I once read that if you sit in the lobby of the Peninsula Hotel in Hong Kong for more than 10 minutes, you will see someone you know. As unlikely as that sounds, I’ve had two different, unrelated people tell me that they discovered it was true. Having never had the occasion to visit Hong Kong, I’ve yet to try this theory myself. The odds of someone I know traveling to that part of the world at the same time I do seems so astronomical, it boggles the mind. The point of this unlikely literary claim is a fancy way of saying that it’s a small world. Aside from the obvious inspiration the creative geniuses at Disney took from that phrase for the ride and maddeningly pervasive song, it serves today as a convenient jumping off point for this month’s column.
As regular readers know, I do the imaging for the weekly, live syndicated radio show, Most Requested Live – Worldwide With Romeo. I got an email from one of my VO clients in Florida, asking who writes the weekly promos for that show, which he carries on his station every Saturday Night. I was worried he was going to complain when I replied that I did. Thankfully, I worried for nothing; he wanted to praise the writing and tell me that he was using the show’s promos as a “How-To” guide for great writing and production, sometimes lifting phrases directly for his own promos. After I got off the phone with Romeo, asking for a raise, I started to pay attention to my client’s copy and sure enough, I noticed some of the more distinctive phrases showing up every week.
Small world, huh? I thought more about it and realized that in our community, which honestly isn’t all that big, good ideas do tend to make the rounds pretty quickly. Some of those ideas stick around for a long, long time. For example, I first used the phrase “soundtrack of your summer” way back in the late ‘80s. I came up with it all by myself and I recall the PD exclaiming how much he liked it. I can’t rule out anyone else having come up with the same phrase on their own, but that phrase has become very nearly universal. I know I’ve read that phrase hundreds of times for radio stations all over the world and I smiled every time. Oh, if I had only trademarked it. Hah!
Ideas like that DO race around our industry at the speed of light. Likewise, some BAD ideas seem to breed like bunnies too. What comes to mind is appointment listening. The IDEA behind appointment listening is totally legit, but the implementation many people are using, particularly for contesting, is, well…uneven.
The concept is simple and effective: give the listener a specific time to tune in for a particular event, like a contest. “Your chance to win Monday morning at 7:30…” is exactly the right way to do it. It’s a specific ‘call-to-action’ that every promo should have. It sets a specific time and place for the listener to be to hear this amazing new giveaway your station is promoting to boost ratings by a factor of five. On Sunday, that copy should read “tomorrow morning at 8:30.” Hang on to that version. Hang on to the third version too…the one that says, “This morning at 8:30,” because you’ll need it later. Once the contest plays, a fourth version of the promo kicks in that sets a new appointment that says, “Your next chance to win at 10:30 this morning.” After that a fifth version starts that sets a 12:30 appointment and sixth and seventh versions set appointments for 3:30 and 5:30, respectively. The second version starts again at 5:30 which you’ll recall sets “8:30 tomorrow morning” for an appointment. The third version starts again at midnight, making the 8:30am appointment for your overnight and morning listeners.
About now, you’re inwardly groaning about SEVEN versions of one promo adding to your already onerous workload. Give me a break. You simply duplicate the first promo seven times and substitute the correct appointment times in each one. Then you load them all onto one rotation number in your playback system with strict dayparting rules. If your promotion is going to run from one week to the next and you want to keep using the same promo, just use the first version starting at 5:30 on Friday. This might seem like a lot of extra work for you, but only if you ignore Production Rule #1, which states that “every promo you put on the air should have maximum emotional impact on the listener.”
Too many writers, producers and programmers want to make a shortcut of things exactly the wrong way, blowing Production Rule #1 out of the water. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read lines like, “Listen weekdays at 7:30, 10:30, 12:30 3:30 and 5:30.” Does this lay out the mechanics of your contest? Sure it does, however you’re not adhering to Production Rule #1 – “listen like a listener.” The listener only listens in the moment. When you list all the times like that, you’re flooding his/her cortex with too much information. ALL they care about is knowing the next time they can win your amazing contest, assuming it IS amazing. Listing all those times hits the listener in the brain…not the heart. Your FIRST job is to hit them square in the heart.
Likewise, your promo should never include the number to call or text, “when we tell you to call/text.” It’s information they cannot use at that point in time. That number belongs strictly in the solicit, live or recorded. When you include it in the promo, you’re just wasting valuable emotional space with something the heart cannot ever process.
I’ve gone on some pretty awesome rants in this space, griping about people using telephone numbers in commercials. Clients who insist on repeating their phone number six and seven times in their commercial just need to be educated. First off, an excruciatingly small number of listeners will write it down because they are engaged in doing something else when the spot comes on. (Think: driving.) An even smaller number of people will immediately pick up the phone and dial right then, mainly for the same reason. The ONLY exception for Production Rule #1 is when “the name of the business IS the phone number, hopefully something easy to remember like 1-800-FLOWERS.”
Think of Production Rule #1 in terms of color vs. black and white. Color is emotional. Black and white is not. Numbers and addresses are NOT emotional, they are intellectual. Every word you use in a promo or commercial should be in glorious, living color. To be truly effective, your production needs to pull at the heartstrings, lift the spirit, make the heart skip a beat or make the eyes tear up. When you fill your work with a bunch of black and white words, it becomes cold and lifeless, sterile and dull. Even if you have some lyrical beauty going on in your production, adding a bunch of black and white words sucks the life out of it. You’re just filling a void in the listener’s heart with white noise, and you’ve wasted your chance to have a real impact. Every. Single. Time.
One other group of black and white words to avoid: “Message and data rates may apply.” Put that stuff in the solicit, where it belongs. Disclaimers are icky to start with, but are sometimes legally required. (Looking at YOU Florida.) It is imperative that you find out precisely what those requirements entail. If at all possible, try to get the disclaimer away from the sell as far as possible…hopefully in another contest element, like the solicit.
I know, I know…sometimes YOU don’t have editorial discretion. The order comes down from the PD or OM and you’re kind of stuck in the middle. But, like the client who wants the phone number included a dozen times, the folks up-line in your food chain need to be educated. Get a few minutes with him or her and make the case for color. He or she might wonder what you’re smoking because you’re basically adding to your workload, but what they probably don’t know is you’re only adding a couple of minutes to the process. Once you have created a masterpiece promo, it literally takes a couple of minutes to duplicate the whole thing and substitute the updated line. The result is a promo that is ‘in the now’ for the listener every time it plays and the impact will be magnified.
Once the powers-that-be hear it all on the air, they will shower you with praise, offer a substantial raise and perhaps a new piece of gear or two. Or not.
I am pretty sure that anyone paying attention right now is wondering about Production Rule #1. Lest my point be too obscure, there ARE no set rules for production, just significant suggestions. I once said that, “a good producer knows all the rules of production, but a great producer knows when to break them.” If any rule can be broken at any given time, it’s a pretty piss-poor rule. I have thus far in my career resisted the urge to list all the ‘rules,’ mainly because I don’t want creative people, like you, to get stuck in a rut of trying to adhere to them. I’m leery about even making a list of highly recommended suggestions, because I know how quickly some people will interpret them as a set of rules. Remember, no rules…just suggestions.
I DO have some sound for you this week on the Soundstage, a promo that is currently running on Most Requested Live for a flyaway to see Dua Lipa in LA during the holidays. The show she’s doing is the Los Angeles iHeartRadio Jingle Ball, with a bunch of big music stars, but that little tidbit is never mentioned. Why? MRL airs on a lot of radio stations that are not iHeartMedia stations. While the winner +1 will certainly know once they get there, it’s simply not important to the millions of other listeners, and I sincerely doubt a Cumulus station would appreciate hearing iHeartAnything on their air. I mention this only because I saw this very topic pop up on one of the radio boards on FaceBook. If your station has the chance to fly a listener to a big city show to see a major artist, jump on it, even if it’s part of a show presented by another company. Your listeners couldn’t possibly care less that it’s a show being presented by another radio company. And while your winner will know, you’re not doing a promotion to cater to one winner and his or her BFF. It’s all about ginning up excitement in YOUR total audience and THAT, my friend, is Production Rule #1!