Production 212: The Art of War

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

The key to successful image work is total integration. Now, when I say image work, I do NOT intend that commercial producers should simply tune out and move on to another article. The work you do on commercials is nothing more than image work for clients. Every producer in this business is in the business of imaging. So batten down the hatches and pay attention. This could be the moment of your epiphany, that grand “A-HA!” moment when you see the light and start moving towards being a truly world-class producer, worthy of the large dollars.

To be truly successful, every piece you produce must move the needle, provoke a response and get the listener to do something, whether it’s to stay tuned for a contest or visit their local Ford dealer to test drive the newest model car. Whether you’re imaging your own radio station or a client’s business, understanding strategic goals is critical to crafting the tactical promos and commercials we work on every day.

Sun-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher from the 6thCentury BC, is widely regarded in military circles as the godfather of all modern warfare. In his book The Art Of War, he says, “All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.” Make no mistake, what we are engaged in is war. Many have called it the war to win the minds of our listeners. When you analyze the bombardment on the senses every listener experiences every day from radio, television, newspapers, internet, billboards, bumper stickers and more, it’s amazing we don’t live in a society of absolutely crazy people. Well… maybe we do, but there’s crazy and then there’s crazy. We are involved daily, in an effort to convince people that they simply cannot live without whatever we’re hawking. It’s war, and war is hell.

So, what did Sun-Tzu mean? The two most important words in that quote are tactics and strategy. We use tactics to make our work stand out from the rest, to drill into their psyches and convince them that whatever we’re presenting is massively important to them. But the entire point of this column is that we make tactical moves to prosecute a strategic plan. If you don’t know what the strategy is, how can you hope to make the right tactical move? You might win the battle, but if you don’t know where it’s all supposed to lead, you will likely lose the war.

Roy H. Williams (The Wizard of Ads), a modern day godfather of this war we’re waging said, “The first step in exceeding your customer's expectations is to know those expectations.

If you’re doing commercial work, your customer is the commercial client. Your first order of business should be, no… must be, to get to know the client. You cannot possibly know the client by reading a half-page of bullet points your AE typed up and gave to you. That’s all tactical stuff. You need to know the strategic stuff. Get the AE to set up a brief meeting with the client. I know, a lot of you are groaning right now. I hate those meetings too, but you need to ask some critical questions; “How do your customers feel about your business?” “How do you want your customers to feel about your business?” If you can get solid answers to those or similar questions, you’ll understand the client’s hopes and aspirations for his or her business. You will have a strategic view, which will help you shape your tactical decisions about copy density, musical selection and a host of other considerations.

If you’re doing the image-work for a radio station, you need to ask the same questions of the Program Director. Don’t bother asking the GM or Sales Managers, their perspective is focused on the bottom line, as it should be. You need to be concerned with the listeners and their perceptions of the radio station. Have your PD dig out the latest perceptual study and discuss it with him or her. (If there isn’t one, agitate to get one done. They are invaluable to doing imaging.) Then ask the PD, “Where do you want to go with the radio station?” In this case, the PD is the client and you need to make sure you understand his or her vision. This will allow you, along with the PD, to manage the day-to-day tactical decisions.

One more quote from Roy H. Williams, “Writing good ads is easy when you have something to say.” If your message is meaningless, it will stay meaningless no matter how many times the listener hears it.

One of the questions I almost always get when I speak somewhere, online or at a convention is, “Do you produce the music and effects first, or do you record the copy first?” Wrong question. The promo or commercial is alive in my head, LONG before I ever open a session. I know exactly what I want it to sound like. After that, it really doesn’t matter which comes first. When I’m imaging Z100/New York, I know where I want to push the listener. I know where I want the listener to end up sometime in the constantly changing future. Strategically, I want the lion’s share of the listeners to idolize Z100, to the exclusion of all others, because we fit their personal lifestyle so perfectly, they never have a reason to go anywhere else.

Just to prove my point, back in the days of diary ratings from Arbitron™, there was a measurement called Exclusive P1 Listening. These people not only said they listened to a particular radio station most often, making them P1 listeners, but the ONLY radio station they would enter in their diary was that particular station, making them exclusive P1 listeners. Most truly successful radio stations had Exclusive P1 ratings somewhere in the high teens. A 19 was considered stellar. Z100 was consistently in the range of 45 to 48. That is winning the war.

For my audio this month, I’m going to offer someone else’s imaging work. I know, it’s a little unorthodox, but I would LIKE to say it was mine. Ryan Cota from KRQQ/Tucson got in touch after a recent teleseminar I did and told me he was inspired by two hours we spent on the phone and had come up with a really cool idea. I concur completely. I present 3 really tight, bright and fast sweepers that can play any time, but sound especially nice going into an artist’s own music. They serve as excellent examples of tactically connecting an artist to a station, which supports the strategic goal of being the best source of pop culture in the market.

Remember Patton’s famous quote, “It’s not your job to die for your country. It’s your job to make sure the other guy dies for his country.” Good luck, and be safe.

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