Maureen Bulley, The Radio Store, Toronto, Ontario
We last interviewed Maureen Bulley ten years ago [December 1995 RAP], shortly after she left her radio gig to start her own company, The Radio Store, a consulting firm that helps Media companies create more effective advertising and promotional copy. Today, The Radio Store is thriving. Maureen has trained hundreds of writers and producers to write more effective commercials, and helped a variety of broadcasters develop “in-house agencies” to better serve their direct clients. She has authored 3 major training initiatives including the Radio Power Tools program and the Certified Radio Copywriter program: the official industry certification course. Her latest book is entitled “Write Good Copy, Fast!” Maureen has been working in the broadcast industry for over two decades at a variety of radio and television stations. She is one of the most-awarded Creative Directors in North America with several Clio and International Radio Festival Awards to her credit. Maureen is a frequent presenter at State Association, RAB and NAB Conventions worldwide, and is a regular contributor to a variety of industry publications. Maureen is a Certified Print Production Practitioner and Certified Advertising Agency Practitioner, industry designations awarded by the Institute of Canadian Advertising. She is also a Professor of Media Studies at Humber College in Toronto. We catch up with Maureen in this month’s RAP Interview as she shares some highlights of the past decade and gives us some insights into dealing with those direct accounts.
JV: How have you and The Radio Store been doing since we last talked with you ten years ago?
Maureen: Very well. In addition to the products that I’ve developed, I’ve been doing on-site training with broadcasters in Europe and in Costa Rica, and I’ve just written chapter four of the new book by Valerie Geller, which she will be releasing in the spring of 2006. It’s a follow-up to her book, Creating Powerful Radio, and this is called Creating Powerful Radio: A Communicator’s Handbook for News, Talk, Information & Personality. She has asked me to write a chapter for that, which I’ve done, and now they’re fine-tuning it and getting it ready to release next year.
JV: Is The Radio Store actually doing more training and things of that type as opposed to commercial production?
Maureen: Yes, it is more consulting to teach radio people how to write more effective commercials for their direct advertisers. I do have some clients that I still do writing and production for, but the focus has really shifted to teaching other people how to do that for themselves.
JV: And I take it this has been a successful path for The Radio Store?
Maureen: Yes, absolutely, because the people who have embraced these techniques have gotten great results from them. And I guess word of mouth being such a great advertising vehicle has encouraged other people to participate in it as well — whether it’s in a face-to-face environment or by using books and other tools that I’ve developed for them.
JV: How have you seen advertising change over the last ten years?
Maureen: I’ve seen two things. First of all, the environment in which it’s created is much different in terms of radio. Certainly, consolidation has really changed the landscape within which we create and record radio advertising. There is an overwhelming volume of work being done now as there are more stations under one roof. Certainly the environment in which it’s created has changed, and the environment in which it’s heard has also changed dramatically as broadcasters struggle with how long stopsets should be and the importance of where a commercial is placed in the context of that. So certainly that’s an issue. I think, too, that advertising has really matured. The creative is more thought provoking. It’s become more of a thinking person’s medium I believe.
JV: What’s one of your favorite advertising success stories?
Maureen: One that I completed recently for a company called Commerx. They create virtual servers, so they’re actually creating something that is not tangible. That was a very challenging account for me to work on, because I’m not an expert in IT. But what I focused on was trying to identify the net affect of somebody actually determining if virtual servers were the right thing for them to do in their place of business. And so the net benefit was that these IT people would feel a big bulge in their wallet when it came time to hand out the bonuses. Many IT people are compensated based on being able to save money in the context of rolling out new IT initiatives in their company. Often they’re compensated on the basis of how much under budget they are. So I took that as sort of the focus of the advertising, and that was the net benefit to the IT person for undertaking this virtual server initiative. That is how those commercials were created. They aired two times, and the telephones started to ring for this company. So I think by focusing on that I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly that advertising worked.
JV: What’s one of the basic things we can do as writers/producers to spark and fuel creativity?
Maureen: I think one of the biggest things is acknowledging the creative process and what takes place when we generate ideas, and just to maximize that and sort of go with it instead of working against it. For example, yesterday I had a tight deadline, and that actually made me write something more fabulous than if I’d had more time. So I understand that about myself, and I think that people who are creative need to understand things like that about themselves and work with it instead of competing against it. I think one of the big things in terms of trying to create effective advertising is from the writer’s perspective.
JV: What’s your formula for a great commercial?
Maureen: I believe it’s key to identify what the net benefit to the consumer is if they do what we’re asking them to do. We should really identify what that benefit is and convey that in the advertising. Alternately, if we’re not successful in identifying that, it helps for us to identify what happens if the consumer doesn’t do what we’re asking them to do. For example, if you don’t service your car regularly, you run the risk of having it break down on the side of the road. So think on either side; you know, what happens if I do it, or what happens if I don’t do it? It’s a great way for us as writers to identify what’s in it for the consumer. And another thing that I think is often missing from commercials is actually asking for the order, including a call to action in the advertising.
JV: Sounds like basic material many direct advertisers ignore – make the ad about the consumer, about the listener, and not so much about the client.
JV: Speaking of clients who like to do it their way, what’s a good way to handle clients with the typical long price/item lists?
Maureen: The best way to do that I think is to group like items together, and then create a visual in the listener’s mind based on that. There are certain items on that long list that may naturally go together, and that makes it easier for the listener to get a picture in their head. Take a furniture store for example. You would group the pieces together in a room setting. First you need the sofa, and then you need the chair and the ottoman. And then you need the other items to sort of finish the look of the room. Create a visual.
We often get these kinds of requests from grocery stores. So what we could do in that case is, let’s create a new brown bag lunch for those people who take their lunch to the office. Wouldn’t it be nice for a change to have some of the rye bread that’s on sale and put some nice black forest ham on it? And get a Granny Smith apple instead. Group things together so people can picture that lunch in their head.
JV: What are some of the biggest mistakes direct advertisers make?
Maureen: I think one of the big problems is that they don’t state or commit ways to measure the success of the campaign. And I think that’s a two-way street. I think that radio has to do that as well. Determine how we will measure the success of this campaign, and put some numbers to it. Do I want 150 more hits on my website, or what exactly do we want to happen? How would we know if it worked? I think people are reluctant to commit to that. And the second thing that they need to do is to be prepared to handle the leads that may result from the advertising, and be prepared in their own place of business to convert those leads into sales.
JV: Are you helping to set up a lot of in-house agencies at radio stations as part of your Radio Store services?
Maureen: Yes. I give them the tools to move in that direction, if that is something that they choose to do. Most radio people acknowledge that if we can be in control of the client’s creative, then we are in more control of their budget. So if they are using many stations in the market, including our competitors, if they come to us first because we offer them great creative, then we are in at the ground floor and in the planning stages. And that helps us to take more control of their budget. So that is certainly one of the outcomes of pursuing that.
I think also what account executives need to do is to use a creative led sell; in other words, to use the creative to encourage new people to become advertisers on radio. If the account executives are believers in good creative, then they can sell a commercial as it’s presented to the client, and not succumb to objections that clients may have that compromise the effectiveness of the message. Everybody’s had the response, “That’s great, but please add my phone number one more time.” And a lot of times, since the account executive is not the writer or the producer, maybe they don’t have the confidence or the knowledge to say that’s not the thing to do, but the client's making a bad decision by asking us to change that. The account executives need to be able to explain the reasons why the clients shouldn’t do certain things and say, “You know, you’re going to compromise the effectiveness of this message if you make this change.”
JV: What are some of the first steps that stations need to take to create this in-house agency?
Maureen: I think first they need to be prepared from within, to have the infrastructure in place to handle the volume that exists at the station, and be prepared to allow extra time for the creation and production of messages that clients want, and that clients would use on other radio stations. First of all, you have to have the infrastructure to create a good product before you can go out and market that product. It’s like any other product. You have to be prepared to first of all create a good product, and then to manage the demand for that product that will exist. Many stations are not equipped to do that for staffing reasons, or facilities, or any number of reasons.
JV: Do you deal mostly with Canadian radio or have you done a lot of work with American stations?
Maureen: Actually, I do primarily American stations.
JV: I’m not surprised. I’ve noticed that Canadian radio tends to have more writers on staff, and more producers as well.
Maureen: Yes, that’s true. The industry is set up quite differently in Canada than it is in the United States. There are, and always have been, in Canada, creative departments devoted to writing copy, and producers dedicated to putting those pieces together. Account executives in Canada are obviously involved in the process of selling the air time and collecting copy information perhaps, but they are not actively involved in script writing. And that’s just not the way it is in most U.S. stations, or at least many of them. In many U.S. stations, account executives are the writers. That’s a completely different infrastructure, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons why most of my work has been in the United States; the account executives appreciate that they are not experts at writing copy. They are experts at selling, but they’re not experts at writing copy, and they are very open minded and prepared to commit to becoming better at that.
JV: Tell us about your Radio Power Tools program. What is that?
Maureen: Radio Power Tools is 2 CDs and a workbook, and what people find in there is the result of a two-year research study that was conducted by a research partner and myself. We had consumers evaluate radio advertising. We asked them a couple of questions. First of all, do you like this advertising? And secondly, does it make you want to buy? Those are two completely different questions. And when we took the data at the end, we did a back-end analysis of it and identified what motivates consumers when they hear radio advertising. We took those lessons learned and developed key points for people to include in their advertising. It showcases effective creative that scored well with consumers, as well as ineffective material that scored poorly with consumers, and then draws conclusions from that. It’s an audio program where there’s a dialogue between myself and my research partner where we play sample commercials, then discuss the outcome of the research; and then there is a workbook that people can go through on their own so they can embrace the techniques and incorporate it into their own work.
JV: How much does this cost?
Maureen: It’s $199.00, and if anyone is interested, they can just send me an e-mail at
JV: Another service you have is the Certified Radio Copywriter program? Tell us about that.
Maureen: That’s the official industry certification program for copywriters. That is a program that I wrote and facilitated. It is marketed in Canada by the Radio Marketing Bureau, and I market it in the rest of the world. It’s a seven-module course that writers complete over a 14-week period. I personally mark all the papers that are sent in and send them back to the people, and they receive a grade. They write a final exam, and then they become certified radio copywriters.
JV: What’s one of the more beneficial things an amateur will learn about copywriting in that course?
Maureen: I think that one of the most beneficial things that they learn is the role that radio plays in the overall marketing mix. It gives some background on marketing and advertising principles, and also the sales process so that writers understand the environment in which they’re working and the environment in which their advertising is heard, and the role that that one segment of marketing plays in the overall product development, or someone’s business development.
JV: And you have a book titled “Write Good Copy, Fast!” When did you do that?
Maureen: That was done maybe two years ago. Write Good Copy, Fast! was written in response to requests that I received primarily from American account executives who wanted a quick way to write copy, an almost instant gratification method if you will — a formula they could use to put copy together quickly that would still generate results for their clients. It actually has steps that you go through — complete A, B, C, D, E, and put them together in this way, and then you instantly have effective advertising. Now, I do say in the introduction to the book that I by no means wish to compromise the craft of copywriting, which it indeed is. There are a lot of very skilled writers out there, and they may enjoy this book and find some new techniques in there. However, it is also for the non-writer. It’s designed for someone who is not an expert in writing, but they may be an expert at selling. So it’s designed for them. It gives step-by-step instructions about how to do it. It has some success stories in it, the actual copy that was written for them, and follow-up letters from those clients identifying what the advertising did for them.
JV: Sounds like a great book for a salesperson who writes copy.
Maureen: Well, it is, and I spent a lot of time designing it so that it would easily fit into a briefcase. It’s something that you can present to a client with confidence, and outline to them the necessary steps. I’ve even identified some of the pitfalls of doing it incorrectly, and how to handle a client’s response when they say the inevitable, “Please add my website one more time.” We talk about how to overcome those requests.
JV: What other resources do you recommend to writers and producers, such as services, books, and seminars?
Maureen: I really feel strongly about everyone involved in creating radio advertising having a good understanding about the role that radio plays in the overall marketing mix. I think that people can gain an understanding of that by reading any books by advertising gurus that are out there from the people who run successful agencies, etc. A great magazine I really enjoy reading is the Harvard Business Review, because it gives us a sort of bird’s eye view of a company or an industry or an issue. A couple of books sort of on my night table, if you will, include one called The Tipping Point, and the other is called Blink, both by Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is on the top of the New York Times Best Sellers list. These are great books. They’re not specific to radio, but they are a really good overview of marketing strategy and pop culture and what makes things work with consumers.
JV: When speaking to a group of radio salespeople, what one message do you hope to get across more than any other?
Maureen: One of the big things is that they have to appreciate the client is not always right. In other words, don’t succumb to their objections and make changes to the copy that will compromise the effectiveness. I think another thing they really need to know is the difference between what constitutes copy information, and what constitutes notes from a meeting.
JV: Well, the first one’s got to be tough for a lot of salespeople because so often they’re so numbers-oriented and will say anything to get the order and keep the client happy.
Maureen: That may be true in the context of actually getting them to commit to an advertising schedule, but I think that where it becomes problematic is when they’re going to change what they know will be effective copy into something that will become less effective on a whim of the client. There’s no real basis for the change that makes any real sense. Will they have trouble with it? They may, and I think part of that initiates from the fact that they don’t have the confidence to stand up for what they believe, that they don’t feel they’re expert enough to challenge those objections.
JV: So a lot of what you do is just empower them with the knowledge of advertising that they may not have otherwise.
Maureen: Yes, and especially when I take them through the formula. You know, here are the steps and then here’s the next step. I show them how those are linked, and when you change one it weakens the overall product. So I identify the typical objections that clients have, and I know that that’s what they are because I see people nodding their heads yes — I just had that happen the other day. I then tell them how to handle it and give them the confidence to know the answers to the tough questions.
JV: What’s down the road for you, the next ten years?
Maureen: I’m finishing my Masters Degree actually in Adult Education. There are a lot of reasons why I’m doing that, but one is to make it easier for me to be more effective when I’m training other people. It helps me in the face-to-face environment or in developing training materials to have a better grasp of how adults learn. It’s helpful from that perspective, but it’s really opened my eyes to a sort of new theory that I’m working on, which is the connection between how people learn and how we teach them new behavior, because as people who create advertising, essentially what we are doing is asking consumers to change their behavior. They have engrained purchasing habits, and we want them to break those and buy from our client instead. So what does it take in order to do that? And anyone who’s tried to break a habit knows how hard that is.
So I suggest, if you just even have a favorite pizza place that your family orders from every Friday night, try changing it and see what happens. Try changing the breakfast cereal on the table and see what happens. It’s difficult to make people change behavior. And by having insights and observations, those help me create more effective advertising because I have the inside edge on changing that behavior.