R.A.P. Interview: Doug Harris

JV: What are some brainstorming methods you recommend? You get a group of people in the room, then what?
Doug: I use a four-step process: Find the place, find the team, state your case, and start to dream. The basic elements are: you’ve got to have a comfortable place where people can stretch out. Hopefully something with some lights, some sunlight, and some exposure to the outside world, so a conference room works well. But if you don’t have a conference room, go outside. If the weather’s good, go out and sit in the park or on a park bench, or an area close to the building, and get some place where you’ve got some room to move around.

The second step is putting the right team together and making sure that you don’t use the same creative people over and over and over again. A lot of people think, ‘Well, every time we have a creative meeting, we have to have these same six people.’ Bring in the receptionist every once in a while. She talks to more listeners and advertisers everyday than anybody else. When was the last time you asked the receptionist what she thought of a promotion? I guarantee you she’ll know if one’s not working; people have been calling to say it’s too complicated or they don’t understand, or if they’re excited they’ll be calling. That’s who takes the calls. So, make sure you have a lot of different people on your team. Rotate. Get different people each time.

Next is “state your case.” Make sure that you’ve got a creative challenge that is manageable and that people understand. You can’t say, for example, “We need to sell more cars for this car dealer.” It needs to be something like, “We need to get more credit-challenged people to come in and buy used cars over this 30-day period.” That’s more of a creative challenge that people can get their hands on.

And then in the “start to dream” phase, which is the last one and my most favorite of course, is where you get to send a message to your body that it’s time to be creative, and that means playing some music, or putting on a funny hat, or playing with some crayons or something like that — doing something to let the brain wander so that an idea has time to come and visit.

JV: What about solo brainstorming?
Doug: That’s the way most people have to do it. The secret to personal creativity is release and inspiration. The first thing you’ve got to do is find a way, a socially acceptable way, of release at work. Maybe it’s taking a walk outside the radio station, or walking down the hall to the break room or something like that, but find a form of release. Go have a cappuccino or a double decaf, something or the other from Starbucks. Treat yourself to a Krispy Kreme donut. Get out and find some form of release.

For a lot of people, it’s blowing bubbles. A lot of the people I train, I give them bubbles to blow because it’s a very relaxing exercise that you have to focus on. You can’t be talking about other things and blowing bubbles at the same time. It requires you to focus. And then you seek inspiration. Those websites that I talked about are places to go for that. I’m also a big believer in periodicals. I think we have a lot of men who’ve never read Cosmopolitan or Jane or Mirabella, making decisions about a radio station’s programming and promotions for women 25-54. We need to get out and find out what’s going on in their lives, and one of the best ways to do it is to read the magazines that they read. Stop by a Barnes & Noble or Border’s book store and visit the magazine rack and pick up two or three magazines that might be of interest to the people you’re trying to target. That’s a great place to get inspiration.

JV: I believe you mentioned that most of your work at radio stations is with the programmers, promotions and salespeople.
Doug: Yes. I don’t get to interact with the Production Director as much when I’m working with my radio clients, but what I try to do with every idea is try to create a vision for the promotion, or a vision for the contest or sweepstakes, and I insist that it get written down because no idea will ever come to life until it’s written down. And when you force someone to write it down, a little bit of the vision for the idea usually comes out, and that’s what could be very helpful to a Production Director. If the salesperson walks down the hall and says, “I need a car dealer spot to build traffic on Saturdays,” and the Production Director accepts that, then perhaps he or she deserves that kind of abuse.

I have seen some of my more successful colleagues come up with a simple questionnaire. I use four questions. I ask the AEs to tell me what is the purpose, theme or objective of the promotion. Specifically, is there a tagline, that sort of stuff. I ask who the listener is or who is the target, and 25 to 54 adults is not acceptable. That’s ridiculous. You can’t program or promote to a 25-year-old female the same way you do to a 54-year-old male. I call that the “Jack Nicholson Marketing Attack.” Tell me specifically, are we talking about homeowners or apartment dwellers? Are we talking about new car buyers or used car buyers? Are we talking about more men or more women?

The third is what is the desired consumer reaction? What specifically do we want the consumer to do? And finally, how will we measure the success of the campaign? And then, if you want to, ask some questions about what is the tone and manner of the spot. AEs can follow the rules if a person in authority tells them, so you have to get the GM or the sales manager on your side when you’re dealing with them in situations like this. I think Production Directors can ask people more than “What’s the length of the spot?” and “What’s the music bed?” or “Is there a jingle?” I think they can say, “Tell me what you’re trying to communicate here,” and take it from there. I think the more successful Production Directors I encounter are those who’ve incorporated some sort of a client needs analysis that the salespeople do anyway, and ask the salespeople to communicate that to them before a production order goes in.

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