A Quick Guide to Radio Creativity - Number One: Know Your Surroundings

Gamerby Dan McCurdy

I don’t play computer games. When I did try the experience once, no matter which buttons I pressed and no matter which order I pressed them in, I couldn’t get past the first level. Nobody generally likes failure, and I’m no exception. I like it even less when I’m reminded of that possibility, and that I can easily fail, or have just experienced failure again on a constant basis. For this and many other reasons I soon stopped gaming -- never became a gamer and have no desire to ever become one. I have no objection of course if the rest of the world busies itself in this pursuit. Leave me out of that particular conversation and I’ll be quite happy. I have other things to do, and life’s too short for chess.

I did once read a gaming, or gamers’ magazine that was loose in our house. There, near the front was a full page colour ad for something gaming-related which caught my attention and has remained in my advertising memory. It showed a picture of a maniacal man in his late 20’s early 30’s, with his tongue sticking out and this larger than life tongue was covered in... mushrooms.

I didn’t understand the ad. If I could have been bothered, I’d have been perplexed. I didn’t know what it was promoting, and had I troubled to find out, because of all you’ve just read, I was unlikely therefore to respond to it. This is not an ad you’d likely see in your morning or even Sunday broadsheet newspaper, far less a specialist antiques magazine. The point is, I would suggest, that whoever placed the ad, had taken some trouble to research both “ the medium “ and “ the reader “ they were targeting. I have no proof of this I admit, and I can only with some certainty suggest it wasn’t me.

Let’s talk about radio. In my experience there are a number of very useful guidelines I’ve learned in making good radio commercials and that may help maximise Radio Creativity specifically. Let’s call them Useful Guidelines For Radio Creativity.

The number and diversity of radio station listener options and the scope of the material they cover and include in their programming in recent years has also “Mushroomed.” This is done to target their particular niche (however big they want that niche to be) both on-air and on-line. Most successful Station Directors and Programmers know their potential audiences intimately and will by direct contact, from feedback to their websites and competitions and the omnipresent focus groups, build a solid picture of what their audience wants to hear, and deliver accordingly.

Consider that in many cases some 20% PLUS of this on-air activity is commercial activity. Much of it is supplied from out-of-house sources over which these programmers have little control other than the regulatory framework. A mutually beneficial partnership for both programmers and the commercial concerned, that is the advertiser or sponsor, would appear to be in the best interests of both parties. Does this occur often enough in radio?

If you’re going to write a radio campaign, your first step should be to check out the lie of the land, and all you have to do is listen. You know how to listen don’t you? All you do is sit back and let your ears do the rest. Believe me, you can close your eyes but you can’t close your ears. Know your surroundings. It’s the simplest thing in the modern world to listen to radio stations on-line. If you’re up north and you’re doing work for stations down south, most have listen-live options, so dip-in on their websites.

I’m not suggesting being effective you need to spend all day on one frequency or one site. You can get a good feeling about the station, it’s audience, the music, the talk, the features, the whole ‘brand environment’ your work will be surrounded by, in a very short space of time, and because you know the surroundings, you’ll know better how to fit in or stand out. You’ll know a bit more about the listeners and what they’re listening to before you so rudely interrupted them with your unasked-for intrusion.

Another Idea! You could always phone the station and ask to speak to the programme director and see what response they give you. Most PD’s I know are happy to talk about their station and what it sounds like, especially if you tell them you’re spending money with the station.

Yet another Idea! You could also speak to the in-house creative services/commercial production and ask them what they do to make ads for their station. They’ll probably know more than you do about the station commercial sound, and the good ones will be happy to talk to you. You never know unless you ask.

If you’re in a rush, some sales houses will also send you a short sample of the station sound of the stations they sell, and this can be a good way to get a quick feel of the station. Know your surroundings. Although you might be under the impression that most commercial stations sound the same, these days I feel you’d be much mistaken and you could end up looking extremely foolish. Your radio campaign will be less effective than it could be, and you could be putting pictures of a man with mushrooms on his tongue in Antiques Today – but by all means be my guest, and go ahead. It may work as an outstanding piece of creative work, but if it’s in the wrong place, what’s the point? It’d be like me playing computer games. 

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