Production 212: Filling Your 5-Pound Bag

Prod212-Logo 2014 webBy Dave Foxx

As a VO guy for a lot of different radio stations, from just about every format, I see copy that runs the gamut; from awful to brilliant. On a daily basis, I deal with bad grammar, run-on sentences, indecipherable phrasing and little or no punctuation. I often have to guess what the writer (usually the PD) is trying to say and a lot more often than I would care to admit, I guess wrong. This results in a “pickup” session, usually a couple of hours later, long after I’ve changed gears into a new mindset, meaning I have to go back and review the original session.

Don’t get me wrong, I really don’t mind all that. Work is work and the customer is always right, right? Well, sort of. If I want to continue with a station, I need to pretty much deliver what they ask for, even if it’s unclear exactly what they want, OR if it’s a branding/marketing mistake. My job isn’t about delivering amazing imaging, my job is wrapped around saying the words they want to use in their design. Design is the problem…but, it’s their design. They don’t pay me to design their branding and imaging. One reason I enjoy writing this column so much is that I can tell them (in a kind of anonymous way) that they are totally missing the boat on their imaging and branding.

The absolute worst part of what many are doing is trying to stuff ten pounds of excrement into a five pound bag. What they want is to do is have the listener understand everything there is to know about a contest or promotion. What they get is that giant sucking sound you have when nobody is listening beyond the first few seconds. The fundamental mistake here is an attempt to reach the audience on an intellectual level. I am here to testify that an approach like that absolutely, positively, NEVER works. I’ll speak to that later on, but right now, let’s solve the problem at hand.

Without calling out any one person or radio station, I do have a prime example, submitted to me by a really good producer in a large market (Top 25), complaining about this very thing:

I’m getting prod orders lately that have so many different things that need to be explained (how to play the game or/and an example of how to play, appointment times, trying to work in rules and sponsors…and more). it’s becoming hard to set an image. Do you have any tips to help me cut through some of this copy/clutter?

My response:

Well…your programming and promotions people might not care too much for my suggestions, but they really, REALLY work. Your web people will be thrilled too. Once your PD sees how well it works and the kind of response a promo gets, programming and promotions will be happy too.

Several years ago, my company instituted a “no longer than 30-second” rule for all promos. Once you take care of all the crap, there is really no time left for branding and imaging, which to my way of thinking misses the point of promos. So, I started cutting 90% of the procedural stuff; how to win, appointment times and rules of the game. THEN, at the end of the promo I say, “Get all the details at Z100-dot-com.” The web people put up a contest page that explains all the nuts and bolts that you left out of the promo. The website’s unique visits number jumps up and your promo can do what it’s supposed to do…build the station’s image.

Appointment listening times have become all the rage in programming/promotion circles, but I am actively campaigning to stop it completely…at least giving out ALL the times in a promo. Nobody pays attention to a string of times rattled off in a promo. Much the same way they don’t pay any attention to a phone number repeated ad nauseum in a commercial. Now, if the jock sets the NEXT appointment, THAT totally works! They only give one time each time. Instead of saying “Tomorrow at 9:20, 11:20, 2:20, 4:20 and 6:20,” they just say, “Your next chance to win is coming up at 4:20.” PLUS, if someone really wants to play, they WILL go to the website. (By the way, using Social Media to set appointments is growing in popularity right now, which is something I wholeheartedly endorse.)

One other suggestion that works is something I do regularly: make 7 different promos that each say when the next playtime is and then restrict play for each cut so they always say the correct time. I’ll even do a version that says, “tomorrow morning at 9:20,” and one that says, “later this morning at 9:20.” If the contest runs over a weekend into the next week, I’ll do one that says, “Monday morning at 9:20.” This might seem like a hassle, but it really streamlines the promo, and with the ability to simply copy out the whole promo and substitute the one line several times actually makes it pretty easy.

Sponsors are another issue. A long time ago, I had a PD who understood that the promo is about US…the radio station. It’s NOT about Carl’s Used Car Lot and their super-magnificent-amazing-too good to be true-service, conveniently located at 59th and Broadway. So, once WE were all on the same page, programming laid down the law with sales. Promos are restricted to “Name ONLY.” So now, instead of saying, “sponsored by Carl’s Used Car Lot – where we stand behind our deals, so be careful when you back up”, I simply say, “sponsored by Carl’s Used Car Lot.” Sales makes the sponsorship attractive by guaranteeing placement, which also incurs a special, higher rate, making Sales AND programming happy and, most importantly to me, makes me extremely happy.

In the event that there is more than sponsor, each sponsor gets their OWN version of the promo, so there is only one sponsor each time the promo plays.

There’s a lot to absorb here, but I guarantee you, it works. You’ll be making image and branding decisions based on what needs to be said, not based on trying to squeeze in something in the 5 seconds you have left after all the other stuff.

OK… so WHY this is important:

I mentioned earlier that too many people try to appeal to their audience/potential audience through the intellect. Outside of the News/Talk format or a very active morning show, this is the most fundamental mistake anyone in this business can make. If you think about how people use radio, this becomes self-evident. Almost all of the time, the listener is mentally idling or is otherwise preoccupied with things like driving a vehicle, writing a report, doing homework or entertaining friends. Radio is wallpaper to the vast majority of listeners. They seldom focus on what you’re saying unless you poke them in the ear to say, “Hey! Listen to this!” The truly great jocks have learned to keep their comments pithy and know that there’s a little timer in most listener’s heads that rings an alarm once you go beyond a certain amount of time. That little alarm is what motivates so many to reach out and punch a button.

Then there is this: study after study shows conclusively that less than FIVE percent of the world will ever participate in a contest. So, think for a moment what someone filling a promo with useless information is actually doing. They are effectively trying to convince 5% or less of their audience to get excited about a contest or promotion. They sure as pop aren’t going to convince the 95% of anything except to tune out, as quickly as possible. That sounds like a mistake to me.

Far better to use the promo to convey a sense of fun and excitement to the entire audience, telling everyone listening that your radio station is a really good place to get a great selection of music they like, with a solid dose of happy. And THAT is what a promo is supposed to do.

I’ve written extensively in this space about the importance of using emotions to “open the door” to the listener’s mind and heart. Understanding Broca’s Area of the brain is fundamental to branding and marketing any business through advertising and promotion. If you’re new to this column, I suggest you do a bit of research. Don’t just take my word for any of this. It is the foundation you need to use to build a truly magnificent career in radio production.

For my sound this month, I offer two promos, one each from my two radio stations here in New York, Z100 and 103-5 KTU. It doesn’t happen too often that I need to do music image promos for both stations in the same week, but in early June, the stars were aligned just so and it happened. Hopefully, I was successful in differentiating the two styles, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Dave Foxx is the Director of Creative Services for iHeartMedia New York. He welcomes your comments and questions at davefoxx@iheartmedia.com

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