Production 212: A Mass Communications Refresher

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I recently had the chance to travel to Morgantown, West “by gawd” Virginia to speak to the West Virginia Broadcasters Association. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a warmer reception from any group of people in my life. I want to thank every one of them personally for what turned out to be a terrific learning experience for me. For the next few issues of RAP, I’ll be going over some of the material I presented there in this column. Some of you might find it rather basic, but it might help you understand better where my head is as I pass out my own brand of imaging advice on these pages. So sharpen your pencils, sit up straight and get ready for an Imaging 101 refresher course.

Let’s begin with some real basics. We are in the Communications Business. Before we can even think about the word communications, let’s spend a minute talking about the word business. We’re all here to make money folks. The bottom line is the bottom line, and if we don’t pay attention to the bottom line, we’ll all find ourselves at the bottom of the unemployment line. While most of you aren’t as consumed by the profit margin as your General Manager might be, you need to make sure that you are contributing to that end by making sure that the work you do helps the business office. If we’re doing our job well, the business side of the station or agency can do their job well. If we’re not, everybody goes hungry.

So what is our job? What is communication? At the core of everything, communication is the process of transferring ideas from one brain to another. Whether we are engaging in political discourse or selling cars, we are transplanting ideas.

The communication model we all spent the first several years of our lives learning is personal. We learned to speak with our parents and siblings about what we wanted. At first it was a grunt or cry. Mom asked a thousand questions every time we made a noise, trying to figure out if we wanted to eat, sleep or get some clean diapers. Later, in grade school, we learned to communicate more complex ideas like, “I’ll trade you a peanut butter sandwich for your Twinkie.” We developed a “give and take” form of personal communication. While one person is talking, the other might say, “Uh-huh,” or “I see,” and vice versa once the original idea was transferred. This “feedback” is the hallmark of Personal Communications. If you and I are talking and you notice that I’m looking over your shoulder or constantly checking my watch, you’ll know the idea is not getting through and you’ll change your method. You might reach out and touch my arm to draw me back into the conversation, or you become more forceful in your speech.

As I was standing there in Morgantown, talking to all those people, I was engaging in Group Communications. I got feedback from them by watching their reactions to what I said. If they were dozing or doodling, perhaps talking to their neighbor, I knew my idea was not getting through, so I would change my methods a little. I might clear my throat, step out from behind the podium or crack a joke to draw them back in.

The third kind of communications – the kind we’re engaged in as a business – seems to lose all feedback, because the audience grows beyond a crowded hallway or a big room. Mass Communications is somewhat like writing your message on a piece of paper, sticking it in a bottle and throwing it out to sea. We don’t get any reaction to our idea until much, much later. So, when we write down our message, we have to make certain that we write clearly, with no ambiguity so that we absolutely know that whoever gets that message in a bottle will understand what we were trying to say and we’ll get the kind of feedback we really wanted.

In radio, we do get feedback. It’s just delayed until it’s too late to change our methods. If the client calls to say the sale went exceedingly well, we know their spot worked. If the client swears he’ll never advertise on our station again because they only had one customer show up for the sale…well, we missed the mark. When we get Arbitron results, we know if our imaging worked. I know…I know, ratings is about a lot more than imaging, but let me tell you this: The right imaging, or in more basic terms, communicating the right ideas about our radio station, can result in a 25% increase in Average Quarter Hours. Communicating the wrong ideas or, more likely, badly communicating the right ideas can depress your ratings by a like amount. I have seen this proven time and again.

As commercial producers, our job is to communicate on behalf of the client. ONE idea, clearly and succinctly stated is what we strive for every time. There have been several studies done over the years that try to figure out exactly what the listener takes away from any one commercial. The one thing all of these studies agree on is this: The average listener will remember three to four words after the commercial is over. So when the client walks in with a long price/item list, they’re wasting their money and your time. When a client hands you copy that has their phone number repeated 6 or 7 times, they’re wasting their money and your time. More importantly, they’re wasting the listener’s time. That is the eighth deadly sin. It’s our job to make sure that the listener remembers the right three to four words and associates a specific emotion with them.

If you don’t get anything else from this column, please get this. A lot of programmers misread their research. It’s not commercials that the listeners object to hearing – it’s anything that doesn’t entertain or enlighten. If a spot has a dozen price/item listings in it, it all becomes a hash in the listener’s mind. Does that work? Hell no! A really well done commercial can be entertaining, enlightening and in some rare cases can even get requests from the listeners.

Most radio stations I know tend to treat commercials as an automatic tune-out. Why? Why should I cede my listeners to the competition because I have to play commercials? My philosophy is simple. My signal is beaming out there 24 hours every day. I simply refuse to give up 10 or so minutes every hour to the competition. I want my commercials to be compelling. I want my commercials to be entertaining and enlightening. I want my P1 listeners to be exclusive P1 listeners.

Next month, some simple things you can do to make it really hard for listeners to tune out during your commercial breaks.

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