R.A.P. Interview: Ric Gonzalez

Ric Gonzalez, Creative Services Director, Infinity Broadcasting, Austin, Texas

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By Jerry Vigil

They’re not commonplace… yet, but “Creative Services Directors” for the sales side of radio are popping up here and there. They’re not new, but they still seem rare. Ric Gonzalez is the Creative Services Director for Infinity’s 4-station cluster in Austin, Texas ( market rank #42). Unlike the CSD whose main responsibilities are usually the stations imaging, Ric takes that same focus on quality and creativity and applies it to the stations’ in-house produced commercials. The results are happy clients, happy salespeople, some awards to hang on the wall, and “radio” made a little better for everybody involved, including the listener. Be sure to check out a sampler of Ric’s work on this month’s RAP CD!

JV: How did you get into radio?
Ric: In ’82, just out of high school, I walked into a local radio station in my hometown of Victoria, Texas — the big sprawling metropolis of Victoria. It was 95 KBIC. During my high school years, that was the radio station for contemporary music. The way I saw it, I had nothing to lose, so I took a deep breath and walked in and asked the receptionist for an application. I filled it out and then handed it back and asked when I could get an interview. She smiled and said that the PD will look over all the applications and would select whom he would be interviewing. And I said something like, “Well, I just thought I could get a quick interview.” She tried to impress upon me that it just doesn’t work that way. I had nothing to lose, so I perused the matter a little further to her frustration and asked if she could just call the PD and see if he would have just a few minutes to meet with me. She pointed out again, it just doesn’t work that way. He was a busy man. And I asked her why she just couldn’t pick up the phone and see if he had a moment. It seemed that she got ticked off, and I guess she was going to pick up the phone to show me and get me off her back. So she told the guy on the other end that there’s an applicant here who wanted to know if you had time for an interview, and then there was a moment of silence. She said, “Oh,” then hung up and said, “He’ll be right out.” It was just luck. I guess the guy was in between things and thought what the hell.

The PD at that time was also the morning guy, Dave Jagger. He came out, shook my hand, and took my application. We talked and he explained how he was looking for people with experience and I of course had none. So he was ready to politely send me on my way. Then I asked if I could at least get a station tour. He smiled and took me around to the control rooms, the production rooms and the newsroom, and I asked him a lot of questions. The tour took a while and he was very accommodating. I guess he had a lot of extra time that day. Anyway, when it was all over with he said, “Do you have any more questions?” And I said, “Yeah, when do I start?” He laughed and thanked me for coming by and sent me on my way. Well, a few days later I got a phone call. He did let me go on the air, but it was on a Sunday overnight Monday morning shift, between two prerecorded programs somewhere around 3 o’clock in the morning. He was pretty sure there were going to be very few listeners. I got hired for weekends and then later for overnights and finally afternoon drive. I’m really grateful that I was given that break because that’s not an opportunity that people get too often, especially nowadays.

JV: Where did you go from there?
Ric: I moved on to the gulf coast of Corpus Christi. From there to Austin doing afternoon drive and APD/Production Director, and then from Austin to San Antonio where, after almost ten years on the air, I took my first off-air gig as a Production Director. I stayed there with Cox for about twelve years before moving back to Austin where I am now.

JV: How did you get into the production side of things?
Ric: That was in the ‘80s, and back then most jocks would do an air shift and then would also do production. A lot of the jocks hated production, but what fascinated me about production was that, unlike being on the air, it was an opportunity to play different roles. You would go from doing a funeral home to a car dealership to a concert spot to playing the goofy husband in a commercial. It was just a lot more fun. To me, it was never a chore. I actually put in more time doing commercials than I probably needed too, experimenting with different effects and stuff. I was just the typical geeky guy who loved playing around in the production room. So when you do a lot of that, you find that wherever you go, you start attracting a larger production load. Other jocks may start shoveling stuff off or purposely not doing things well, and I’ve seen that happen. I remember I got slammed one night with a lot of production, and at that time I was griping about it. I’ll never forget, the night guy looked at me and said, “You know what your problem is don’t you? You’re good.” He said, “That’s why I don’t do good production, and I do it on purpose. Now they don’t give me that shit.” I thought, whoa, what an attitude to have. But that’s basically how it just became part of my job. And once you start gravitating towards something, it gravitates towards you as well. I was the guy who would fill in when the Production Director would go on vacation. And when a Production Director leaves, you’re the one they’re looking at possibly moving into that position.

JV: So your whole twelve years in San Antonio were spent as Production Director and no air shift, right?
Ric: Yes, but I could go on the air. A lot of times I would fill in for somebody. But once we started clustering stations, it became where I could only do maybe a weekend shift every now and then. And at the time I think I’d done all the UT pep rallies, all the night club appearances, all the car dealership remotes, and I’d given up all the weekends that’d I cared to give up. I’d just gotten married and this job offered me a whole different life — weekends to enjoy with my beautiful wife, no club appearances, no more late nights doing my production after the afternoon show. So it was a good gig.

JV: How did you end up leaving San Antonio and moving back to Austin?
Ric: I left in the fall of 2002 to come to work for Infinity here in Austin. When I left to go to San Antonio, I thought I would be there for maybe a year or two, getting some off-air management experience and then return back to Austin, because my wife and I loved Austin. Here it was, twelve years later. It’s a funny thing… you get into a city, you make some roots, you make friends, you get involved in the community and the church, you have a kid, and suddenly moving is a chore. But Austin is a great market to live in and work in. You don’t get very many opportunities to get into this market. When people get in they entrench themselves and try not to leave. I learned that the hard way. Once you’re out of this market, it’s very hard to get back in because nobody leaves unless something rare happens.

Well the summer before we came down my mother-in-law had moved to Austin, and I have a brother-in-law and a niece and nephew that live here. More family were moving to Austin, and then an opportunity opened up with Infinity. I came in, checked it out, and moved back. It was more of a family move than a career move, more of a lifestyle move.

JV: What are your responsibilities as Creative Services Director and who else is on the production staff?
Ric: My focus here is on the creative for the clients for all four stations. Dennis Coleman, our Production Director, produces or engineers most of the agencies that come into our facilities, and then he and Angel Sonnier, our Production Assistant, handle the mountain of dubs that comes in. Then we have Patrick Stanger who handles all of the imaging. All four of us are voice talents and producers. The great thing about Angel is that she not only is a great producer and knows her way around the studio, but she’s a very good female voice talent, and that’s nothing you come across often in radio. There are more of us male producers and voice talents out there than female.

JV: So you’re handling most of the direct accounts?
Ric: Right. I’ll go meet the clients with the reps, or sometimes I’ll talk to the clients directly.

JV: When did you find yourself in this niche? Was it in San Antonio that you realized that you had a knack for working with clients?
Ric: Actually, it was when I was a Production Director here in Austin the first time. Like I said, I was doing afternoon drive and did a lot of production. Eventually it got to the point where if I were producing club spots, the clients would just ask me to write them as well. Things just kind of gravitate your way. Field reps would come up and say, “Hey, can you write a spot for me?” There are some people who might look at that and go, “Hey, I’m the afternoon guy, I don’t have time to write commercials for you.” And some of us might look at it and go, “Well, that’ll be kind of cool. Let me try that!” So you slowly start to discover that you have a knack for it and enjoy it.

JV: I take it most of your time in San Antonio was spent working with clients and salespeople and writing copy?
Ric: Right. I always try to set the Production Department up as an internal advertising agency for the station, and I did this even back when it was only one radio station, before the days of consolidation. I think it’s a great resource for the sales staff because you have the ability to write for your client, to voice for your client, to produce for your client and do it all in-house. You have one department and people that are focused just on that one aspect. It’s a valuable resource to the sales staff because this gives them the opportunity to pursue other leads and other potential advertisers rather than sitting around trying to write an ad. And not all salespeople are good creative writers.

JV: How often would you go out on client calls?
Ric: It varied; anywhere from two to five times a week I’d go with a rep to meet with a client. Other times they bring the clients in.

It got to the point where some of the reps had gotten comfortable with just telling the clients that their Creative Director would be calling them to discuss the creative for their ad. And this would leave the rep free to move on to other potential advertisers. And if it is done correctly, it lets the client know that somebody whose sole focus is writing and producing ads will be working for them. I’ve only been here for a little over a year, but in San Antonio, where I spent twelve years, after a certain point some clients who had been running for a long time would just call me directly. They would call me and say, “Listen, I want to change my ad for next week; here’s what I want to do.” Or they pop into the radio station or call up and say, “Can I come in and meet with you?” And all I would do was see the rep and say, “Hey, client whatever is coming in to meet with me to discuss the creative for next weeks campaign.” They’re like, “Great; keep me in the know.”

So I meet with the client. We would discuss the creative, then I would write a script for them and cc the rep when I emailed it back to the client. So the rep was always involved along the way. They always knew I was meeting with them. When a client replied and said they wanted to change this or that, the sales reps were in the know then too because they were usually included in the cc. Then we would go into production on it, email it back to the client, let them hear it, and then he would email us back with a thumbs up. At that point the rep would know they could turn in their order.

JV: There are some people out there, including some salespeople, who would say you’re doing the salesperson’s job.
Ric: Oh, I’m not a salesperson. And is what I’m doing their job? Well it is to a certain point, if you have a client who may be particularly difficult and hard to get a hold of. I can’t chase one client 24/7. If I’ve tried to get a hold of a client and we play phone tag, at that point they’re not helping me help them, so I just turn it back to the rep and say, “I tried to get a hold of them and haven’t been lucky. The ad starts in a few days, so please impress upon them that we need to get together soon.” But when it comes to selling, no, I’m not doing their job. I think it’s a great setup because the salesperson gets to go out and do what they love to do. Some of these people love the sale – they love the hunt. And that’s a great thing. I do not get off looking up prospects to get on the air. I don’t have the time for it. I don’t know that I’d be good at that.

And salespeople are less likely to tell a client something to the effect of, “Well you’re not the best voice talent for your ad.” Put yourself in their position. They’re the ones trying to get the check. My job is to focus on the creative, so it’s almost a good-cop/bad-cop thing. I might diplomatically say, “You know, we have a wealth of voice talent on hand. They can put such sincerity and feeling into doing your commercial. Why would you not avail yourself of that resource?” Of course, you will have some clients that will say, “Well, because I’ve always done my own spots.” Okay, fine. At least you put it out there, and it’s easier for me to put it out there sometimes than for a salesperson. And I certainly try not to tick off a client. If they want to voice their own ad, they’re going to voice their own ad. But it’s negligent, I think, on my part, to not offer up another viable option, and I’m more likely to do that than a salesperson is.

And a lot of times I’ll get more useful information from a client when I talk to them directly. I’ll dig deeper than for the usual “What’s your unique selling point? How long have you been in business? What’s the address you want in the ad…” and blah, blah, blah. A lot of times I will have a nice conversation with a client. I have more time. It’s easier for them to get hold of me too. I’m here all day long. The sales reps are out making calls. The clients can just pick up the phone and call me directly at their convenience. I’ll spend a little more time with a client and ask different kinds of questions like, “Why did you open a bike shop? Just out of a curiosity? You could have opened a pizzeria. Why a bike shop?” And you’d be surprised when you ask clients those types of questions. The stories you get from them are great. It takes you in a whole different direction sometimes. You find things that you just didn’t expect, and sometimes that’s what you build the entire ad over. You get the story of, “Oh, my dad never bought me a new bike, so when I grew up I was so obsessed with them, I made my own bike….” You see what I’m saying? You get a story that a listener can emotionally relate to, and you’re not going to get that if you just go in with a list of blank questions that you ask every client. You’ve got to have a little bit of time to try to get to know them, get to understand them, get a feel for why it is that they do what they do.

JV: From my perspective, it seems most “Creative Services Directors” in radio are on the programming side rather than on the commercial side. And I’d venture to say most stations don’t have a CSD working for sales as you do. Have you noticed this one way or the other?
Ric: I didn’t go out and really notice it that much, but it has been pointed out to me. I was told that when I was at Cox. They have their own training that they do, and the salespeople would come back and say, “You know, the other clusters don’t have a you.” And they think that’s really cool. So I think I was very fortunate for the time that I was there with Cox. The General Manager there, Caroline Devine, allowed me to set up a production department that literally and truly was, in all respects, an in-house advertising agency for all four stations; and the salespeople got accustomed to that and realized it was a good resource for them. And that’s essentially what I’m doing here with Infinity. And again, I’m fortunate that John Hiatt, our Senior Vice President/Marketing Manager, will allow that kind of a set up.

JV: Smart managers. It’s amazing that most stations don’t have a “you,” particularly those with a large percentage of direct business. I mean, what you do isn’t intangible; you have a direct affect on the success of a client’s campaign, which directly affects the station’s gross revenues. Not to mention how you must undoubtedly make a client feel like they’re more than prey.
Ric: I think it’s interesting that you take your Program Directors and your on-air staff, and they’re all working on creating a product that will attract listeners. And then you’ve got your sales staff out there trying to attract advertisers. You’ll find that they’ll invest all this money in consultants for programming and sending the morning shows to seminars and sending the PDs to boot camps and all kinds of conventions. And you’ve got your salespeople; you’re sending them out for training and seminars. And then you turn around and not invest in the final absolute last step that can insure the success or failure of your direct client. It just doesn’t make any sense that you would say, “Okay, we’ve gone through all this trouble and all this work, and we’ve got the gold and here it is….” This is the analogy that the Operations Manager in San Antonio used to give me; he would say, “You guys get the gold and make sure we don’t drop any of it.”  So you have to invest in your creative and your production department because you can’t go through all that trouble and all that work and effort and all those people involved and then not deliver for your client. And how can you deliver for your client if you’re not investing in that department and the people in that department?

JV: So once you get the gold and it is time for you to go out and create a commercial, what is your general approach? What’s your formula for a great commercial?
Ric: You know, I don’t know that I have any particular formula, and there are so many different consultants out there and people that can talk to you about how to write a great radio ad. My stuff comes from meeting with the client and talking with them. I really don’t have a list of questions that I take with me when I meet with a client because every client is different. I’ve met with some clients where we just went off on a tangent for a half hour and talked about mountain biking. And of course you know you’ve got the rep sitting there going, “I’ve got another appointment.” But at that point you hit it off with the client. You get to know a little more about them, and sometimes that can let you know a little bit about what they do and why they do it, what motivates them.

Like I said, I always try to find a good story. Of course, you can get the exact opposite of that, too. I went to this one huge bike shop and thought, “Wow, this is so cool and this is such a neat place. If I owned this store, I could ride any bike I wanted too. That must be really neat.” I looked at the owner and asked, “What got you into this?” And he gave me the very logical answer: “Well we were looking for a good business in this market and bicycling is one, and so it was a very good business move.” Well that wasn’t the story I was looking for, but that’s what I try to look for.

I get my inspiration from the client, their stories, from life, from personal experience, from the two people talking at the Starbucks near my house, from the lady trying to calm her six year old at the airport, from a poem I read or something my son asked me in the backyard while watching fireflies. At one Dan O’Day seminar I said to Dick Orkin and Christine Coil, “I worry one day I’ll wake up and the well will be dry.” I was curious to know what they did to keep their well from running dry, and Dick Orkin told me, “Listen, listen, listen. Listen to everybody and everything around you.” And Christine said, “When you go to the airport, don’t bury your head in a book or put your headphones on; look and listen to all that is happening around you.” It’s good advice and I recommend it.

Roy Williams recommends reading literature. Read it to take notice how great writers use powerful words with great economy. And I add to that. If you’re not a fashionista, then read a lady’s magazine. Get a feel for fashion. If you’re not a sports enthusiast, read a sports magazine. Get a feel for the terminology and the attitude. Next time you’re sitting at your doctor’s or dentist’s office, pick up the magazine you normally wouldn’t read, whether it’s Parenting and you have no children or Golf Magazine and you hate golfing or a hotrod mag or whatever. Read up on trends. Subscribe to e-mags and e-letters. I get more than I can possibly read. Some don’t get read, but many do. I get Dan O’Day’s advertising letter. I get Roy Williams’ Monday Morning Memo. I get Adcritic.com. I get newsletters dealing with writing for websites, and you know a lot of that applies to radio. I get RAB, Inside Radio and a whole lot more. But, you know, all of them have their own style or technique or template approach to writing a good ad. And some of that is fine if you’re a big advertising agency and you can pick and choose your clients or only attract certain types of clients. But I think in the radio environment you can’t really subscribe to any one style or technique because no one style or technique will work for all clients. So you need to learn as many techniques and styles and approaches as you can, and then sharpen your own, and then subscribe to none. Bruce Lee, everyone knows him for his movies, but he had a book called The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and in it he said, “Use always and be bound by none, and likewise use any technique or means which serves its end. In this art, efficiency is anything that scores.” And I always held onto that because when I read that I thought, “That applies to radio advertising!”

JV: Do you attend sales meetings?
Ric: Not as much anymore. I don’t really attend any sales meetings here. I work more one on one with the sales staff. It’s easier as you get new people in, to just sit down and chat with them and get to know them — where they came from, have they a TV background, is this their first radio job, and then say, “Well here’s what I look for and here’s how I like to work with a client and here’s what I need from you – as much information as possible. Or you can give me their name and number and I’ll call them. Whatever works best for you.”

JV: What are some things you do to keep at the top of your game, things you’d suggest to others?
Ric: This is your trade. This is your craft. I think you need to learn as much about it as you can and that means reading, attending seminars, and hearing your colleagues and their opinions; but keep in mind that’s all they are, opinions. I don’t say they’re all correct or that anyone is wrong or right. Many of them can offer you valuable insight to something which you may have already been doing intuitively. Sometimes you can be sitting in a seminar and thinking, “Yeah, I do that sometimes. I never learned it. I’ve just been doing it.” And here’s this big time consultant just confirming what you’ve been doing all along. But you have to attend the seminars. You have to pursue it. It’s an on-going process. You can’t just say, “I’ve got my style and my technique” and that’s it.

It goes back to what I was saying in Bruce Lee’s The Tao of Jeet Kune Do; you have to be formless. It’s an on-going pursuit. It’s never a solid, crystallization. It’s always growing and changing. In radio, ironically enough, if you think about it, we live in a box. Call it a boom box if you want, but we end up sometimes living in this little box surrounded and isolated by our little formatics and our own little world, and you can’t think outside the box if you’re living in a box. You have to step out and see what other people are doing. That doesn’t mean you have to go out and imitate them or copy them, but you have to pursue it. You have to step out of that box.

JV: Give us a quick rundown of the studios.
Ric: One of the things that attracted me to Infinity here in Austin was that they have a similar setup to what I had in San Antonio. They have Audicys. They have three Audicys in three different studios, but they also have Cool Edit. We have a total of five studios. So you have Cool Edit in all five and Audicys in three.

JV: Where do you think your greatest talents lie? Is it working with the client and the script, or is it working in that studio?
Ric: Somebody asked me one time, “If you had to choose between producing and writing, which one would you settle for? I’ve never been able to make that choice. Even now I’ll write script for a client, the client will approve it, and sometimes I will send it back to production and they’ll produce it. Other times I may be one of the voices in the ad, Dennis will be another voice on the ad, and Angel may be another voice on the ad. And I may produce it myself just because I already heard it in my head, I already know the music, I already have it picked out — and Dennis is fine with that. He may have other clients that he is producing that day. So whenever a room opens up I’ll go back there. Angel may voice her parts in a separate room. Dennis may voice his parts and put them all up on the network, and then I’ll go in one studio, do my part, and bring all the pieces together. So it’s really difficult to say which I think is my greatest strength, writing or producing. But clearly, my focus here has shifted to the creative. Dennis spends most of his time in the studio, and I spend most of my time with clients and writing.

JV: How many scripts do you think you are writing a week?
Ric: Ouch! We try not to stop and think about that. I would say 15 to 30 a week. And as you get into the fourth quarter, of course, things get crazy; and some of those are spec. And I wouldn’t include re-writes on that.

JV: Wow! And you’ve been able to turn out a few RAP Award winners under that pressure. That’s pretty good!
Ric: In 2001 I was a RAP Awards finalist with an ad I’d done for Magic Moon Walks, and the great thing about that was it was my son who was a voice talent on that ad. And then I got a RAP Award in 2002 for Smith Chevrolet, right when I left San Antonio. So I left them with the knowledge that a 1st place RAP trophy was coming their way. Then my first year here at Infinity Austin, I got them an Addy, which we were all excited about. And shortly thereafter we won the 1st Runner-Up RAP Award for Maynard’s Deli. I also have a certificate for finalist as a VO in an ad I had done for some friends of mine at Hardy Audio Casting in Australia. That always turns some heads.

JV: Any parting advice for our readers?
Ric: I’ll share some advice that I received that I thought was helpful to me. In his book My American Journey, which I actually have in my office, Colin Powell gave some great advice. Two of them are my favorite. “It ain’t as bad as you think; it’ll look better in the morning.” And the other one is — and this is an important one for us in radio, I think – “Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position fails, you’re ego goes with it.” And then I got this bit of advice from a friend of mine, Peter Maus, and it kind of goes back to something I had said earlier: “If you’re not getting out of the studio, you can’t possibly relate to an audience, you can’t possibly relate to your advertiser’s customers, and you can’t possibly keep a life together.” I’ll never forget it. I got that in an email and I said, “My God, that’s right!” It goes right back to that living in a box. You’ve got to get out of the studio. You’ve got to get out of the radio station because what you write about happens out there. It doesn’t happen in here. It’s your kids, your family, your neighbors. It’s the conversation you hear at the coffee shop that you eavesdrop on. All that stuff is what you bring in here. And if you don’t ever go out there and get it, you’re not going to have anything to put in your ads that people can relate to.

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