Q It Up: Do you let sales reps sit in on production sessions? - Part 1

q-it-up-logo2We had many varied responses to this question, enough to make this a two-parter. We'll serve up the other half next month!

Q It Up: Do you let sales reps sit in on production sessions for their clients’ commercials and help direct the talent, coach the client (if he/she is the talent), help pick music, and/or sit in on the post-editing process? Do you believe this helps or hinders you or the producer? Give an example of how this has been a good or bad thing. What is your policy regarding sales reps in the production session? Feel free to add any other thoughts you might have on the subject.

Blaine Parker [bp@slowburnmarketing.com], Slow Burn Marketing LLC: We had one session where a chiropractor came in to voice an actualities-based commercial. We planned on recording his extemporaneous ramblings and cutting it into a :60. The client was out of control. We (the Production Director and the Creative Director) kept trying to talk to him about his business. All he wanted to do was complain about his schedule and the results and what it was costing him. He’s sitting in a studio with two people who made it clear all they could do is make his commercials, nothing else, and he wouldn’t stop whining. If only we’d had the account rep.

This is one way an account rep can be really useful in a recording session.

Experience has shown they typically don’t want to be in on the session—nor do most reps seem to have any qualification to be making anything resembling a creative decision.

Contrast this with ad agencies, where the account executive is almost always part of the session. Granted, I’ve been in sessions where the only two people in the room were the agency producer and copywriter. But I’ve also been in sessions where there were a dozen people there (typically, that’s a national TV spot), and you can be sure the account executive was part of it. But, as with any well-run session, there’s only one person directing the talent and talking to the engineer. Any other creative discussions go through the director. And rarely does the account executive question the creative decisions or offer much creatively. The AE’s job is to protect the client’s interest, especially if the client isn’t there. They listen for and point out things they know would be of concern to the client.

If a radio station account rep is involved in a session, such client representation should really be the extent of it—not to dive into the creative process. If the client is voicing a commercial, it’s good to have the rep there in case he or she is needed for client hand holding (or to protect the creative team from a whiner who has no clue about what’s appropriate, like the chiropractor). After all, the rep is the client’s touchstone. And a good account rep who doesn’t know anything about creative, doesn’t want to, and who sits there and simply looks intelligent for the client, can be quite useful.

The unfortunate flipside is the account rep who becomes enamored with his own abilities—and doesn’t have any. We had one rep who insisted on voicing his client’s commercials, and the results were abysmal. It was impossible to steer him away from the mic. And, inevitably, his client went away.

That said, there are a glorious few reps who have creative talent and can be incredibly useful. We had one guy who finally left sales to go back on tour as a recording artist. He completely understood the creative process and often had insightful musical ideas.

So, bottom line, it all depends on the rep. Mostly, it’s best to have them out selling instead of being in the room.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez@CoxRadio.com], Cox Radio, San Antonio, Texas: First let me apologize to any sales rep who may read this and take offense. But very few sales reps belong in the prod room or voice booth. I have come across some who not only had great voices but could actually do great reads and characters. They are exceptions. And yes… I’ve pulled a few aside for the occasional quick line or two in a spot.

That being stated, too many sales reps and clients are not qualified be in a studio or voice booth. There are special situations, like a first time edgy nervous client who feels better if their rep is there to hold their hand. Other than that the rep doesn’t need to be in there. Too many times they try take on the role of director. Again… too many are not qualified for this. And they can make matters worse.

Real case example: While I was Creative Services Director at one company, we had a client come in to voice their own commercial. The rep thought it would be a good idea and suggested it. Client was hesitant. Just a few seconds into the recording, it was obvious that client not only sounded like they were reading but they had a very noticeable speech impediment. When the client finished, the rep immediately chimed in with compliments on how wonderful the client sounded. That sealed it. The producer was screwed.

I wasn’t in the room for that session, but I had produced a client in a similar situation years ago. When the client finished and nervously asked, “So what do you think?” I was honest about the read. “It’s a little rough. But that is understandable. You have no training in this, and it is hard to sound natural reading someone else’s words.” I didn’t even need to address the very noticeable speech impediment that was a bigger concern. But the rep pushed, “Well… if we did a few more takes…”

This did not help. The rep obviously didn’t notice or care about how the client sounded. I then told the client, “You know, we have a bank of voices here at our stations that do this for a living. I also have other talents in other cities that I can email the script to. These voice-actors and the service are no extra charge to you. It is included with your schedule. Why would you not avail yourself of that service?”

Reps and clients becoming their own directors and editors can be fun for them and they can make it an all day project. But, like I stated earlier, too many clients and reps are not qualified. They pick music “they” like. A good producer picks music that compliments the read, the subject, or theme of the commercial. They also take into consideration the tempo and voice-texture of the talent... and can do this quicker. I’ve had a rep tell me that they didn’t like the music in a commercial I produced. And this would matter… how? I also had a client request Sinatra for their auto repair shop. Why? Because they like Sinatra.

More cowbell please.

One of the best reps I worked with would walk the client into the voice booth, offer them water, coffee, or a soda, and then bring it to them. Then he would walk away telling them, “I’m leaving you in very capable hands. These guys are the best in city.”

Carolos Moreno, KBFB & KSOC, Dallas, Texas: I have found that allowing Sales to be in on the production sessions gives them a better sense of just how involved the process can be. I have encountered many a rep that doesn’t get how much time it can take to produce a quality spot, and they will overpromise their client accordingly -- “Oh, you need three or four different talents on this? Three or four instrumentals of ‘70s songs? The sound of water trickling down a rope in 17 degree cold? No script - just copy points? No problem! We can start that spot tomorrow!” We’ve all been there, right?

Many of these reps will change their tune once they’ve witnessed firsthand how many layers this particular onion can have. They will begin to lighten up and not overpromise and not make your life miserable (anymore this week). Further, it stimulates the working relationship between the rep and the client. The client sees the rep taking a genuine interest in their spot and its outcome, as opposed to just dropping them in the production pit and saying “Okay, call me when your done! Bye!”

I feel that they’d also gain a greater respect for production people and see them as genuinely talented people and not peons who cough up spots without any effort. Of course, we all know that times are tough right now, and the heat has been turned up high for Sales to get after it, but if they would just devote a little more time to sitting in on production sessions, everyone would win in the long run.

Jeff Berlin [jberlin@jberlin.com], Former Producer of Imaging (and Commercials) at Kiss 108 in Boston, www.jeffberlin.com: My thoughts fly in the face of our radio sensibilities, but I think client-voiced spots are more effective than announcer voiced spots for a simple reason: it’s more direct. Instead of a “third party” representing the client (the announcer), the client speaks directly to his or her potential customers. Yes, it can be a thorny listen, but I’ve always felt listeners will pick up the nuances of an advertiser more readily from the actual business owner (that can be good or bad, but anyone responding to the ad will experience those nuances firsthand anyway.) Having said that, if I haven’t met the client, I would prefer the salesperson to be present for the session. I’ve always been open to input from anyone present in the studio, whether it’s a salesperson, an intern, a visitor, or the GM. The more perspectives I’m given, the more likely my work will resonate with more people. If the salesperson is insane, however, then I’ve always reserved the right to politely tell them where to go. Usually that’s not the case though: they’re in the field, they’re talking to the businesses, while I’m squirreled away in my studio, so I would consider their direction to be valuable.

Reggie ‘C’ Crawford [reggie.c@citcomm.com], Citadel Broadcasting, North Charleston, South Carolina: I do require the rep to be in the studio with me ONLY when the client is there. Other than that, I find it completely unnecessary. If I end up needing their input for something, I’ll just ask; but if they’ve filled out their paperwork correctly & completely, then I have all of the info I need. Most AE’s aren’t really interested in being in here anyway... or maybe it’s just a trust thing. It wouldn’t bother me if they wanted to be here, and no, I don’t have a specific policy for that. I think it’s more of our ‘custom’ here -- we’ve just never really done it.

Todd Franklin [tfranklin11@sc.rr.com], T1 Productions: It all depends on the client’s mentality. Nine times out of 10, I “NORMALLY” don’t allow a client to sit in on a session due to diffusion on creativity and time being wasted. It tends to erode the talent of his or her true skill level with a client or sales rep sitting in on a session. I try to avoid it if at all possible.

Mark Murphy [mmurphy@dmgradio.com.au]: I don’t have sales reps in recording or editing sessions. They specialise in selling, not production.

Maybe a few times a year a rep will sit in on a recording session when a new client voices their ad, mainly though for a PR point of view.

We very much discourage clients reading their own ads anyway. If a client does read their ad, I have to be very blunt and say if they are good enough for airplay or not. Quite often we just use their voice as an insert & have a voice talent do a top & tail around them.

If it’s a big session with various voices, I will ask the creative writer if they want to sit in on the recording, but then they leave it up to me to cut it all up & mix.

Every now & then a creative writer will come and grab some music to listen to in their room, if they are looking for something specific for what they are writing, but it’s pretty rare.

(Part Two Next Month!)

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