By Trent Rentsch
They found him still clutching the phone. Some said that the expression frozen on his face was terror; others said no, it was more like hysteria. Still others said that it was surprise… deadly surprise.
The mystery deepened when they found the person who had been on the other end of the phone. “We were talking, there was this crazy laugh, then ‘THUD!’ and the line went dead.” Could it be something they were discussing that brought this on? “I can’t imagine,” said the Sales Rep. “We were just talking about a spot he’d been working on for one of my clients.”
Indeed, a script had been found beside him, and further inspection confirmed that it was the commercial they had been discussing. Forensics (read: the office staffer who’s hooked on CSI) found no reason that the paper could’ve caused the reaction… no poison pen seemed to have inked the words, and there were no signs of a lethal paper cut. And while words have started revolutions, wars and the Webster’s Dictionary Empire, all this script seemed capable of was selling Lazyboys.
No hemlock in the coffee mug, no screaming hard sell throat hemorrhage, no General Manager Mustard in the Production Room with a lead pipe… the mystery seemed unsolvable. Until, the victim came to. “Impossible!” he screamed. That’s when the crazy giggle started. “No… ha! Ha! No wa-way! Hee! Hee! Ahh… proo… proo… HAHAHAHA!!!!” The Sales Rep he had been speaking to before the coma shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t understand. We were just talking about this commercial he had done for me. He asked if it was approved, and I said yes, approved and ready to run…” “APPROVED AND READY TO RUUUUUuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnn!!! HA! HA! HA! It CAN’T be!!!!! No script revisions?! No 2nd, 3rd, or 5th RE-CUT?!” As they moved to put him on the stretcher, he screamed and rolled away. “WAIT! The music! Yeah, the MUSIC! It’s too loud… that’s it!! TOO LOUD… or too soft. Please, the music… I’ve GOT TO ADJUST THE VOLUME! FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT’S HOLY LET ME ADJUST THE VOLUUUUUMMMMMMMMMEEEE…” That was when someone knocked him out again, with his own coffee mug. A mercy, really.
There but for the grace of God go all of us. No matter how much time and care we take crafting a script, voicing it, choosing the perfect music and/or sound effects, and mixing it down, some spots are going to be sent back to change, something. Sometimes, everything. Many times, for no apparent reason. And while I’m sure there are logical reasons, there are few times in all the years I’ve produced, and re-produced audio that they were shared with me. So I’ve been forced over the years to draw my own conclusions, and more often than not those conclusions haven’t been very nice to the Sales Reps I’ve worked with. Then I started freelancing.
I never appreciated what a buffer from the client a good Sales Rep could be until I jumped out there on my own. Every client I have worked with comes with baggage. In fact, I’ve come to realize that a good Sales Rep is really a Valet, someone who neatly sorts through a client’s mental Samsonite to discover what approach they want for their advertising. And trust me, even if they say they have no idea how they want their spot to sound, they’ve got a duffle bag of thoughts stuffed full somewhere in there.
Some of them want to be the next “Mr. Wendy,” Dave Thomas, but don’t want to be looked at as egotistical, so they say nothing about their ambitions to star in their spots. Instead, the voice just isn’t quite right… neither is the next voice. The truth is, James Earl Jones wouldn’t work for someone like this, because they really, deep down, hear themselves voicing their ad. It takes a Sales Rep who’s really focused on what the client wants to realize this, and to be quick enough to suggest, “You know, you’ve got a great voice, and you really know your customers. What if we had you do the commercial?” Yes, it can be maddening to work with a green talent on his spots, but is it any worse than re-cutting spots that he’ll never really like, because they’re not what he really wants?
There are other pieces of luggage. The client who was “in radio,” no matter how briefly, who knows they have the expertise to put it all together (note: there’s probably some extra carry-on there, as they were probably dumped at that radio job because they stunk. Yes, they’ll be forever trying to prove that P.D. wrong). The client who loves country music and wouldn’t approve any spot with screaming guitars in it, even if he owns a Hard Rock Café franchise. And the client who loves James Earl Jones’ voice, and won’t be happy until you find an exact facsimile for his commercial… for free.
So much baggage, so little time. That’s why it’s important for a good Sales Rep to find out everything they can, to strip a client down to what he really wants, because that is what he’s going to be the most comfortable with, and that’s the information that’s going to allow you to make the client happy with his spot, quickly and efficiently. “But wait,” you scream, “What the client likes may not be what he needs! HE doesn’t understand advertising… that’s why he came to ME!” Yes, you’re right... up to a point. You are the expert, but it’s his nickel. It’s important to find out what he likes, so that you can tailor what he needs around it. Because if he hears what he likes, he’s going to trust the creatively strategic twists you give it.
It’s all about communication. The Sales Rep listens to the client, then carefully and accurately gets that information to you. The commercial is produced and approved and everybody is happy with the outcome. We shouldn’t be shocked senseless when everybody works together and it works… its just good business.