by Deborah Hopkins
Let’s talk about the “R” word.
If you’re a radio writer or producer, you know what I mean; the dreaded “R” word is - REVISION.
Revisions can make perfectly sane writers bang their heads on their desks inconsolably, and transform an otherwise reasonable producer into a grizzly bear.
Now, we’re not talking about tweaking a commercial to make it better. Sure, we writers and producers might grumble a bit about that, but if it actually makes the spot better, a real radio pro is all for that. And contrary to popular belief, writers are not so attached to their creation that we can’t embrace a positive suggestion. Neither are we talking about an honest-to-goodness error that needs correcting. Everybody makes mistakes and we can live with that kind of a revision.
No, the revisions that drive us wild are changes that, contrary to making the commercial better, at best make the creative slightly less effective or at worst, make it downright horrid. These kinds of revisions usually happen because the decision maker doesn’t understand the tactic or strategy you were taking when you wrote the script, and often, if you get the chance to explain why you approached the script the way you did, light bulbs will go off, and the party in question will take your advice and reconsider the change.
The easiest way to avoid unwarranted revisions is to fine tune your ability to Sell the Creative. If you’re a writer, that may mean being proactive, taking a little extra time to create a rationale to showcase your work in its best light. If you’re a sales rep, Selling the Creative means Believing in the Creative, and if you’re not sure what the best response is to a request for a change, then by all means ask the writer for an explanation of the strategy.
After a few years in the business, you may recognize some common themes in terms of Revisions. Here are five easy-to-make mistakes that can almost guarantee you’ll end up with a Revision.
Mistake #1 – The Order Taker
This one usually happens in an email, but it can also occur on the phone, and it’s a classic faux pas. “Hello Mr. Advertiser, here is your script for approval. Let me know what changes you would like to make so we can get it produced to start tomorrow.” This may well be an innocent attempt to be accommodating and service oriented. However the statement implies that the radio professional really doesn’t have a lot of faith in the script that has been created, and it is basically up to the advertiser to fix it. A more positive approach might be: “Hello Ms. Advertiser, here is the script that we have created for you. Once we have your approval, we’ll send it off to production and get it on the air to start tomorrow.” It’s a subtle difference, but it can get an entirely different result because it suggests confidence in the product, while still achieving the needed approval in a timely fashion.
Mistake #2 – The Gusher
This is the one that makes any mild mannered writer cringe. An overly enthusiastic team member, usually at the audio approval stage, gushes to the advertiser, “You’re gonna LOVE the creative!” Maybe you’re wondering, what’s wrong with that? Didn’t you just say Believe in the Creative? Well, yes I did, but taking this position before the advertiser actually hears the creative can really backfire. Maybe the creative doesn’t sound like anything they expected to hear, but you’ve already told them they’re going to love it, so now they’re disappointed. If you really believe in the creative, have the quiet confidence to let the creative speak for itself. Let the advertiser warm up to its brilliance on their own terms. And if they don’t happen to “love” it, then it will be a lot less uncomfortable for them to say so.
Mistake #3 – The Back Stabber
Sometimes before creative is presented to an advertiser, there is some internal debate on some element of the script or production. It can be argued quite passionately, but in the end, the group must come to a consensus and take a direction. Then, as Murphy’s Law dictates, when the advertiser hears the creative, they proceed to comment on the very same issue. That’s when the Back Stabber draws attention to this internal debate and triumphantly takes credit for choosing the position that the advertiser has now taken. Nothing kills collaboration and team work faster than the Back Stabber. Don’t do this; it’s not okay.
Mistake #4 – The Preamble
This mistake can happen at the audio presentation stage, and is often committed by a writer in nervous anticipation of the big “ta dah” moment, when the commercial is played for the advertiser for the very first time. Instead of simply clicking on “play”, the guilty party starts blathering on about the commercials. Again, let the creative speak for itself. Don’t explain why you did something a certain way; that’s the purpose of the Creative Rationale. And don’t give anecdotes or background information; save that for the accolades stage, when the client is raving about how much they like the creative.
Mistake #5 – The Quick Change Artist
This is by far the most serious mistake of all, because it hurts the advertiser the most. It’s a knee jerk reaction that can occur when the advertiser complains that the creative isn’t working. If this is indeed the case, then by all means change the copy. But if the creative has only been airing three or four weeks, then it’s more appropriate to change the expectation. It takes three or four months, not weeks before a commercial even begins to register with the listener, let alone motivate them to act. And if the product cycle is particularly long, it may even take longer. If we revamp the copy too soon, the concern that the creative didn’t work becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the listener never heard it in the first place.
Deborah Hopkins is an Advertising Consultant and Copywriter in Waterloo, Ontario. She can be contacted at