I have never believed that the spec spot was a worthwhile endeavor. I have always thought that specs were a wasteful risk of station resources in man-hours, studio, and equipment costs with absolutely zero guarantee of return. In 2001, even I wrote an op-ed for RAP in which I detailed the breakdown of what it costs a radio station to produce only one 60 second commercial on spec. The main trouble with the spec spot is that it is usually created from minimal copy points based on minimal knowledge of the client’s business and with minimal direction of what the client hopes to accomplish with their radio advertising. More often than not, a spec is used as little more than weak bait on the end of a weak fishing pole, cast by a weak A.E. I can’t really blame them. In my experience, those poor folks had little more sales experience than a year at Payless Shoes® and the only training in radio marketing they ever received was watching the Jason Jennings video series when they were hired. Yet, regardless of my personal views, the spec spot will never be eliminated. But, what if we were to make a more effective spec spot? A “smart” spec, if you will.

In World War II, the Army Air Corp developed a strategy whereby they would send a large force of heavy bombers to drop a large number of bombs in the hope that a few bombs might actually hit the target. “Might” hit the target? Costly strategy, that. Many men and much material were expended on such missions.

50 years later, during the first Gulf War, we were amazed at the new, so-called “smart bombs” which could be guided to its target either by lasers, infra-red imaging, radar, or global positioning satellites. Fewer “smart bombs” were used because they were more accurate and therefore more efficient and cost-effective.

So, what’s the real difference between the two? One word… information. More information translates into new technology that improves the final product, and information about the target improves its chances for success.

Let’s apply the same principle to spec spots. Previously, nearly all of the spec spots I have written have been from copy points that were provided by an A.E. who gleaned them from Yellow Pages ads. So I mostly got just the client’s name, address, and phone number. Sometimes, if I was lucky, I also got a picture of the client in the ad. (Please allow for a personal observation. It’s amazing how little thought a lot of business operators actually put into their advertising, either print or electronic, but that’s another article.) From that minimal data, I have to come up with a creative concept that “might” wow the client into signing on the dotted line. You’re kidding, right? In that department, I’m batting less than .200. Baseball players get sent back down to the minors with an average like that.

Now let’s try adding more information to that mix. And not just any information. I’m talking pertinent information. I’m working with one AE who has taken the radical step in finding out more about the client BEFORE she actually sends information to me. Not just name, address, and phone number. She learned who the client’s main customer was and developed the beginning of a concept to reach those customers. She also learned the client’s goals and how they would measure their success and applied that to which stations in our group would serve that client best. Then, she talked to me. Arrrggghhh! An AE… actually talked to me. Communication in a communications business? Quit it! No. It’s true. We got together and talked about the direction we should go, how many spots we might need, even the concept. Only then did she send the paperwork through, and I wrote scripts for three, 30-second spots, each addressing a specific need the client had, which the AE had learned in her research.

What happened? The client approved the scripts… BEFORE they were produced. Because of the hard work the AE did before the first keystroke was put into the creation of a script, only one change was required! But also, since the AE had a hand in the creation of the ads, she was also more emotionally invested in their success. Thus, she stood behind the spots and we avoided the multitude of senseless changes that add to our costs and hurt their effectiveness when they finally hit the air.

The good news is I produced them the day they were approved. It only took me about an hour to put them together. They started the following Monday and will run for several weeks. The spots play to radio’s strengths and avoid its weaknesses. They help the client meet their challenges and help us build a stronger relationship with that client. In the end, we risked very little station revenue in man-hours and equipment costs in the creation of these specs spots. Here’s the wind up and the pitch. Swing and a long one! That ball’s got a chance… gone!

The shift from specs created from a phone book ad to a well-researched concept before its presented didn’t come overnight. It’s also been helped by changes in our front office and changes in the type of AE that gets hired. Instead of AE’s with just “sales” experience, we’re seeing more and more AE’s with “media” sales experience. How novel. Selling shoes and feed is not like selling for radio, TV or cable. I’ve noticed the difference, mainly in how it relates to spec spots.

For as long as I work in a radio station Production/Creative Services department, I will hold to my stand that spec spots suck. But when I’m working with an AE who understands how to make a “smart” spec spot, they suck a lot less.

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  • The R.A.P. Cassette - February 1996

    Production demo from interview subjects Klem Daniels and John Dodge @ KidStar in Seattle; plus great work from Tom Warner/Charlie Van Dyke @ WFOX...