Q It Up: What is your spec spot policy?

q-it-up-logo2Q It Up: When it comes to spec spots, what guidelines and policies do you have in place for the salespeople? How much time do you require to produce a spec spot? How many do you produce in an average week or month? Are there any incentives in place as rewards when spec spots result in sales? Please add any other comments you might have about spec spots at your station(s).

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez@CoxRadio.com], Cox Radio, San Antonio, Texas: I ask the reps to give me a week for specs. Do I get next day requests? Sure. It happens. I do it when I can. But spots with money on the line and real start dates (like tomorrow) are priority. Also I will occasionally produce a commercial as a demo if I think the client may have a hard time understanding it on paper.

Just this week I had an client who made many changes to a script I wrote, including trying to ad their name in the beginning of the commercial. It clearly would not work there and in fact killed the moment before it could begin. I finally just recorded it the way I wrote it and sent it. It was then that they understood and decided to leave it alone. So I do consider those examples of “specs”

Currently the incentive to for specs is to put money on the books.

Brad Lane [BLane@am1500.com], KSTP-AM, Minneapolis, Minnesota: First of all, let me say... that I absolutely love doing spec spots. It’s the one time in the creative process where you literally have a blank canvas with which to work - pretty much anything goes. That said, there should be clearly laid-out expectations in terms of timing.

In our little kingdom, we require a week to conceptualize, write, voice and produce a spec. We often complete projects much sooner, but since specs are lowest in the pecking order compared to sold spots, it’s nice to have that cushion.

Currently there is no monetary or other rewards type incentive structure in place for specs selling, but I actually think just the fact that a client was moved off the fence and onto the station’s list is incentive enough.

Did I mention how much I love doing spec spots? When given the right copy points and the freedom to tell a client’s unique story through compelling emotional means, this is the time that we can creatively shine.

Steve Stone [sstone@zrgmail.com], Zimmer Radio, Joplin, Missouri: (Accompanying audio samples on the CD) Hmm... This can be a salty subject for some. First, our policy at Zimmer Radio is 72 hours turnaround for demos. We rarely need all 72 hours, but it’s important to have the wiggle room when things pile up. I’ve known creatives that despise making specs, calling them a waste of their time. I, on the other hand, have no problem swinging at a piñata in the dark. I embrace challenge. I try to make demos that are impossible to say no to, which gives the AE viable ammunition when approaching a potential newbie. This extra effort also brings about the other side of this coin...

Some of my best ads have never made the airwaves. That part is a little frustrating for me, especially when I know in my gut that the ad would be effective given chance.

Here at Zimmer, we write and produce 80 to 100 demos per month, some for current clients, most for potentials. Incentive for making a sale? Not around here. BUT I like to think that these economically trying times bring added value to the creative department.

Blaine Parker [bp@slowburnmarketing.com], Slow Burn Marketing: Oh. Spec spots. Don’t get me started.

Well, too late.

Being that I no longer inhabit a station environment (everyone should try it), I no longer have to deal with any spec spot policy for anyone other than myself. (Well, there’s my wife, who technically owns the company. And she likes them even less than I.)

That said, my policy on spec spots at the station was simply this: we always try to accommodate whenever possible. But the normal timelines for spec work are twice as long as those for paying clients, and they can always get bumped. If it’s a rush, there better be a darned good reason for it. And no spec spots for any account rep who doesn’t already have a relationship with the prospect. If an account rep is trying to use a spec spot as a door opener, policy is that he’s laughed out of the office. (Then, of course, there was the sales manager who told us that if we wanted to tell salespeople how to sell, then we should get into sales. Fortunately, his tenure as a sales manager was truncated.) And so often, it seems that spec spots are born of desperation—and there’s nothing attractive about a desperate salesperson.

The biggest problem with spec work is it really devalues the nature of what we do. After all, if it can be whipped out for somebody who isn’t even a client yet, how hard can it be?

Frequently, it can also create a rift between us and the prospect. I once was told, “He loves this spot that Howard Stern did for him. Can you do something incorporating that sales message?” So, I created a fun, on-target, on-message campaign of three spec spots based on that ostensibly “perfect” Stern spot. The client hears them and says, “Really interesting, but totally off target.” Which was total BS. They were dead-on, but he just wanted something different—quite probably with his own voice. And then he said he wasn’t going to sign a contract until he heard the spec spots that he wanted to hear. (See also: devalues the nature of what we do.) There was never any contract.

Then there was the prospect who kept arguing that a spec spot was wrong when it was oh-so-right, and he kept trying to make it “better.” Somehow, he could never make it work. So he never signed.

These are challenges one shouldn’t have to endure, but if they’re going to come, they should come from paying clients, not from people who are unable to commit.

Bottom line: there must be a policy between writing & production personnel and management about the nature of spec work. Management always backed us up, largely because specs typically create many more problems than they solve, including robbing paying clients from services to which they’re entitled. I’m also starting to wonder if radio shouldn’t join the ranks of other media and charge for creative. If you buy newspaper, they don’t offer to “do your ad for free.” Why does radio feel the need to do so?

Brian Wilson [wizman440@hotmail.com]: When I worked as a commercial production guy, we told the sales slugs if our talent closes the deal, then we get the sales commission. Funny, they never gave us a spec after that.

Andrew Frame [andrew@bafsoundworks.com], BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: When I rode a desk, there was no distinction between spec and paid spot production; an order from sales was an order to be filled. Typically, though, we’d take a business week (five days) to return a spec to the rep - so if we got notes by noon Monday, for example, we’d hand them the spot the following Monday before noon. Any shorter time than that, and the sales manager would have to triage the workload so as to determine what he wanted bumped so we could do the spec order. (Only 8 hours in a work day, so only a finite amount of time for work.)

Fortunately, the last GM I worked with before going independent, was a good guy, and realized the importance of pre-qualifying your prospects. Reps would make an initial visit or two, then have us build a spec to use during the attempt to close the deal. Done this way, it worked four out of five times easily.

The other market manager reflected the Company with a “make enough of them and someone will eventually buy” mentality - a procedure that cost us a fantastic writer and producer when he simply burned out. They would drive to work that morning, see a business, and expect a “creative” spec so they could cold call with it before that afternoon. Multiply that by a half-dozen reps, and you can see how frustrating, stupid, and - as expected - ineffective it was.

During the stations big local-direct push just before the ratings made it an agency darling, I was doing five or six a week, not a terrific number, but when four of those would close, it meant a lot of new business.

I was supposed to be paid $10 for each spec that helped close, but as soon as I submitted my first quarterly audit and the amount was over $500, the market manager at the time promptly re-marked most of them “renewals” (existing contracts) and reneged on paying - even though my production orders clearly said “spec.” I never pursued it after that.

That was one of the factors that pushed me into becoming an independent, and now, in that role, I very strongly encourage and work with my client stations to have an active new-business spec program. I have the same five-day clock, and usually deliver them two sales messages, one straight and one vignette. Often, the audio is an important factor in getting a signed contract.

I believe in a good spec program. I show reps how to use them effectively. And, specs give me the opportunity to have carte-blanche on what the sales message sounds like. All I have is some basic information, and from there, it’s up to me. So, from the very beginning, we can establish an image and sound for a new client.

I have a form on my website that the rep can fill out and it e-mails me a script order. From there, they go back to selling, and I get working on their spot. It keeps the process very easy, and time/date stamps, so there is accountability in both directions.

Also as an indie, if I can work with reps using specs to put new business on the air, it makes me more valuable as a vendor, and it justifies what I’m being paid to the bean-counters.

It’s one of the nicer parts about being an indie shop: happy salespeople shooting an e-mail that says, “Sold it!”

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