Tim Burt, Tim Burt Media | Tim Burt Audio Productions LLC, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
When we last checked in with Tim in our May 2014 interview, he was the Commercial Production Director for CBS Radio’s St. Louis cluster. At the time, Tim was having great success writing and producing the best, most effective commercials he could for the stations’ clients. A chance meeting with an out of town visitor taking of tour of the stations back then happened to light the fuse for the launch of a new venture for Tim, “The Commercial Professor”. Fast forward to today, and we find Tim having left corporate radio and on his own with Tim Burt Media, sharing what he knows about “radio advertising that works” with anyone in the world that will listen. And in the past year, he’s written two books on the subject. We pick his brain on this and more in our second visit with Tim.
JV: When we last checked in, you were still with the CBS cluster in St. Louis, but your new "Commercial Professor" venture was already taking off. When did the exit from CBS to full-time “Commercial Professor” take place, and how did that come about?
Tim: One thing I promised myself: I was going to leave CBS, or Corporate America, on my terms. There was no timetable, but it was non-negotiable.
The "Commercial Professor" thing, while great on paper, actually was a disadvantage. As many coaches have stated, it comes off as too high-level. To many people, it sounded like work, and that drives them away.
While the "Professor" side of the business has been retired, the advertising and marketing lessons of it have been repackaged and simplified. This is what makes up some of the talks I deliver to small business ownership groups, radio stations and such.
When the rumors of Entercom and CBS Radio merging/melding/being sold or bought/being joined at the hip started becoming louder, this seemed like a great time to hit the eject button. If you've been in the radio game for any significant length of time, you've gone through the mergers, the buyouts, the acquisitions. That just wasn't something I wanted to do...again.
It was also becoming difficult to balance both the CBS Radio day job and the "side hustle" of Tim Burt Media. Something had to give. In July of 2017, that's when the decision was made to leave the bi-weekly paycheck world, and enter the great unknown of entrepreneurship.
As Dan O'Day once told me, "If I'm going to work for an idiot, it might as well be me."
JV: A lot of our readers are hoping they can one day make the same move as you, out of Corporate America and into their own thing. What tips would you offer about getting ready to make the move, and what surprises, if any, were waiting for you in that first year on your own?
Tim: If you are leaving your corporate job and you plan on working for yourself, here are things to consider:
Have at least a year's worth of salary saved up. If that's not possible, save as much as you can starting right now. Once you walk out that door you won't be getting a steady paycheck every two weeks - unless you're going to work another "job."
Don't tell anyone where you are that you're planning to leave. Employers these days are looking for any excuse to jettison salaries. Don't make it easy for them...because they may terminate you before you're ready to leave.
Get more outside work than you can handle before you leave and outsource anything you can't finish yourself. Why? Once you're not constrained by a 9-5, you'll be able to complete those projects on your own without outsourcing.
If you're working for yourself, make sure the clients and projects you are counting on are solid. Nothing like expecting a big payday from a project that never materializes.
If you are working from home, make a daily schedule and STICK TO IT. It's easy to get drawn away from the tasks at hand. YouTube, social media, etc. are not your friend. Take time to leave the house at least once per day, whether you need to or not and regardless of the weather. Don't become the hermit down the street who only looks out of their window blinds once per day and only opens the door to get the mail.
I can only speak for me, but when I walked out of CBS Radio for the last time, I quickly found out who my friends really were. Some people whom I thought I could count on wouldn't give me the time of day after I left. Don't be surprised if this happens to you.
As far as surprises… Not getting "radio station freebies" anytime you ask for them -- this includes free bagels to concert tickets. Also a surprise, recording artists and bands won't just show up at your house for interviews.
JV: Your seminars are taking you all over the world. As we’re doing this interview, you’re visiting Hoedspruit, South Africa and Maputo, Mozambique to share your knowledge. Since you’ve been doing these international seminars, what are some of the most surprising things you’ve learned about radio advertising in other countries?
Tim: After speaking with radio station group owners, sales reps, and on-air talent in Pakistan, South Africa, and England, they all have the same story, which you hear in the USA every day: digital advertising is taking traditional radio's ad revenue.
What's not surprising is that I hear the same mistakes in radio commercials overseas as in the USA: Multiple methods of contact like the website and phone number. Lazy and worthless clichés: "we have it all," "for all your _____ needs," etc. Producing commercials that attempt to entertain rather than sell.
Outside of the States, ad agencies in some countries have enormous influence and power over radio stations. For instance, in Pakistan, most advertising agencies treat radio stations as their own production houses. The stations are not allowed to alter the script in any way, and must be produced to the satisfaction of the agency.
This is not only unearned and undeserved, but extremely unfair. It also makes it incredibly difficult for sales reps to get clients independent of the ad agencies. When will the radio industry - and television, for that matter - stand up to these ad agencies and start demanding some respect, instead of groveling for crumbs from the ad revenue table?
While in Karachi, I had to remind a room full of radio execs that radio has a rich and powerful story to tell. The radio industry, worldwide, is doing a poor job of telling that story.
JV: Since we last checked in, you’ve also managed to crank out a couple of great books on the subject of making effective radio commercials. Your first one is titled, High Performing Ads – How to Get the Biggest Bang for your Advertising Buck. While the title leaves one thinking this is a book for the advertiser, I found virtually every page loaded with information that those of us in the radio creative end of things can use every day, either in the creative process or in dealing with sales reps and/or the clients themselves. Tell us about the book.
Tim: High Performing Ads is, in a way, a look at the advertising industry as a whole. But I specifically focus on radio advertising, having spent 25 years in the business.
It was written as a marketing and advertising primer, and as an eye-opener for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and marketers who are new to the game. It is also for those who feel as though their ads just aren't getting traction and may need a refresher.
One section covers the fact that if you're in the radio industry, you are in show business. Most of your station's clients and the audience look at what you do through a "celebrity" lens. Don't let them down.
I touch on how the world of advertising and marketing isn't what it was 10 years, 5 years, or even 12 months ago. It changes at a moment’s notice, with no warning. Are you, and your sales staffs, staying on top of current trends?
This also applies to the radio industry. "For all your _____ needs" makes zero impact in the mind of the audience, and it never did, so stop saying these trite phrases! Think about this: if you're reading this right now, have any of those mindless phrases ever convinced you to buy something? Probably not.
These are just some of the topics addressed in High Performing Ads.
JV: In one chapter, “Dirty Secrets You’re Not Being Told”, you describe the decline of creative writing in radio in the US. Talking about radio salespeople writing copy, you come right out and say, “Make no mistake: these people are only trained on how to sell you advertising packages and air time.” Do you think this will ever turn around in US radio, where stations will begin hiring trained copywriters? Are you currently doing seminars or other events here in the US aimed at radio salespeople to help them provide better commercials for their clients?
Tim: When radio station groups and owners decide to hire dedicated copywriters again, that's when the quality of advertisements will improve overall.
However, given most of these ownership groups’ track records as of late -- slashing budgets, enormous debt, etc. -- don't expect to see "Now hiring copy writers" in the jobs section of industry trades.
Don't get me wrong, there are some fantastic Production Directors writing commercials that are designed to sell the client's product across this country. Unfortunately, their work is buried under the daily mountain of ad agency garbage.
I always have, and always will hold copywriting seminars for any radio or television station that wants me to conduct them. These are among my favorite seminars to do. And they are needed at every single radio station in the world.
Yet I've only done one copy writing seminar for a station in the US in the last year. One. This tells me that most upper management groups value "sales" over what actually comes out of the speakers on someone's radio. It's sad, short-sighted, and a problem that is fairly easy to fix.
Hence, this is why most of my seminar work happens outside of the US.
JV: Your second book is Inside A Buyer’s Mind – Moving your potential customer from short-term memory to long-term success. Again, this book is written for the business owner looking to elevate his or her advertising, but it equally applies to the radio production person who writes copy or the radio salesperson who is forced to write copy but wants to do it right. What can our readers expect to find in this book?
Tim: Inside A Buyer's Mind goes into an area that is critical to turning a stranger - a random radio listener - into a potential buyer. Without getting too deep into psychology, this book outlines how numerous studies show that the average person has 7 short-term memory slots in their brain. This number can go up, or down, by two.
The big question that must be answered: does the commercial do enough to not only occupy one of those short-term slots, but be moved into the listener's long-term memory? If the commercial fails to do this, it is going to take longer - and cost the advertiser far more money - to even attract that person to the business.
In other words, the spot MUST get the listener to say to themselves "I GOTTA have that!" or, "this is important, I must remember this." That goes for the product, the website, and/or the business name.
JV: You could have fittingly titled this book “How to Write Radio Copy that Works”. You explain the many approaches one can take with their copy and give many examples of how to apply those methods. Can you recall a piece of copy you wrote that really did the job for the client using one or more of these techniques? What was the one line in the copy, or the special twist of words that moved that message to long term memory?
Tim: That's a great suggestion...perhaps I'll re-title that book and publish it again!
There's a realtor on the Illinois side of St. Louis - local vernacular is the "Metro East" - who I've worked with that has had tremendous success just by using language that only her target audience would understand. The realtor is Tammy Mitchell Hines. On the Metro East side of St. Louis, you'll find Scott Air Force Base with over 5,500 active duty personnel, and an additional 5,000+ civilians employed there.
Tammy mentioned one day how she'd like to get more of the Scott Air Force Base crowd to become clients. Because of my time in the US Air Force, I knew that military people often have to sell their homes fast because they can be reassigned with short notice. In military jargon, this is known as receiving "PCS Orders" - Permanent Change of Station. Here's the :30 commercial I wrote for her:
If you have PCS orders in - or out - of Scott Air Force Base, I want you to listen very carefully. You don't have to work with the realtor you've been assigned to. You do have a choice. We have programs designed specifically for military personnel. I'm Tammy Mitchell Hines, and I realize that military personnel have to buy and sell a house very quickly. I sell a house every 38 hours in the Metro East. When you're ready to buy or sell a house, click the Scott Air Force Base tab at CallTammy.com. That's CallTammy.com.
Notice how the first line immediately targets her desired audience? No civilian uses the term "PCS Orders." This was deliberately placed there to get the attention of military members. She then empathizes with their plight of having to buy or sell…fast. Wrap it up with a solid, simple, single call-to-action, and that's a winner. By the way, this commercial is from 2015, and Tammy now sells a house every 30 hours.
If you can use what would be considered "insider" words or phrases in a commercial, it is a very powerful - and fast - way for you to identify your target audience.
JV: While at CBS, how did you manage to spend the necessary time needed to create effective commercials given the quantity of work you, and most others in that position, have to deal with daily? Did you have help in the commercial production department?
Tim: As any other Production Director will tell you, it's a careful balancing act. My door was always open for any salesperson that needed help or to bounce an idea.
The last 12 years at CBS Radio, I never did have a true backup person. While I was out, the work was usually divided among the on-air personnel and part-timers.
About creating effective commercials…without the amount of relentless studying of advertising that I did and continue to do to this day, devising an ad that was going to work quickly would have been nearly impossible.
The more salespeople that came through my door was like an at-bat for a baseball player. The more swings you take, the better you're going to be at hitting. It took years for me to learn the right questions to ask of the sales staff, define the best possible message for the client and the spot, and the best way to convey that message. But once I learned to ask what was important and discard the fluff and garbage, devising powerful advertising messages came rather naturally to me.
My advice to any Commercial Production Director would be these three things:
1) Remember that ultimately it's the client's money and if they want to air a commercial that they wrote which you know is ineffective garbage, LET THEM. They'll have to deal with the financial ramifications.
2) When a client comes into your studio to record, and they're open to changing their - probably awful - script, get the 30,000-foot view of what the client is trying to achieve and base your message around that. That is a key ingredient to ads that sell.
3) Study advertising throughout history that has worked. Study it like you're taking a Harvard-level exam every day, and then implement it. You'll be shocked at the results.
JV: What are the top 3 things you love most about what you’re doing now?
Tim: Plotting my own professional course, and not having it dictated to me by a corporation. Second would be working primarily from home. And third, speaking to audiences around the world. There's nothing like inspiring and showing business owners that their advertising can - and should - be more effective than it has been. Seeing them have the "a-ha" moment makes this all worth it.
JV: What’s down the road for you in 2019?
Tim: Ultimately, my goal is to speak to every single radio and television station on the planet about creating effective advertising. That's my own self-imposed challenge.
Right now I'm focusing on securing as many international speaking gigs as possible. There are a lot of radio people around the world that look to the United States for help...and I'm honored to help fill that role.
The other project I'm heavily focused on came to me while in Johannesburg recently. It will be the information that every media seller and Commercial Production Director wishes they had when they got into radio or television. It's called "How To Market Anything." As Production Directors and sellers, that's exactly what you must be able to do daily. As of right now, it'll be an online course, the title of my speaking presentations, and possibly my third book. Whatever shape it ultimately takes, Radio And Production will be among the first to know about it.