Q It Up: How do you handle clients who want to voice their own spots?

Q It Up: How do you handle clients who want to voice their own spots? If their performance is weak, do you coach them to perfection? Do you discourage them from doing it? Do you use what strengths there are in the client and write a cool campaign around it? Or do you sometimes just take the money and air the substandard spot? If you have a success story of taking a bad spot and making it good for all, please share; and if you have the audio, please attach to your reply!

 

Scott Silz, Hot Mix Entertainment, Chicago, IL: You schedule them and record them. I use a lot of processing (dynamics and EQ). I try to go in and remove the breathes and coach them thru the read. Some clients can only read one line at a time, but in the end, we deliver the best possible spot for our clients regardless of their skill.

 

Matthys Pischke, Vista Ideas Group, Kelowna, BC: Here at the Vista Ideas Group (VIG) it's a pretty unique situation when it comes to client voiced commercials. Because we're doing production for an entire company from one office, we have almost no control over client voiced commercials unless it's in the same market as our office. So day to day, we do whatever we can with what we're provided from stations around the country. It's not always the ideal situation, but we do the best with what we've got and clients are usually very happy to be hearing their own voice on the radio.

In a perfect world, I would love to be able to take as much time as needed and coach clients that insist on voicing their own commercials. I say insist because there's not many good reasons for the client to voice the whole commercial -- an intro, or an extro to a spot sure. A tagline, address or something to make it that much more personal, I can get behind. It gives the ad a local feel, friends and family will recognize him/her, and that can create a bit of buzz all in itself. For sell points and the call to action however, I feel 9 times out of 10 our announcers and voices will do a better job of getting the message across.

So, in summary, a perfect world would have no client voiced spots (unless it's written in for a reason/client REALLY does have a good VO). For those that love to have their egos stoked, a producer should take the time, coach them to the very best of their abilities and make the spot as great as it can be. In the actual day to day, I feel a lot of substandard spots make it to air. For small communities, it's not necessarily detrimental to their campaigns either. If they are a popular enough figure in the community, it can still be effective just by sheer power of association.

 

Todd Franklin: It depends on the situation and client. If possible and the client doesn't have the best delivery, I will ask them to let me voice and produce. Nine times out of ten, it normally works without making the client feel ashamed or inadequate.

 

Don Elliot, Levine/Schwab Broadcasting, Los Angeles, CA: The short answer which covers the majority of the problems that come up is to consider the personalities and budget involved… For example, the car dealer that has his picture on top of every taxi cab in town… Do you think maybe he might want to voice his own spot? It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out, so you have to be a counter genius yourself and make it your job to make them sound good.

One thing that seems to work very well is inserting the voice of the client/owner with statements or slogans with a professional announcer wraparound doing the main body of the spot. It's such an easy way to handle it. I wish I had the hours and hours back that I had to use to coach an unprofessional in simple mic techniques, not to mention even trying to get them to not emphasize every wrong word in a phrase to their own detriment. Just exhausting. And that doesn't even scratch the surface on beginning to sound acceptable much less professional. You can't change someone that quickly. So focus on the best of what they are and take it from there. Every situation is different.

 

Denzil Lacey, Zava Media: I would usually take this type of thing in a case-by-case basis. In general, I discourage clients from voicing their own spots, unless they are well-known personalities or good public speakers.

Personally, I feel sometimes when clients voice their own spots, it can have a negative impact on business -- listener perception is always an interesting area and this could lead them to think that the business owner has an ego or just wants to hear their own voice on the Radio.

When we have clients voicing their spots, we would always give lots of direction and get as many takes as possible. It could sound too dull, too happy (depending on the type of business it is).

My top tips if you do have the client voicing a spot is to source music before they come into record and play it in their ears while voicing -- it can give them a much better feel for how it will sound and improve the tone completely. It can also help to meet the client (whether that's you or the salesperson) to gauge their style. If it sounds good - it's good. If not, the saying garbage in, garbage out is correct.

 

Marilyn Kirkby: Coach them through as best as you can, and get the best from them. If some of the v/o is subpar, use your announcers and write the rest around the best client clip.

 

JJ McKay: I like this topic!!! Two come mind. In Springfield, MO I worked with a Subway Sub Shoppe who really wanted to voice his own spot, and he was horrible and clueless. I don’t recall the premise, but as I recall, I created a question and answer spot with me asking the question and the owner answering. Two things happened: 1)  I was able to edit his answers, therefore keeping his annoyance factor to as bare a minimum as possible. And 2) people would come into his store and tell him they heard him on the radio. That was the key point in my mind -- him getting his ego stroked. It worked with the ego and sales in the next 30 days; his sales skyrocketed, and with him telling me that we’ll see how sales are before he does another month, turned out to be a regular yearly client that kept a radio buy as part of his yearly budget.

I did a similar thing in Alaska, actually making the owner a recurring “Character” in the spots as a mastermind behind the menu items he cooked, speaking to him in his “Bat Cave” environment where he conjured up the daily cooking chores, “listening in behind the scenes” as he whipped up his meals. We actually got a GREAT response from those series of ads.

Worked for me and both of the clients. My thought is, try to figure out a way to let the client voice the spot without making it the almost always “tune out” that we ALL know it is. Bottom line, we need the buy and the GM will always MAKE you do it anyway…

 

Geron Scates, 91.1FM KGWB, Western Texas College: In commercial radio, I would allow clients to voice their spots, but made sure each ad was consistent. Pretty soon their little quirks became catch phrases everyone began to notice.

I used effective music beds and editing to enhance their recordings.

Also, the clients enjoyed customers mentioning their ads to them. This was in a small Midwestern town.

 

Gord L Williams: Since I no longer work in house at a media perhaps my answer is skewed. Most of the radio markets I worked in did not have anything but hard core, hard selling salesman for business owners who wanted to voice their own stuff. This equals ego and usually a lack of concern for tactical sales.

Someone once put it that many business owners do not realize that advertising is a door to clients and they do not appreciate the fact that you still have to woo them. Actually the fellow who said this used the word seduce, but in the wrong hands I believe the advice would turn out just as bad as the hard sell for everything approach.

I have not yet encountered a business owner who has done his marketing after owning the business for several years. It’s understandable that after opening the doors every day and chasing down a million things perhaps the last thing you want to do is market research. Secondly that’s why advertising agencies exist, to take things to the next level. I believe this is why you get these barnstormers barging into the peace of the studio competing with your loudest amp.

I have encountered the kind of individual who is initially interested in the process of making a good piece but generally they give up for many reasons. Mostly though it comes down to lack of direction, and secondly lack of money. Not that they don't have it, it’s more like they are unwilling to spend it unless there are guaranteed results.

I prefer not to handle this and I don't advise or produce client voiced spots. I am willing to deal with the exception to this, but as I have said have not run across it yet.

 

Ben Kuhns: Always try to coach a great performance out of them. It's more often than not worth it. Few things connect with a radio listener better than hearing Max from Max's Cupcakery on the ad and talking to them in the store. That's a solid reinforcement of a station's local tie.

But, if coaching doesn't help and the client is insistent on being the voice, wonders can be done with editing and production elements -- nothing fancy, splicing together different takes, manipulating pacing, music timing.

It's tempting to 'take the money and run' a bad ad, but the client will likely see the failure of a poor quality ad as a failure of radio advertising, rather than a reaction to the ad's quality. So, it is always worth it to try to write around it with announcer parts or clean it up with production.

Something that I hear in client voiced ads that can make or break it for me as a listener is the line, "I'm Max from Max's Cupcakery in YourTown." A raw performance can become homey with that line. Without it, it's just another voice on the radio.

 

Shelly Bynum, Alpha Media, Fredericksburg, VA: Whatever your position on the client-voiced spot, it's a fact of life we all have to face. Some will insist it's a 'bane upon our existence', a blight on the airwaves... and in many cases, they're correct. But some will say it's a valid effective approach. Count me among the latter… IF the copy is good and the client workable.

First, I try to relax the client so we can eliminate the mike jitters as much as possible. (My favorite line is, "Don't worry... nobody has gone out of here in a body bag on my watch and neither will you!) I'll talk to them for a while -- anywhere from 10 20 minutes – about anything, just to relax them, if they need it. Next, I try to get them to understand that I want them to sound as good as possible... but not perfect. I want them to trust my coaching. "I don't expect you to sound like a professional announcer... and neither should you. Just be yourself and don't force it." In fact, I believe the slight imperfections are what make a client sound believable. It's crucial that they identify themselves as being the owner/client, too. Otherwise, the listener will mistake him for a weak announcer rather than a client standing by his company's services.

And about the message... it should be one of integrity and empathy with his customers. The best thing to do for a weak talent is to offer them a part in the spot and have a pro do the bulk of the read. That will usually satisfy the 'ego client'... the guy who just wants to hear himself on the radio. And, yes, I have discouraged a few people from doing their own reads at all. One was a politician. I think he was more relieved that I was! Once many years ago, we had a car dealer who sent his daughter in to do the spots for the dealership. She wrote them, was always well rehearsed, clear spoken, and ALWAYS hit the one minute mark! Did them in ONE TAKE! They were very conversational, well organized, and never contained price points. They were 'Homey' and very popular. Did they sell cars? Don't know. Never looked in their books. But folks kind of looked forward to them. So did I.

 

Michael Shishido, 94.7 KUMU, Honolulu, HI: If we learn that a client wants to voice their own spot, we generally try to work with them to get the best performance out of them as possible. If we learn about it early enough, I feed back to our AE and ask why they need to be in the spot. If it's crucial to a campaign they wrote, then we work with them. If not, we suggest someone else voice it. The offshoot version of this that's worse is a client that wants his kid to voice the spot. I don't know about the mainland, but for some reason, it's fairly popular here in Hawaii. We see it in radio and TV spots. Having a child's voice in a spot can be magical. It can also be the worst thing on your radio station.

For me, what's worse than a client voicing his spot is a client writing his own spot. My saying is, the further the creation of the spot is from a client, the better it will be.

 

Kate Day, Bell Media, Calgary, AB: Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised!

Recently we had a client come in to record their full 30 and the entire spot is basically a character, which can be really difficult holding on to for a full 30... We had a backup ready to go just in case, but man oh man was it amazing! I wasn’t sure a client could pull it off and he NAILED it! It was PERFECT!

Then you have other clients who come in and just want to hear their voice on the radio, so when that happens, I suggest starting them out with just a couple lines or a 15... I coach them along and play it back to them to see if they are satisfied with the spot and we work on it together.

Building that relationship with clients is very important to me! We want our clients to be comfortable coming in and talking to us, and a couple of our clients have become good friends.

I’ve worked in small markets where EVERY client wants to come in and voice their spots, or they purchased a package where they have to voice their part (it was a 10 second part in a donut) and they didn’t want to do it. Those are the most difficult. Sometimes you can coach and coach but you still won’t get what you want from them and you just have to settle. Sometimes they come in dreading it, and I have made them feel so comfortable that they left smiling and excited and we were both happy with the outcome.

So to reiterate, you can be pleasantly surprised when clients come in, but it’s best to start them out small... Make the suggestion to the creative writers and the rep and work on it as a team to get the BEST possible outcome! Not all clients are cut out for it and others blow your mind!

 

Phil Shirakawa, CHUO-FM, Ottawa, ON: It's a tough call, because you never want to discourage someone from advertising with you. As a listener and a radio producer, I kind of get a kick out of poorly-voiced client spots (it's like driving past a car wreck). I find that it's best to write the spot around the client's weaknesses, and have them say things like their name, website or phone number and leave the rest to a pro.

 

Wally Wawro: This isn't just a radio problem, TV deals with it too. We've all seen the fine work of many a car dealer, some pull it off, most can't. And I've noticed this trend with medical providers as many tend to rely on patient testimonials. Even in the most major of markets the client as pitchman syndrome can't be avoided if you want the business. So you roll up your sleeves and go to work. Ideally you have a budget for hair and makeup, have time for proper lighting and most importantly rehearsal. But all too many times the TV spot you're producing is value added, thrown in with the ad buy. You have no production budget because the salesperson usually "forgets" about mentioning that! You then will try to limit your damages by giving the client a cameo and producing around them. So you may wind up with a few seconds of the client on camera and the rest video and graphics. If the client voices the entire spot you use cover video and inter-edit the best of the several takes you recorded.

I retired from my long time TV job earlier this year and my wife and I relocated to rural Tennessee. One radio station I listen to is in a small town about 30 miles away and is local local local. At least 70% of the ads are client voiced. I give the station credit as audio quality is usually good -- there's some production value like a music bed and the copy is to the point, especially with price and item spots. Local voices, local advertising, local station... they are not trying to impress since they are there to help. It works for them, and I find it refreshing.

 

Ryan Spooner: For a client to voice a spot there really should be a solid reason. If the client is positioning themselves as an expert and the spot is focused around expert advice, then it works. If the client is simply functioning as an announcer, then the question should be asked: would this spot be better served with an announcer read? I guess the short answer is: there has to be a solid reason for the client to voice. Once that reason is established the quality of the read is the next hurdle. Some clients have solid, confident reads, reads that carry a full 30 seconds. For clients that have a harder time with the read coaching is important, making them feel comfortable and allowing them to read line by line, not having them feel they need to nail the whole 30 in one take. Having the client read the tag or just a few lines within the spot works well as an alternative to voicing the whole spot.

It is important to look at the clients strengths and play to that, thereby hiding the weaknesses. We have clients that want to give the personalized touch that are humble enough to say they can't carry the whole spot; they let us write a scenario off the top of the spot and close with an announcer voiced tag, this allows for a personalized touch and a nice diversity in the sound of the spot. With all this said there are times that clients insist on writing and reading their own commercials, if we feel that this is not the best option we do create spec ads with a branding campaign we feel would better serve them, but, at the end of the day, it is their air time so we defer to what they feel is best.

I have attached an example [for the Soundstage].

 

Andrew Frame,  BAFSoundWorks: When I was in the cubicle, we'd let them. Clients got to do what they wanted, and for the most part, it was such a rare occurrence, it was no big deal. By rare, I mean maybe twice a year.

We had one customer who was prepared, practiced, and because he's done his own spots for decades, very good at it. One or two takes. He was better than many staff announcers in our market. Great pipes, too.

Other customers had good intentions, but really shouldn't have been in the studio. I'm a very good coach, so working with them wasn't a hard task. Most took the guidance and ultimately, we'd together make a viable commercial.

The worst were those who thought they could come in and "wing it" off some cocktail napkin notes, or expected me to drop everything and write something off the top of my head for them. Or, they'd come in with copy they'd written, which was invariably too long and really awful as well.

I only had one or two real attitude-problem customers, and fortunately they were one-offs. When they left, I never saw them again. I let the rep know they were jerks, the rep would business-apologize, and we both knew it was the price of doing business with some "agencies".

For a success story, I had a law firm that I was able to talk out of doing a campaign by themselves by creating what amounted to an infomercial. The lawyer would make some sort of opening statement to set the theme of the message. I would come in with a single line introducing them and their firm. Then they'd go for about 20-30 seconds covering the topic. I'd come off the end of that with the sell, any legal disclaimer, and a close for the firm. We made many like that with the three principals, and they ran for several years, coming in about once every six months to update. I'd have the copy written and approved before they walked in the door.

In later years I would explain this infomercial to new customers that wanted to do their own commercials, and for the most part they all considered it a good idea. It solved ego issues, while making an effective commercial.

I hear regularly from my producers’ network of advertisers who want to voice their own commercials - and really should not be allowed to do so. The rep loses control of the client and management doesn't back anyone up. My smaller market colleagues seem to go through that mess several times a month. I don't envy them at all. As a freelancer, I don't have to deal with it anymore

 

DJ Mike, Chris-Mar Studios: I have had to coach clients a few times for spots. Not everyone is aware of how their own voice sounds until they hear it recorded. I try to coach each client to a point where the spot can be completed. I don't discourage them from making spots. With a little love, help and extra production magic anyone can sound great on a spot!

 

Thanks to all who responded. Your input is valuable and appreciated. If you have a question you’d like to see posed to the RAP Q It Up panel, email it to editor@rapmag.com.  If you would like to join the Q It Up panel, send your request to editor@rapmag.com.

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