R.A.P. Interview: Doug Harris

JV: You spent a lot of time in radio, and you’ve been around the production environment in radio. You’re familiar with it even in today’s consolidated environment. What are some of the things that production people can do to improve the commercial creative in their stations?
Doug: I think the production people are among the most overworked and underpaid and under-appreciated professionals in the industry. They do have some pretty sexy new tools, though. This whole digital thing has made life incredible. It wasn’t that long ago we were using razor blades and tape, and now most people have consoles that can do amazing things. I think we have to acknowledge that most production people are under the gun to crank out an inordinate amount of work in a relatively small period of time, and my advice would be when you’ve got a client that comes to you and says, “Give me something special,” that you take an extra effort to do something remarkable on a regular basis. Realize that some of the stuff is going to come in, and it’s going to be fairly pedestrian; you’re just going to crank it out and voice it and do the best job you can. But try to do something exceptional a couple of times a week. Try to do stuff that you’re so proud of that you’d put it on your demo. If making spec spots is part of the work for production people, I’d knock one out of the park every week that you’d send to the salespeople and say, “This is what we’re capable of, if this will help you,” and hopefully, the Production Director is being rewarded when a spot sells.

I’m a big fan of audio success letters, and I think this is something that production people can do for the salespeople that will endear them to the sales department — and anybody that can associate themselves with the revenue side of things is going to keep their job. When a client has a successful promotion, a lot of times the sales department will ask for a success letter, which everybody knows the account executive writes and the dealer or the client puts on his letterhead and signs at the bottom. What you can do with a MiniDisc recorder is get the client talking about the promotion, maybe on the exact day that it happened, or the client talking about the radio station or the spot, or how the campaign worked. That’s something I think Production Directors could do, go to the account executive and say, “Here’s a MiniDisc player. Go out and record the client saying this, and I’ll build it into a little two-minute piece for you.” If you could do a couple of those a month and give them to the salespeople, I think that would be a great way to show the value and talent of the production department.

JV: Your website quotes you as saying, “We help our clients find a good parade and get in front of it.” What are a couple of examples of that? Are you talking charity events here?
Doug: I’m talking about anything that captures the interest or the imagination of the consumer for a period of time. For example, we’re in an Olympics period right now, and we represent the Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center. The Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center is a training area for one of the Olympic athletes, so the big parade here is the Olympics. We’re doing a publicity campaign that says, “An Olympic hopeful is training at the Sugar Land Ice and Sports Center. Why don’t you come out and do a piece out here?” We’re pitching the local media on this sort of thing. The rodeo will be hitting a number of Texas markets here in the next 30 or 45 days. We’re doing promotions with car dealers where, if you buy a new truck, you get a pair of western boots for free. The public’s thinking about rodeo and that’s a great time to buy a new truck, and when you’ve got a new truck, you want to look your best, so get yourself a new pair of boots at the same time. That’s finding a good parade. Certainly charity events are good parades, as is the Super Bowl this weekend. A lot of people are having the Super Bowl of Savings, and a lot of radio stations will be doing the Super Bowl of Rock n’ Roll.

Whenever you can tie into something that already has an emotional bridge with the consumer, and you can borrow the equity from that promotion, you’re tying your radio station or your morning show or your client into something they already feel warm and fuzzy about, or passionate about, and that can have a real impact for you.

JV: What’s one of the key things you would tell a group of local direct salespeople about how to make more money?
Doug: I would tell them that the old days of the client needs analysis of going down and sitting in front of a client and saying, “Tell me about your business,” those days are over. Right now, the client is more time-compressed than ever before and doesn’t have time to sit and educate you about his business. So the first thing I would tell an account executive is to go visit the client’s place of business, particularly with local direct. The next step would be to Google him or his industry, and chances are, if you’re talking about an entrepreneur in a medium or small market, there will be something that’s been written about him and you’ll have a reason to go and talk with him, or you’ll have something to talk about with him when you get in front of him. And when you get the appointment with the client, you say, “Well, who is the decision maker in the buying process for your product?” If he says, “I’m not sure,” then you could say, “Well, when I was on your sales floor last Thursday, I saw this happening, and I think we can help tie into that.”

I think that’s the best advice I can give, to know the client. If we come in and start talking about the radio station and our award-winning morning show and how we have the best remotes in town, instead of talking about the client and what his particular need might be and uncovering that need and a way to service the need, then I’d say we’re kidding ourselves. We’re just going to be selling remote packages for the rest of our lives.

I’m also not a big fan of going out and throwing a promotion to a client in our first meeting. I think it’s insulting to the creative process that you take an off-the-rack promotion and throw it in front of a client, because the client’s going to know it wasn’t personalized for him, unless it’s something like the perfect rodeo promotion or the perfect NFL football package or something that’s been created exactly for furniture dealers in mind. You’re suggesting that he’s a commodity just like he thinks radio is. There’s no difference between this furniture store and that furniture store.

I think the biggest mistake people make is walking into a client with an idea to share with him the first day. If he wants to know the kind of stuff that you do, then you toss a few ideas out of stuff that you’ve done recently. But going in and saying, “We’ve created this idea especially for you” in the first meeting I think is a big mistake. You need to go and research the client, find out what they’re like. In the first meeting, you could find out if a client is in favor of Saturday remotes. You can find out if a client is predisposed for or against consumer registrations or gifts with purchase or programs like that. If you do just a little bit of research, when you come back, then you’re able to say at the second meeting, even if that second meeting takes place in front of a computer screen as you’re walking the client through the promotion, you at least say, “This promotion was tailored specifically for you. This spec spot was done just with you in mind.”

Salespeople need to know about the RAB website. There are over 1,000 spec spots on the RAB website, which is at www.rab.com. You’ve got to join the RAB, but a lot of radio stations are already members. I think Production Directors can gain from the site as well. The have over 1,000 mp3’s of successful radio spots online. So if somebody’s dogged for an idea, that’s a great place to go.

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