Last week, I had a client producer (Major Market) complain to me that, “There just aren’t any new promotion ideas anymore.” He went on to complain that every promotion his station had done in the previous 2 years was one they had done before.
I asked if they had been successful before and when he replied in the affirmative, I asked, “What do you expect from management? They want a promotion that works to get numbers and revenue up.” Similar to what the proverbial scorpion said to the frog, management’s gonna be management, it’s in their DNA.
That’s when we got to the real issue. He said, “No, I get that it’s smart to use a promotion that works, I’m just frustrated because I keep having to come back to a mine that’s been played out. I don’t get to stretch and explore new territory creatively.” I immediately thought of the Z100 Phrase That Pays and completely understood. With a few rare exceptions, PTP has been number one with a bullet at Z100 every year for literally decades. We commiserated for a bit more, and then I had to hit the studio for another VO client, but that conversation started banging around in my brain pan. When Jerry, the editor of this fine publication, called me to give a deadline for this month’s column, I just said, “I’m already on it.”
To be fair to management (something I truly strive to do), they changed it up just about every time. In the earliest iteration, the listener was required to say the phrase when they answered the phone. I’m sure it caused a lot of people across the New York area to be a little confused when they called their local pizza joint and heard, “Z100 is New York’s number one hit music station” right off the bat. But that was the genius of PTP before Caller ID became a thing; we had hundreds, if not thousands, of people saying our slug line every day to perfect strangers. We pretty quickly turned it around and only asked people to give the phrase when we specifically asked for it once they were the 100th caller.
A few years into it, they added, “Now give me my money!” to the official phrase. In 1997, after Jerry Maguire was the smash hit over the previous Christmas, they switched it up to, “Now show me the money!” They’ve since reverted to just “Z100 is New York’s number one hit music station” and back to the full phrase with “Now give me my money” a few times.
Over the years, they brought artists into the mix too. The first was Nelly. We traded for a Chrysler 300 from a local dealer group and pimped it out to Nelly’s specifications and then made “Nelly’s Chrysler 300” the grand prize. Each winner would get a 100-dollar bill and qualify to win Nelly’s Ride. One year it was Rihanna and another was Pink. I even got her Pinkness to do a throwaway line that said, “If you find a pair of my panties under the back seat, just keep ‘em.”
Even with all the changes they made to the contest each year, I really started to dread springtime when I knew it was coming. It just didn’t seem like I had to exercise my creative muscle. Today, as I look back, I now understand something kinda cool though. It actually made me stretch my creative muscle much more than I thought. The one advantage to doing a repeat promotion was the mechanics promos were über-simple. “You call, we ask, you say and you win.” Easy peezy! The really creative stuff was actually much more wide open. To that end, here are five ways you can change things up to make a repeating contest more interesting to you and the listener.
1. Do a series of promos based on listener reactions. Too often, we tend to let the contest inform the creative aspect because that’s how we always do it. Well that’s boring, for sure. One of my favorite series of promos, using archived winner clips, started with the phrasing, “Phrase that pays winners seem to have a religious experience” followed by a boat-load of Oh my GOD reactions. Then I’d wrap it up with a quick bit of mechanics (remember, most of the audience knows how it works) and slap a quick strap line and call sign on the end.
2. Do a series of promos based on LOSERS. This really works best when the listener has to do something other than just call in and win, like the Phrase That Pays. You have to make sure your jocks record ALL of their contests, winners AND losers. Hearing a raucous buzzer sound when they screw it up and jumping to the next who is also wrong gets to be pretty comical. I’d do two or three and then hit a winner with a huge cheer at the end.
3. Do a series of highly dayparted promos with ONE winner. If it’s Mo Bounce’s winner, I’d restrict airplay to his shift hours ONLY and make it SOUND like a complete running of the contest (minus the solicit.) Most listeners will assume that they missed the cue to call and it’s another winner in the current contest. Clearly, you need to have several in rotation for the week so people don’t hear the same winner over and over. It makes it sound like you’re getting a winner every hour all day long, giving an absolute ton of money (or whatever) away. In hours when you never run the contest, drop in a simple mechanics promo.
4. Involve your core artists. Any time you can get an artist to do some drops for you, make sure they do something along the lines of your contest. I did several different series using artists saying the phrase and followed it with “Jay-Z knows the phrase that pays…do you?” That stuff never gets old! One year I had Ne-Yo leading a classroom in how to say the phrase that pays. Now THAT was funny and fun! (He was an absolute dream to work with and a really got into it without any prompting on my part.)
5. Put together a series of promos that put your contest into improbable situations. Using the Phrase That Pays as an example, open with the ambiance of a Starbucks. A man says “Z100 is New York’s number one hit music station.” Then have the barista say, “That’s a grande cafe mocha with whip and two sugars in the raw. Coming up!” I jump in with a pithy comment about how the phrase that pays is a way of life in Manhattan, or some other goofy thing, then wrap with a quick mechanic, strap line and call sign. Done! In truth this technique is one of my favorites for any kind of promotion. Dropping it into an event like a visit to Starbucks makes it highly relatable and instantly engaging. A BIG double plus.
The big takeaway from this is when you think you’re not getting to stretch your creative muscle with anything you do, it probably means you’re not stretching it because you’re not stretching it. When management at Clear Channel (pre iHeartMedia) in San Antonio dictated the “Less Is More” policy of keeping all promos to under 30-seconds, I complained to my PD that it was going to cramp my style and I couldn’t get really creative. He laughed at me and said, “If you’re not creative enough to do it in less than 30, maybe you’re in the wrong job.” I ducked my head and walked back to my studio muttering something like, “I’ll show HIM!” Of course he was the one who showed me. My work improved so much after that, he didn’t have to say another word about it, but a couple of weeks later, he stuck his head in the door and told me how really on fire I was. Creativity on steroids.
Just remember that creativity itself is a process. It’s NOT something you’re gifted with. It’s something you have to train yourself in, just like learning to play the piano, karate or riding a bicycle. Once you understand the process, it becomes stupid simple to use in everything you do.
Steve Jobs said, “When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn't really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That's because they were able to connect experiences they've had and synthesize new things.” Taking your contest into weird or just non-related areas, the creativity sparks and your story tells itself. Suddenly, YOU are a creative genius!
My sound this month is one of the mechanicals for Z100 Pays Your Bills, this one from September of 2011. I tended to run those as a tease for a week or so before we actually started taking calls for a couple of reasons: A) We needed to get some bills in the hopper to begin the contest, and B) By the time the contest actually started, everybody would know all the whys and hows and I could concentrate on the fun stuff.