By Kurt Kaniewski
Who are you writing for? I heard someone make the observation that a lot of movie critics write to impress other movie critics. Which got me to thinking -- are WE writing for other radio people? Or are we writing for listeners? Ever found yourself tuning away from a station once a local commercial starts playing? Might it be because many locally produced radio commercials sound alarmingly just like the locally produced commercials all along the dial? ("Dial"? OK, so I'm showing my age.)
It's a bit of a bummer to hear people say they like satellite radio because there are no commercials. Could it be they'd like to be entertained from time to time? The kind of dynamic we felt when listening to radio as kids and eventually moved us to get into the business to do the same. Like it or not, we can never listen to radio the way we did before making it our profession. Before learning all the strategies and theories, the constant was being entertained to some degree. (Let me note here that "entertain" doesn't always have to equal "humor") When Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," he could have been talking about radio advertising that appeals to listeners (at least when he wasn't contemplating the relativity thing).
We have the knowledge of what gives a radio ad the best chance for success. But are we so focused on impressing other radio folks with our technical prowess we forget the spark that adds the sizzle? Case in point, Dick Orkin (showing my age again, I know). Before getting into radio I didn't know anything about things like a unique selling proposition or marketing plans. What I DID know -- as a listener -- was I was engaged. Not once did I think about switching stations when his ads aired. Better yet, I was tempted to stay with future commercial breaks with the hope of hearing that same type of message again (which also just happened to present the benefits of a particular product or service). Sure, in this case it was done with humor, and although many contemporaries have produced compelling work, no one has ever done it better than Dick Orkin. Again, I had no idea why. I just knew -- as a listener -- it hit the sweet spot every time I heard it.
So once I started working in radio, I'd find every Dick Orkin commercial our station had, put 'em on a cassette (REALLY showing my age now) and play it in my car. Over and over again. (Rewind button got a work out.) The hope was, through osmosis, I would start to grasp this elusive "thing" that hit the ol' joy zone I remembered from my youth as a typical radio listener. Eventually, it did begin to seep into my thick skull. Many of these things that seemed to work I began to mold into my own style, which was a little depressing. After all, once you see how much you've learned, you painfully realize how far you have to go.
Dick Orkin is not just a master writer, but a brilliant voice actor -- as are his partners in ad creation. And although we THINK we are funny, many times we're just fooling ourselves -- writing for that inner radio critic and not for the sensitivities of a listener. Think I'm totally off base? I'd venture to say Dick Orkin and his crew could easily take ANYTHING you and I could come up with and make it stellar. As far as writing and producing what HE does with the same kind of listener response? I doubt it. And I say this because I've tried and failed.
But what does happen is it elevates our game. We now are producing radio ads that start to touch the sensitivities of a listener. That, in turn, can also intrigue potential clients to want to take a closer look at advertising with our station. Not only because they're hearing something that catches their ear (after all, many of them are listeners too), but they're hearing someone putting forth the extra effort for them and the potential success of their business. Does this mean extra time on your part? Absolutely. But I don't know of a lot of successful artists that just put in their 9:00 to 5:00 every day.
Let's be honest. If you were a business person who's invested your emotional and financial resources into an entity that could be your sole source of income, would you be motivated to pull the trigger based on many of the local radio ads you hear? Not that over the top funny is the only answer, but a little extra something sure doesn't hurt.
You might say this sets our efforts up for rejection. But doesn't that possibility exist with every ad you present? Even so, you're presented with two nice incidental by products. The first is, if it's an ear catching concept, you've perfected the process to use it again in another client application. (Why re-invent the wheel if you don't have to?) The second is crystallizing what that client (listener) has in mind. Yeah, you can pitch ratings, reach and frequency. But if no one's paying attention, that scan button's getting punched faster than Ronda Rousey's (er, uh… make that Holly Holm's) next opponent.
Does this mean we all have to be Dick Orkin? No. But that doesn't mean the only good ideas have to come from ad agencies, either. A number of the ad creators I've met exhibiting remarkable talent work for radio stations. We just need to embrace our gift a little tighter. Remember that "thing" that touched your imagination when you were just a "listener"? It moved you enough to get into radio. So I invite you to complement that accumulated radio knowledge with your inner listener. You just might be surprised at the trail you'll blaze. It's certainly helped me help clients succeed.
Kurt's been a successful radio ad creator for 3 decades, winning Mobius and London International Advertising Awards, Orson, Silver Microphone and RAP Awards as well as ADDY Best of Show honors in multiple markets. He also presents seminars on the creative radio dynamic. Get more info and audio at kurtkoncepts.com. He welcomes your correspondence at