By Trent Rentsch
The seasons are different for Radio Creatives. Take, for example, the days leading up to Christmas. There is, of course, the usual crush of last minute holiday ads and promos to deal with, but at the same time, there is another holiday knocking at the door just a week later that requires a similar, but radically different approach (not to mention different categories of advertisers). Of course, there’s not just the “Happy New Year” to consider, but also those advertisers who make their push every January and their needs… gyms certainly fall into that category. We don’t just have our eye on the next season, we’re more often than not living in the future; writing and producing pieces that will play when we’re working on the next big event in the cycle.
A cycle it is… week after week, month after month, year after year. There is always another holiday, another event, that keeps us moving forward… a comforting cycle that gives us something to look forward to, and makes the times in between… those hours of overtime and family squabbles and illnesses and calls from telemarketers… bearable. And Radio, the medium that dials into the human condition like no other, dresses itself up for each event in that cycle; often adding its own events (think yearly station concerts or festivals). It’s a never-ending run around the diamond, with a beast at each base that must be fed with Creative content. For a Creative, it’s a good thing, as each new event brings its own voice, its own set of challenges… or does it?
I’ve run this cycle over 3 decades now as a Creative, and as the years have gone by the toughest part has been to keep the work fresh for each season. Part of that struggle is that each new event BRINGS ITS OWN VOICE. Christmas is the most obvious example of this, with the bells and carols and the Ho Ho Ho’s, but honestly I find it much easier to Create with the wide palette of myth and magic Christmas provides. More difficult are holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, when I burn out my Lucky Charms accent and the 2 or 3 Irish beds in the library… or the madness that happens in March, when it’s the same dribbling, dunk shot, “No, you CAN’T use the exact words March Madness in your ad, sorry” over and over. Of course that’s the Creative challenge of it all… to keep things fresh, and make the old sounds new, but it feels like, no matter how hard I work at it, the Creative is never different enough, year after year. I still hear the same old sounds, the same old words, the same… old.
I will say something in defense of the same old; it’s familiar, and people like the familiar as much as they like having fireworks to light every July 4th. The familiar means instant recognition, which is vital to Radio Creative, given the short time we have to grab the listener’s attention. Familiar is expected… the moans and screams and creepy Theremin tones at Halloween, the kissy noises and romantic music of Valentine’s Day, the clash of helmets and grunts and pep band fight songs during football season. And, year after year, production after production, familiar becomes… noise, a hum, nothing for the listener to get excited about. It just feels that, for all the advances in production quality, we just haven’t come very far.
I’d like to suggest that, to break through, it’s time to break the mold. When a listener is confronted with something unfamiliar but intriguing, it breaks up “the hum” and makes them an active listener again… and God knows we all want that! It won’t be easy, but nothing truly Creative and worthwhile is.
The first step, obviously, is to lock away everything familiar… the old words, the old sounds, all of it. The second step is to write new words, find new sounds. “Right, just like that,” you’re saying. Nope, it’s not that simple… until you take the 3rd. step. You have to find new stories. And they aren’t hard to find. In fact, they’re right in front of you, if you know where to look.
Let’s consider an event in the cycle that will be here shortly… the opening of baseball season. We see the pitcher, on the mound… no, been there, done that. Pulling back, we see the other players on the field, the batter swinging at the ball, the crack of the… nope, still too close. Pull back further… the dugout, the fans… further… the concession stands with the beer vendors, changing the first keg of the season… further… ticket takers at the gate, attendants directing traffic… further… the fan watching the game at home… further… his wife in the kitchen, wishing he would mow the lawn… wait. Let’s hold there. Maybe the promo series for the baseball season centers around this story… the wife of a diehard baseball fan; her frustrations, her reasons why listeners SHOULD’NT listen to the game on your station. Or, maybe SHE is the fan, and her husband’s frustrations of being a “baseball widower” are the basis of your new story.
Pulling back is a powerful technique to find a new story in an old tale. New stories lead to fresh Creative directions. So the next time you travel forward, consider looking back.
Trent Creates words, voices, sound and music. His professional home is Krash Creative Solutions. Contact him at: