By Dave Foxx
You really take your time crafting a promo (or spot), sweating all the details, pouring every ounce of creativity you have into it, making it as perfect as you can make it. Once you’ve balanced it all out, finished the mix and are ready to bring your listeners to their knees, your Program Director (or Account Executive) tells you it’s all “wrong;” there’s a fundamental flaw in your design and he or she knows exactly how to fix it, and then sets about the absolute destruction of your creation. If you’re a good corporate soldier, you eat the pain and move on to the next project. But that pain you’ve dined on is real, and if it’s a meal you know all too well, you’re in danger of having your head simply explode.
If you tell me that this has never happened to you, you are either a really bad liar or the luckiest producer this business has ever seen.
Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger. This kind of artistic disagreement has been happening since artists began accepting payment for work by being commissioned or sponsored. It’s hard to imagine, but I would guess that at one point or another, some functionary of the Catholic Church even questioned the painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Carlo walks up to Michelangelo and says, “Uh Mike… I’m not so sure about the use of titanium white in the highlights on those eyes. Shouldn’t that be more muted and not so bright?” Can you imagine how Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart felt when the Crown Prince dropped by and said, “Wolfie… baby, I’m just not feeling The Magic Oboe. We need to change that to The Magic Flute!” OK… so I’m paraphrasing. You get the idea. Aside from the egoism of comparing what we do to the work of the masters, it likely happened just like that.
So, how do you cope? What do you do to keep your head from popping right on the spot? Sometimes it helps to think of the PD or AE as your very special customer. Very carefully, explain why your piece sounds the way it does; how perfect the balance and mix are and how deeply it will affect the listener. If you can’t successfully do that, one of two things is true. 1. They really ARE that dumb, or 2. YOU are wrong. I know, I’m supposed to be on your side. I am. Bear with me.
Usually, when there is an artistic difference of opinion, it’s about the underlying emotions. Remember, it’s the emotions that are the key to successful radio production. If the emotions are off, even by a hair – nothing else matters. The customer can immediately feel that it’s not right and will start looking for the reasons. The sad part is, they might not ever find the reason it’s off. They’ll just know it is. By the time they finish picking your work apart, it doesn’t even resemble what you created… and there is your head, pushing 60 pounds per square inch.
An even worse scenario involves a PD or AE who has no idea what the underlying emotions should be, but instead has a stock formula or idea. Some of you might recall a column in this space a couple of years ago about a PD who kept coming in with hilarious “jokes” that he wanted incorporated into the promos. They most often had something to do with a certain part of the male anatomy. The producer involved kept questioning the PD’s thinking, knowing full well that their target audience did not like jokes like that. The PD insisted that women that age loved jokes like that. After a few weeks of putting up with this, the producer brought in a young lady and asked the PD to tell his “joke.” When he finished, she called him a “perv,” and left the room with a disgusted look on her face. He wasn’t quite convinced, so he dragged the producer out and started telling the same joke to several of the young women who worked in their office that mostly fit the target demo. He got the idea pretty quickly when out of seven or eight, only one woman giggled, but also followed with the comment, “that’s gross!” THIS time, the customer was wrong. Happily, the PD learned from the experience.
A lot of the time though, at least in our situation, the customer is right. More experience, a big-picture view and often, knowing what follows are all advantages most Program Directors have, giving them the edge in overall “rightness.” Not so much with the AE, although they are usually closer to where the client’s head is. So, rather than getting into a clash of personalities or thinking one’s artistic view is always different from another’s, it is incumbent on you to know ahead-of-time what the promo or commercial needs are emotionally, according to the PD or AE. Then, it becomes a fundamental part of the structure and there is never any question about the direction you take things.
You really need to have a meeting with the PD or AE in question, before you start working. There needs to be that face-to-face intellectual contact to convey not just the facts, but the feelings and emotions. A simple memo with bullet points will NOT do the trick, but a quick and to-the-point, “stand up” meeting will add multiple dimensions to that original memo. Again, your customer might not even know what the emotion should be, but you can bet that once they start talking about the product or service, little emotional tells will show up and before even 30 seconds has gone by, you’ll know exactly what is needed. If you do a high volume of work, sometimes having one meeting that covers several projects will work even better.
Your bottom line is this; if the PD or AE can effectively communicate the right emotions to you, your creativity is set loose! As long as you can communicate the right emotions to the audience, as supplied by the PD or AE, you will never go through another conflict of artistic wills again. And you can keep your head at a more reasonable 12 pounds per square inch.
For my sound this month, a promo that really allows the music to speak for itself. Instead of doing a standard concert promo for Z100’s Jingle Ball 2011, the lineup is so big and the hits so numerous, I gave a little intro with sponsor, then let it roll. I hope you like it.