The Production S.O.P. - How To Write One, And Why You Need One

Why do you need an S.O.P.? Because Radio is a business. It's in the business of attracting and satisfying an audience. And it's in the business of attracting and satisfying advertisers. Where these two goals meet is in the production department. As Production Director, you need to be organized in order to meet the challenges of these two (sometimes competing) goals. An S.O.P. will help you do that.

What exactly is a "Standard Operating Procedure?" Basically, it's a big memo that spells out how your station gets its advertising on the air. It pinpoints the duties and responsibilities of everyone involved in the production process. It explains policies for everything, from use of the production studio by staffers, to talent fees owed to jocks for spots that run on other stations. It answers all nagging questions, standardizes paperwork and gives everybody involved a handy "rule book" to follow. And if management signs off on it, it makes the Production Director's job a lot easier.

This last point is critical, because if management isn't willing to get involved and sign off on it, your S.O.P. will be worthless. Management has to be willing to back you up when you set copy deadlines for the sales department, or you need to enforce a production policy. Otherwise, your policies will end up as "suggestions." So the first thing you have to do is get your General Manager and Program Director involved. Make sure they read your S.O.P., give comments and suggestions, then sign off on the final draft.

What should be in it? Everything you can think of that relates to your job. Start with an outline. After the outline, write a draft. Then submit it for management approval, edit it, then distribute it to everyone involved: jocks, continuity, traffic, sales, programming, promotion, etc.

Where do you start? With yourself. Write down what the production department is and does. Next, outline the policies regarding the production studio. Spell out specifically what each one should be used for, who has priority to use it and when, and how non-production people can sign out the room when it's not in use. (Post a sign-out sheet on the door. That way, you know who's using the room after hours, or when you're not around.) And make sure everybody knows when you will be using the studio, and organize your time in the room as rigidly as you expect them to organize theirs. Explain where things belong, how the studio is organized and how to fill out forms and logs. (I always kept my stations' production on master tapes. Each tape had a log. So whenever anyone recorded and mixed a spot, they had to dub it on to the master and log it.)

Include in your S.O.P. examples of filled-out forms, like sales orders, production orders, copy paper, and even cart labels. Cart labels should be uniform so they're easier for jocks to use. Give examples of correct forms, so they all end up looking the same. Be specific in explaining how production is assigned, where jocks should put completed paperwork, and where they should put finished carts when they're ready to go in the studio.

Next, outline policy. Here's the sticky part. Most friction between sales and production occurs over policy. And this is where management's cooperation is key. In this section of your S.O.P. you'll set copy deadlines for sales, production expectations for the airstaff, and quality control standards. If you can hammer out a station policy regarding issues like what is an acceptable or unacceptable client-produced spot, or what a station will or won't run, and get it written into your S.O.P., you greatly reduce the amount of conflict between yourself and a salesperson down the road.

Again, in this section, be as specific as you can. Spell out station policy on copy; what you can and can't say in a station spot, when you can and can't involve the station's call letters in a client commercial, when and if you can use playlist music in a commercial, what words are not acceptable in station copy. Explain the station policy regarding first person endorsements by station personnel. Outline station promo policy, and how they are to be handled among the sales, promotion, programming and production departments. If there are no set rules about spec spots, make some. And set up rules for talent fees, should something you or the airstaff produce wind up on another station in the market. Explain how and when cue tones should be put on carts. Set up a procedure for obtaining client approval of copy before the spot is cut. Set a standard for what is and isn't an acceptable dub from an outside source. (For example, will your station accept commercials on cassette?) And spell out what will happen if a client's spot is rejected for air.

At some stations, we even had a policy for what order spots would run in a break. For instance, concert and/or record spots would run first, "obnoxious" spots would be marked in some fashion and run in the middle. 60s would run first, then 30s. Stuff like that. Set policies for live vs. recorded tags, live spots, and the organization of the live copy book.

How long is this thing going to take? If you've never written anything like this before, it could take a couple of days. It does take awhile to put something comprehensive together. But it is worth the up front effort to get it all down on paper once, rather than go over the same territory every time there's a conflict. Once you've written it, it's basically done. All you have to do is enforce it, and maybe update it from time to time.

To sum up: Be specific, comprehensive, serious and business-like. Get your PD and GM involved, and make sure they sign off on the final draft. And give everybody on the staff their own copy. Then, next time there's a conflict, all you have to say is, "Hey, look it up; it's right there in the S.O.P."

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