by Yaman Coskun
This could be a typical television talk show with untypical guests. On stage is a couple with marital problems. Both committed to the marriage but not to each other. But, this is no ordinary marriage. This is the War of The Radio Roses. She is in radio sales. He is in radio creative. Their symbolic marriage is bound by the radio station they work for. Their children are the commercials (most of whom are hideous). It is, inevitably, a dysfunctional family. Their ongoing friction is about to cost them their marriage. They both blame each other for the problem. He says she doesn’t get it. She says he doesn’t. Can this relationship be salvaged? Can this radio sales rep and this radio producer find a common ground? Can they embrace each other’s differences and make nicer children? Can they both finally “get it?”
First, let’s get to know our “problem couple.” Sally has sold radio for over 20 years. She believes in the power of “cash.” She has an impressive list of local accounts. Sally’s clients love her. Sally’s boss loves her even more. Sally is an avid golfer, a power-luncher, experienced partier and a masterful deal-closer. Sally is the perfect radio rep. She makes a crap load of money, drives a hot car and lives happily in the suburbs of a top ten market.
Paul has been producing radio for over 20 years. He believes in the power of “creative.” He has an impressive lineup of awards on his shelf and an old bong which he now uses as a pen holder. Paul’s clients don’t really know him and frankly they don’t care. Paul’s boss loves him as long as he does not hear from him. Paul is an avid poker player, a fast taco-eater, experienced partier and a masterful writer. Paul is the perfect radio producer. He makes a decent salary, drives an eco-friendly car and lives happily in downtown of a top ten market.
Two dedicated radio pros working under the same roof for decades. Both striving to achieve optimum results in their profession. Both nice people. Both well-liked by their co-workers. Except for one small issue; they hate each other’s f**n guts.
Sally is a sales success story indeed. Sally is also the ultimate pollution generator for the creative environment. Sally sells air. Not the message. In fact Sally couldn’t care less about the message. Sally lives and dies by numbers. For Sally, Paul is someone whom she has to be nice to in order to get the work done. Paul loses a year of his life and a few more precious strands of his thinning hair each time Sally brings in one of her major clients to the studio: Bob of “Bob’s Used Cars.” Bob makes his 11 year old son, Bob Junior, read the copy he wrote for his commercial which starts in an hour. Bob also instructs Paul to use “Start Me Up” by the Rolling Stones as the background music. During an attempt to explain the legal problems with that, Paul’s tongue is swiftly extracted with a pair of pliers readily available in Bob Junior’s back pocket.
Paul on the other hand, although a creative success story himself, has as much clue in creating synergy with sales as Osama Bin Laden would with Mother Teresa. Paul, although, lives and dies by good creative, and resolves his frustrations by “whining” and “complaining.” For Paul, Sally is someone whom he has learned to tolerate over the years. During a few pathetically unfruitful attempts Paul has attempted to speak with the radio station’s manager about getting salespeople to pay more attention to the creative, during which Paul’s self-esteem was extracted with a pair of pliers readily available in GM’s back pocket.
Sound familiar? But, of course! Every radio station has a Paul and a Sally. For as long as contemporary radio has existed, it has always been them (sales) against us (programming and production). The ongoing dispute between these two fractions has made most of the geopolitical conflicts around the world a piece of cake to resolve. The passing of hatred from one radio generation to another has continued miraculously. It appears parents in radio biz are having long chats with their children about the decades long bloodshed between the creative types and the sales types. Some school curriculums are now including this topic in their history classes. There is even a talk of adding a new museum to the Smithsonian family featuring the history of Sales vs. Production displaying graphic pictures and audio. Unlike some small country full of martyrs devoted to declare their independence, ours is not a territorial controversy. It is philosophical. Creative people have a philosophy they live by. Sales does not. That is a controversy. If we examine the anti-sales sentiments expressed by a typical radio producer 20 years ago and compare it to an interview conducted just this morning we would be amazed at the similarities. Having understood this irreversible wiring discrepancy in the brains of sales and producers, it is safe to apply the same analytical strategy utilized to resolve problems between married couples.
By now there are a few facts we have established when it comes to men and women. Learning to compromise is critical to the health of a relationship. Love does not conquer it all. Neither does money. Trust and respect are the cornerstones. Women and men think, act and feel differently. Although we need one another we can’t stand one another. Among thousands of books written on the subject there is one piece of wisdom we can extract and apply to our producer vs. sales dilemma. Stop trying to change each other! Nothing revolutionary there, right? However, it would be revolutionary if we started effectively executing this attitude in our daily dealings. When we divert our attention from “trying to change” and direct it into “embracing the change” amazing things begin to happen.
First, we have to understand Paul and Sally as individuals. Sally got into business not because she is in love with our medium but because she is in love with money. Sally is not the creative type. Sally is a selling machine. She is talented at what she does and she is a major asset to the company (as you would agree if you owned the company). Sally is interested in one thing and one thing only. The shortest route to an order! Guess what? That is perfectly okay! That is what Sally is hired for. That is what Sally is expected to do. She is not a copywriter, she is not a producer and she is not going to tell Bob of “Bob’s Used Cars” that his commercial blows harder than a tanker horn — because Bob is indirectly responsible for a considerable chunk of her vacation home in Nantucket.
Paul, on the other hand, got into radio because he loves radio. That poor bastard! Of course, if it wasn’t for the Pauls of radio, Sally would be in pharmaceutical sales. Paul fights for good creative every day. He wins some, he loses some. But, he never stops fighting. Paul “gets it.” He knows how to write, he knows how to produce and he knows what buttons to push to get the listener to respond. Paul is a major asset to the company. Paul is interested in one thing and one thing only. Good Radio! Paul gets chills down his spine when he hears good radio. He also gets chills down his spine when he hears Bob Junior sell cars over an illegal music bed for 60 seconds. Paul is a creative warrior. He has all the guns. Unfortunately, Paul lacks diplomacy and management support. Paul also suffers from the anti-sales attitude embedded into producers’ minds for generations.
Now that we have analyzed and acknowledged an old reality, here is a new reality: if this marriage does not work, as a producer, it will be your fault. Why? Because no matter what you do, say or perform, you will never change a salesperson’s mentality. In fact, the more you push your creative agenda, the more of an obstacle you will become in that ideal short route to an order which the sales rep strives for every day. So what do you do? How do you win them over? How do you eliminate the “Bob’s Used Cars” commercials of the world while protecting the revenue? How do you change an unchangeable mentality?
Here are five suggestions to save your marriage:
1) Stop referring to sales as “them” and start using the word “us!” They must know you are on the same team. They must know you are just as revenue-conscious as they are. They must feel comfortable enough to bring you in the loop right from the beginning in the design of client’s message. If they know you are there to make them look like a hero in the eyes of the client, you will then become their competitive advantage. They will want to show you off knowing you not only make them look good but you make them money!
2) Find engaging, entertaining and A.D.D.-friendly ways to hold weekly or monthly workshops to demonstrate the power of effective creative. You must prove to them that if they utilize your creative talent they will make more money. That is the key. Show them how great creative equals great revenue. Use your own (or others’) success stories.
3) Understand that sales is under pressure to perform on a daily basis. It is not an easy gig. They get it from all directions — competition, client, manager, programming, promotions and production. Be understanding. Accept the fact no matter how noble and sophisticated it sounds to refer to them as marketing partners, account executives, solution specialists, etc., they are at the end of the day salespeople moving an inventory of goods. Glorifying their title does not change their purpose. You can not expect them to fight for creative integrity. That’s your challenge. Their challenge is to get on the buy. Yours is to make the message work. Think about it! In essence, Paul and Sally make a fantastic team if they let the synergy flow!
4) Target management as if you are applying for a new job. You must have management support to win creative battles. Lobby for your cause exactly the same way Washington D.C. lobbyers do — persistently, professionally and with bribes. Be persistent in your availability to help. Be professional when you are given the opportunity by meeting deadlines, under-promising and over-delivering and working with the client harmoniously. Bribe the sales manager by offering creative-driven revenue opportunities. Submit unsolicited regular tracking reports showing which rep you are working with, which client, what project and how much revenue is attached to it. Create spec campaigns ready to sell in key categories. Advertise your success stories loudly whenever your creative closes a deal. Especially, when it is new business won by good creative. Turn yourself into a self-centered P.R. machine. It may sound conceited, but it is the best way to excite the sales staff about your services.
5) Implement a protocol for all new sales hires where they must go through a vigorous creative brain washing process to “get it!” Embed this philosophy into their brains: As a radio sales rep, if you control the creative you control the buy. Show them how strategic creative that evolves exponentially generates more revenue for the station and keeps the money “in the house.”
The ongoing conflict between sales and production will never end. There will always be a bar napkin with copy points stapled to a production order. Bob Junior will continue to sell his daddy’s used cars. Sally will split early for happy hour, while Paul is working on revision number 13. Yet, ultimately, life between sales and production is destined to work well because of the conflict. Commercials are destined to sound more creative because of the battles getting there. Clients are destined to appreciate the true power of radio because of those who do not. That is when this good old conflict becomes a cause for celebration as it gives birth to better radio. After all, it is not that unrealistic to watch Paul and Sally walk into the sunset with their perfect children. Trust me! Nobody wants a wonderfully harmonious, drama-free relationship. It’s unproductive, anti-climactic and uncreative! So, enjoy the battle! It fertilizes the passion!
May you and your sales rep grow strategic, effective, ground-breaking, heart grabbing, client pleasing, consumer respecting radio commercials together until the HR Director do you part.