Each booth is equipped with smaller flat screens, with thousands of movie titles AND the Internet available on demand. And don’t forget surround sound at each table! We intend to give our diners a multi-media munching experience”
“Our cuisine? We’ve come up with an unbeatable combination of wood-oven-baked pizza, sushi bar, and retro porridge soup kitchen. Of course, all of our chefs are masters in their culinary specialty, especially the porridge guy! What he does with a gruel base, blue crab and tofu will bring a tear to your eye! We’ve made certain to give each chef an environment designed not just for cooking, but for creating! Yes, this did mean a few extra dollars, but even our venture guy, who funded many dot-coms in the mid-‘90s, agreed that it was worth it. Believe me, live string quartets in the kitchen and an on-site masseuse are going to pay for themselves in the long run!”
“Our sales rep from your station suggested that I call you, because our big advertising blitz starts in two days, the day we open. He assured me that you could come up with some great commercials, hopefully a jingle that tells our story. Of course, you might want to sing that we really are open, as we’re awaiting funding for some exterior changes, and we haven’t had time to take down the last tenants Happy Honey-Glazed Burgers & Mongolian Vegetarian Grill sign. Now, our initial buy is a 30 second ad every morning at 5:30 this week, and after that… well, lets just see if your spots are packing them in, okay? Hello? Are you still there?”
This has been a composite, of course. No single call from a client could possibly be this idiotic, this demanding… could it? Maybe not, but I’ve had too many that came close. And whether we blame the developer for having the ridiculous plan, the money guy for enabling him, or the sales rep for accepting too little and promising too much, the situation has to be dealt with. Welcome to another lose-lose situation.
This is how the cookie will crumble. You talk the client out of a jingle simply by mentioning the cost, “Oh no, we can’t afford THAT kind of coin right now!” You do offer to put something together, but stress that this is really last minute. “Hey, I trust you! The sales guy says you’re the best!” An hour later the rep pops his head into your studio. “Not done yet? Man, he really wanted to hear his spot today!” Not much later, the phone will ring. It will be your General Manager. “Buttwater just told me that he’s been waiting around all day to play a commercial for his client… what’s the status?” Somehow, you manage to pull together something halfway decent and leave the commercial on the client’s voicemail. Then, you wait. Sure enough, the next afternoon the rep drops by with the laundry list of changes. “He wants their phone number in there 2 more times, don’t push the porridge because the chef’s flight from Siberia was delayed, and he says that techo-punk music you used isn’t Thai.” You over-haul. The spot gets lukewarm approval, but does get played the next morning… and the next. Then the rep returns. “He says the spot isn’t working! They’ve had NO customers, nada, zip! He says that you know nothing about creating commercials, that what hit the air sounded thrown together at the last minute! YOU made me lose the buy! Plus he says he’s going to tell every business owner he knows never to advertise with us again!” Finally, a month or so after the dust clears, the rep shows up with a production order for a restaurant auction. “Yeah, well, it was a dumb idea for a restaurant anyway. Hey, at least we made a couple of bucks off them before they folded!”
Lose-lose. The restaurant owner loses his dream. The sales rep loses another client. The venture capitalist loses a few more million. The chef loses his dream of building a life in America and goes back to spooning out tepid Cream of Wheat to fellow Siberians. And you lose a little more ground as the house Wonder Creative.
Of all the bothers in these situations, the one that gets me the most is the helplessness. No matter what I do, the end result will be the same. Immediate turnaround, phone number recitations instead of valid copy points, a lousy schedule, and a client with a skewed business outlook — any of these can spell failure, any combination assures it.
If you take any pride at all in your work, this can really mess with your head. If you’re thinking, “This would NEVER happen at MY station!” Congratulations, don’t lose that gig. For the other 98% of the Creatives in radio today, you have two choices. You can fight every battle, and while you might win a few, you might just lose the war, your job and/or your sanity. The other choice is to shrug it off, remind yourself that it comes with the territory, and take up your sword for more important battles — God knows there are enough to fight in radio these days. Besides, maybe the next guy to own the property will put in a nice, normal steakhouse, and give you a few weeks to plan his campaign. And maybe he won’t ask for Garth Brooks to sing his jingle… maybe.