Q It Up: How does your station deal with “promercials”?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: How do you deal with “pro-mercials” — you know, those inevitable “promos” that end up sounding more like commercials after the client has provided you with their “mandatory” copy facts? How critical is it that the client is 100% satisfied with the final promo? Do they have a say in the music or the voice used? How do you deal with their desire to have their phone numbers and website addresses in the promo? Do you give them a chance to “approve the copy”? How about approval of the final production? Where are the lines drawn? How do you keep it on the “promo” side of things?

Aaron Watkinson, RadioWorks, New Zealand: Promercials - at RadioWorks, we set client expectation before copy points are gathered.

THE COPY BRIEF: Tell clients ‘less is more’. Keep mandatories to two points. Emphasize the station is a brand, and the promo needs to be in the station style Use standard station voice over (i.e. not the clients’ standard voice).

THE SCRIPT: Often their product or service will be the ‘hero’ of the promo, but the script will be in the style of the station.

EXTRA DETAILS: A great trick is the client ‘tag’ - a separate 7 second mini-ad that always plays after the promo. This ‘de-clutters’ the promo, while still getting across any extra points the client has.

MOST IMPORTANT: Avoid bland voice-over-music spots. Write a great script, and run it past the rest of the office. If they laugh, or cry, or laugh then cry, your client probably will too.

John Masecar [jmasecar[at]radio .astral.com], Astral Media Radio GP, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Wow, there’s a raw nerve. I learned a good method at a Dan O’Day seminar a few years back. When you’re client-heavy with sales-driven promos, wrap the details in entertainment, i.e. develop a concept with your main voice, then innocuously weave the sales info in and out with a 2nd voice. This actually serves the client better as the information is presented within an entertaining context; and serves the station better because you’re not spewing at the listener.

Of course we’re not saddled with the “less is more” thing here. That’s not to say we run rampant with 2 or 3 minute promos, but 60 seconds is not uncommon.

I think it’s pretty short-sighted to put unrealistic time restrictions on promos. So we’re supposed to be our #1 client, but we can’t spend sufficient time promoting ourselves? Of course this relies totally on being able to present yourself in an entertaining way.

Chris Nicoll [Chris[at]zmonline.com], ZM Radio, Auckland, New Zealand: Most promercials we get are termed as trailers/promos when dealing with the clients, but instead of creating a promo, I’ll actually just make a simple voice over music (not using the station voices). That way the client can pick their music, the VO style and type, and the script can be client written if they like. We’ll run the promerical in commercial time, for free. This way it doesn’t destroy the image and brand we work so hard to create at ZM.

Inevitably these clients find the promotions don’t work for them, and tend to ask us to create something for them to replace it... Which then sounds better for us, and for the client. Sneaky? Yes. But in the long term, it stops one more client from breaking the radio rules.

This only tends to happen if the client doesn’t trust that WE have the experience needed to sell the promotion to OUR listeners properly. Why? It’s not like we do this every day.

Rich Conway [RCONWAY[at]WCCC .com]: I use station imaging on both sides of the promercial. The creative is always left up to me and usually only needs a few tweaks when it’s complete. If the client insists on a phone number, I explain why it may not be a good idea unless they have a very simple number that can be remembered, 1-800-haircut etc. If they still don’t understand I ask them a simple question: “name one phone number you remember from a radio commercial you’ve recently heard.” Very seldom does anyone have a response. I always try to get a client to push their website, or if they still insist on a phone number say, “look for our ad in your yellow pages.”

Dave Cruickshank [Dave.Cruick shank[at]rci.rogers.com], CKMH-FM/Rock 105.3, Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada: We’ve completely done away with “Promercials”. All contesting and sales promos are split into two stages:

Listener Promos - These promos (usually 60 seconds) ONLY contain all the contest or promotion information, and are designed with the sole purpose of attracting the listener to the contest or promo. There is NO sales information in them at all (except for maybe the major sponsor name only). We don’t even run them during commercial breaks. They are run in between songs... with enough high energy to not break the momentum.

Sponsor Promos - Because we often sell multiple sponsorships on our contests, we created ‘sponsor promos’. These are boiled down versions of the listener promos designed to remind the listener about the contest/promo, but also sell the names of the sponsors (we’ll list 2 or three sponsor names, and have multiple sponsor groups running in rotation. i.e. 3 sponsor promos with 3 name drops each). There is no sales information in the sales promo, just name mentions, because the promo package comes with enough commercial time to sell the clients on their own. These sponsor promos we will run in commercial breaks.

We require NO client approval on promo scripts, whatsoever.

It’s a slick system that keeps the ‘sales’ out of the promo, keeps the listener involved, and still satisfies the clients needs. Works very well.

CJ Goodearl [cjgoodearl[at]clear channel.com] Clear Channel, Orlando, Florida: Our sales department works pretty well with programming. I leave the mandatory elements of the copy for the promotions department and sales rep to hammer out with the client. Given the high volume of spots/promos/imaging I have to turn out, I don’t edit or re-write anything unless is completely asinine. A good example of the ingenious way our rock station has wedged three sponsors in the first ten seconds of our big concert promo (I swear this is verbatim!): “Metro PCS presents, WJRR’s Earthday Birthday 15, Saturday, May 10th brought to you by Jack Daniels. Enjoy an ice-cold Bud Light and catch Kid Rock…” etc. “So, slam a shot and a beer, then rack up the minutes drunk-dialing your ex on the cell! Oh yeah, there’s a concert we want to tell you about too if you’re still listening....”

Dave Foxx [DaveFoxx[at]Clear Channel.com], Clear Channel, New York: Although a number of Sales people have tried to get away with this kind of not-so-petty-larceny, we have established a very strong policy that keeps promos as promos and commercials as commercials. Promotional consideration is on a Name Only basis. To get promotional consideration, the client is required to pay a premium price for a commercial run during or shortly after the promotion in question. For that we’ll add their Name Only to the promo, as in, “sponsored by 1-800-Flowers.” This is the ONLY time commercials and promos mix at Z100. Otherwise they are completely different inventory, one controlled by Programming and the other by Sales.

Every once in awhile, a Sales Rep (usually a rookie) will mistakenly approve a sponsorship that says something like, “sponsored by Taco Bell, the only place to get the melty, crunchy, spicy, and grilled tastes of the fourth meal.” As Creative Services Director, I automatically trim it to “sponsored by Taco Bell,” without consulting anyone. When the AE howls about the sponsorship later, I’ll explain that when it’s coming out of Sales Inventory, they can say anything they want, but that Programming Inventory is there to promote the radio station and NOT the client. It then becomes their responsibility to explain to the client why. Some have tried to appeal further up the chain, but as I said earlier, it’s a firmly established policy that everybody has signed off on, long before. You can bet the farm that the AE who sold it will never make that mistake again.

Hard core? Yeah probably, but it automatically avoids a number of issues, not the least of which is getting a promo held up on a Friday afternoon because the AE can’t get in touch with the client for final approval. As a courtesy, we will often make the promo available to the client beforehand so that they can hear the context of their “name-only” mention, but beyond that, the whole notion of a “prommercial” does not exist at Z100. The “mandatory” copy facts are left for the commercial side to deal with, where the usual rules apply.

John Melley [jmelley[at]boston.cbs .com] WBMX/CBS Radio, Boston, Massachusetts: We have a couple of elements where this can be an issue. There’s a web based listener loyalty program where listeners get points for listening and they enter a code to obtain points. The points can be redeemed for prizes, etc. Each week we run a couple of “Promercials” mentioning the different prizes available. This promo is set up with a pre-recorded intro and close. About 3 different prizes are listed and then out. It lasts for about :35 to :45 tops. If there are more items, we produce a second one and put it into rotation.

Clients are not given a say in the voice or music. The intro is voiced by our imaging voice, and I usually voice the copy that changes each week. They get a copy of it after it’s produced.

Another element is our “Snowbreak Tour” that tells listeners where the Street Team will be at various winter events, ski resorts, rinks and other locations. We have to watch this one more than the others, because the draw is the event itself rather than any particular sponsor (most of the time), so we want to spend time talking about the events instead of turning it into another commercial for the sponsors.

We have a little more fun with the Snowbreak Tour - production wise. We’ll punch it up with some fun sounds that fit with the particular events being mentioned, but the intro to this remains consistent each week during the Snowbreak Tour “Season.” This element is usually a little under a minute long.

Again, the clients don’t tell us who voices this and what music is used, etc.

We have copies of all these promos on our network so the sales team can access them to provide a potential client with a sample if they want to know what they sound like. I think that helps a lot because it establishes the ground rules for what the client is signing up for. They know what it’s going to sound like before they start.

That’s another reason we keep the music and intros consistent – to demonstrate that it’s an on-going program. We freshen them up regularly so they don’t sound stale, but we want it to be recognizable.

Ralph Mitchell [RalphMitchell[at] clearchannel.com] Clear Channel, Mobile, Alabama: We all know that “promercials” are a fact of life. They help pay the bills just like commercials, so we have to appreciate them for what they are. Having said that, as a rule, the “promo” side of the equation is usually the creative part, and somewhere in the middle of the piece is where we tend to bury the “commercial” part. However, I’ve successfully incorporated the commercial stuff into the creative on occasion and received some very fun results... but the client definitely needs to give final approval on these because they may feel they’re being made fun of (they tend to take themselves more seriously than we prefer). Otherwise, the commercial copy within a promercial is limited strictly to the name of the business and its location - period. They have no say in the music or voice used. We do let them hear the final production before it airs, but it’s pretty much academic because if the offer is stated correctly and their name and address are accurate, there’s not much more to say. I should add that the stations that I do imaging for don’t lean toward edgy or using potentially insulting content - so the creative work within a promercial isn’t likely to cause a client any alarm.

It is interesting to me that often the clients who are the pickiest about their commercial (music too loud, can’t hear sfx, need different announcer, etc) never have a problem with the station promo running for the same event - even though I’m the one who produced them both using the same set of ears. It’s as though they think that some high-paid out-of-market producer made their promo, so he musn’t be questioned - but they think that the local guys who made their commercial need paint-by-numbers instructions on how to properly create a commercial. I think that if those clients ever knew that the same person created both, they’d simply implode because suddenly they discovered that their assumptions and perceptions about radio are out-of-line with reality. That would mean that somebody in town knows more about producing creative radio than the local cycle shop owner or car dealership manager.

Always remember, though, that keeping the customer happy is part of the gig. If there’s ever a dispute with a client about what they can control in a promercial, hopefully the rep that made the deal can explain to the client the difference between a “promercial” and a commercial and smooth it out with a free meal at the nearest restaurant trade.

Jim Harvill [JimHarvill[at] clearchannel.com]: KEZA-FM, Fayetteville, Arkansas: We do our best to accommodate the client, however a station promo is a promo for the station and that’s the first priority. Client approval is not required and we don’t put phone numbers or website addresses (other than our own) in the promo. Fortunately, in almost all cases, we have the full support of management.

And one more response from last month’s Q It Up question, “What have you learned lately?”

Vaughan Jones [vaughanj[at]scoast radio.com.au]: I think the best rule I have ever learned is that which says you should never insult the intelligence of your customer. I think I begin every project with that in mind from the perspective of both the client and the listener. I find that it’s a great initial filter for every project.

The last rule I learned was probably the power of disarmament. It’s probably the most effective principal in marketing to the ever suspicious “Generation Y”. If you can disarm the audience in an amusing or entertaining way in the first few seconds of your spot, you have captured their attention and perhaps their trust too.

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