By Rod Schwartz
I create radio advertising campaigns for a living. Words are the tools of my trade.
Words give wings to ideas and make them soar.
Words move people, products, and services.
Words turn strangers into customers, and customers into evangelists.
But the words we speak convey only part of what we mean; how we speak them conveys a great deal more.
For instance, take this short piece of advertising copy from a previous post:
“You can afford to have your wedding at the Davenport. TheDavenportHotel.com/weddings.”
How would you read that spot? (Just for fun, take a moment to read it aloud, just as though you were recording it as a radio spot. You’ll understand why momentarily.)
At first glance, my tendency would be to emphasize the word “can.” Everyone knows that The Davenport Hotel is a posh place, elegant and expensive. A bride on a budget might be inclined to dismiss it as a venue choice, assuming it to be financially out of reach. That’s the stereotype the Davenport hopes to overcome. Miss-Bride-to-Be, you CAN afford to have your wedding at the Davenport!
But wait. Another voice talent looking at the same script might focus on the word “your”: (“Yes, it’s true that some people aren’t able to afford the Davenport, but YOU can. And it’s YOUR wedding. So, why not choose the best?”) You can afford to have YOUR wedding at the Davenport!
To illustrate the diversity of meaning that different voice talents might distill from the same words on paper, I enlisted the aid of eleven friends across the country, accomplished voice actors and talented radio producers, each reading the same short spot for the Davenport.
[Check out the audio at the following link, or hear it on this month’s RAP CD.]
Good radio advertising—which is to say, effective radio advertising—begins with a good script.
But it doesn’t end there.
Somebody has to snatch those words off the printed page and breathe life into them, infuse them with personality, with meaning that engages the listener and triggers the appropriate emotional response that will lead to the desired result. This is the job of the voice talent, and, as you’ve just heard, no two sound exactly alike.
By taking time to audition a number of voice talents on the same script, you have the opportunity to hear and compare their interpretations. You might discern different shades of meaning or nuances of emotional engagement that were not previously apparent.
In the higher echelons of advertising and entertainment, producers hire casting directors to help choose the best spokesman for the brand, the right actor for the role.
Much further down the food chain, at the level of local radio in small and medium markets—where budgets are smaller and everyone wears several hats—little thought and even less money are directed toward casting talent for radio commercials.
Whether you’re a radio advertising salesperson, station manager or owner, or a radio advertiser trying to grow your business, if you agree with my premise, that the choice of voice can have a significant impact on outcome of your commercial or campaign, and if (as a station rep) you understand that the best and probably the only sure way to keep your advertising clients committed to your station is to provide them with commercials that bring a return on their investment, then perhaps it’s time to reconsider your approach to choosing voice talent.
You DO have choices—affordable choices—beyond the overbooked and overexposed production staff at your radio station. Here are a few to consider, that are either free, relatively inexpensive, or that cost-a-little-more-but-your-client-is-worth-it:
1) Look for talent in unexpected places. You may be surprised at the quality of latent talent available right in your own little corner of the world. They may need a little coaching or cultivating, but they’re capable of quality work.
2) Consider talent exchanges with radio stations in other markets. Several members of RadioSalesCafé.com (a free networking site for radio advertising sales professionals) have been actively involved in facilitating such exchanges over the past 18 months, with participants working strictly on an informal barter basis.
3) Another good bet is Radio And Production magazine’s website, which offers producer forums and classifieds. I’ve seen more than one solicitation there to trade production work.
4) Seek out radio production companies that offer “bulk production” services on a subscription basis. One such company is Randy Lawson Productions, based in Indiana. Randy’s talent roster includes 17 voices, mainly from radio though some have backgrounds in theater. For a monthly retainer of $195, stations can have up to 20 spots produced by their choice of talent; $295, 30 spots; $395, 40 spots. À la carte production is $15 a spot.
5) You can set up free account at Voice123.com, Voices.com, and similar sites that provide matchmaking for voice talents and businesses needing their services. As a voice-seeker you post your project, specify the amount you’re willing to pay the talent, and how many auditions you’re looking for. Voice talents who meet your criteria receive information on your post, and those interested send their auditions directly to you. More than a few people I know have likened the process to a cattle call. With nearly 200,000 registered voice talents on the leading site alone, you can bet there are more voices available than there is work to keep them all busy.
6) If you have the time and inclination to delve deeper, you can do a Google search on “voice talent” and put on a large pot of coffee. Many voice artists, union and non-union alike, have hung their shingles on the World Wide Web, with distinctively branded websites, online demos, and accolades from satisfied clients.
Expect to pay more for the services of well-established voice actors, commensurate with their talent and the benefits that attach to it. That said, don’t automatically assume that high-profile talent is beyond your means. Negotiation comes with the territory. If you hear a voice you think would be perfect for a particular project, contact the talent. Be upfront about what you expect and what you’re prepared to pay. They may decline your offer or they may accept it. But you won’t know until you ask and most voiceover pros that I know would prefer to be asked than not.
“Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science but an art.” - Bill Bernbach, from a May 15, 1947 letter to the owners of Grey Advertising, his soon-to-be-ex-employer.
Words and voices. The art of persuasion. Radio advertising.
Now we’re talking.
My sincere thanks to the eleven gentle souls who graciously lent their considerable talents to this article; a Google search on their names will transport you into their magical kingdoms, where you may feast your ears upon more of their work: Tim Burt, Scott Chasty, Rowell Gormon, Bruce Martin, Scott Nilsen, Perry Anne Norton, Rich Owen, Blaine Parker, Bob Souer, Natalie Stanfield Thomas, and Brian Whitaker.