by Doug Ferber
Whenever I walk into the production studio, the first thing I do is look to see where the razor blades are. Only after making sure that these little "editing devices" are safely out of the Production Director's reach will I ask how things are coming along on that car dealer spot that is scheduled to air the next morning. With this in mind, I'm sure that each of you out there has a favorite story about how that "blankety-blank" account executive brought in a project at 4 p.m. requiring three voices and six tags and, "by the way, the schedule starts tomorrow." As an A/E, I can personally remember being the object of the frustration created by events such as these. In fact, I can still hear the voice of a former Production Director in the back of my mind as he said, "Go ahead, make my day" whenever I came into his studio. Every radio Account Executive has "made the Production Director's day" at least once, and if they try to convince you otherwise, they are either lying or extremely forgetful. What I'd like to leave you with in this article are the reasons why salespeople consistently place time pressures and quick turnarounds on the production department. I also hope to give you a better understanding of how the radio advertising sales process works and what the job of an Account Executive entails. After reading this, I am confident (because my Sales Manager says I'm supposed to be) that you will be a little more tolerant the next time a salesperson comes in with a "legitimate" rush-job.
The first thing to remember about Account Executives is that most of us are "money-grabbing, spot-schleppers" who don't give a damn about anybody or anything else, right? We are also famous (infamous?) for making outlandish promises to our clients to make a sale, especially when it comes to production. While this perception of radio reps may be true in some cases, it is unfair in my opinion to typecast all of us under such an exaggerated generalization. If you believe this image of the radio salesperson to be true, you've developed an acute case of tunnel vision that may not only hold you back in terms of promotions and raises, but will keep you from making important contacts in the industry. After all, we talk with the decision-makers in our industry and can recommend, for example, that our Production Director do the voice work for not only their radio spots but their television creative as well. And let us not forget some of those businesses that have customized messages on their phone systems for when their callers are put on hold. The list goes on, but I think you've gotten the message.
In addition to the increased wealth that you can amass via a positive relationship with the sales staff, a production expert should take note of the trends going on in the broadcast industry. Stations are being sold more frequently every year. Every time a station gets sold it means that some guy with a lot of money and not much brains was convinced by some slick media broker that the property is worth 25% more than it was worth six months ago. Keep the "trickle-down" theory in mind because the high price paid by this fool means that he has a higher bank note to pay every month than the last owner did, and hence, the sales function becomes more important than ever. In short, if you do not work as hard for the sales staff as you do for your PD, you'll be scratching your head as you deposit that severance check wondering what you did to get yourself "let go." Look for production to become much more a part of the sales process than it has ever been and all the more reason why you should understand the trials and tribulations that radio Account Executives go through every week.
For starters, Account executives have to get up at the "crack of dawn" every morning, deal with rush hour traffic and then most likely attend some sort of sales meeting which is neither interesting nor worth the time spent. Many times we've been out the night before entertaining some client whose conversation is only a little bit more interesting than the sales meeting. The meeting ends, you grab a cup of that brown, mud-like substance disguised as coffee and make your way back to a cubicle -- not an office but a 6 x 6 space where anything left on the desk or in the drawers is fair game to those who work the night shift. Production has a sanctuary called a studio. Our only form of privacy consists of a room in the hall with a row of urinals and/or a couple of stalls. Are you starting to feel better about your job yet?
"Set up more appointments," "get your paperwork done on time," "make more cold calls," "use spec spots to sell," "make your budget," "get the h... out of the office! You can't sell anything sitting in here!" Enough to result in a duodenal ulcer for some people with a skin that is not quite as thick as the one that the radio rep develops. With this kind of pressure, it is no wonder that many salespeople make promises that can't be kept. Seasoned sales veterans have a pretty fair idea what they can and cannot do while at the same time they have learned to handle the pressures of the position. With this in mind, I suggest that it is the new guy, the rookie AE, who goes round and round with the production department. And I've got news for you. If they are giving you fits, they are probably giving the Traffic/Continuity Director and the Business Manager fits as well, not to mention the Sales Manager who has to put up with all of the complaining that results. These folks haven't learned the systems and have not yet had the opportunity to test and see how far is "too far." This coupled with the enormous pressure to produce can make a person a little on the desperate side.
While experienced Account Executives may know the boundaries and the rules within which they should abide, on occasion, they will forget everything that they have taken in over a substantial period of time when an advertiser waves a large sum of money in front of their eyes. I guess it's like smoking crack or something because you can see the AE's eyes cross as he walks into the production studio with an order form in his hand. In this case it's up to the Sales Manager to keep the sales staff from "falling off the wagon" if you will.
The toughest part of a radio sales job is that the real selling doesn't occur out on the streets. The most difficult sales are made inside the station in places like the Sales Manager's office, the Traffic/Continuity Director's desk, and the production studio. After working like mad to make a sale, we come back to the station only to hear from the Business Manager that we can't give the advertiser credit. What about the Sales Manager saying that the rates are too low, or worse, the station is over-sold? And what about this one: the Production Manager claims that you haven't followed the rules. You haven't given production at least 48 hours to write and produce the spot. We spend hours prospecting, following up leads, contacting decision makers, encountering forms of rejection and objections that you probably would not believe, and finally making a deal only to have it spoiled by somebody back at the station. This is where the real conflict begins and some of the best selling begins. All this for a measly 15% commission on the net advertising schedule. Thinking back a couple of paragraphs, it hardly seems worth it to go through what seems like 10+ hours of hell every day.
Why do we do it? For three reasons: MONEY, MONEY, AND MORE MONEY. To be more specific, the feeling you get after you walk out of a buyers office knowing that you've just earned $1500 or more (a lot more in some instances) is pretty intense. In short, the job has very wide emotional swings. You muddle through the crap to get to the gold. The type of lifestyle that this profession affords makes it easy to see why people would put up with the frustration involved. There's more to it than money, though. We meet a wide variety of local business leaders every day. Our buyers change constantly. We may work with the same advertising agencies and advertisers in general, but the people making the decisions turn over nearly as fast as radio reps do. One thing that I might add is that I would not sell a product as inane as insurance. Radio is an exciting product that everyone has an opinion about. All of us can remember the last time we were the object of the conversation because we work for a radio station. I'm also proud of what I do because it affects 99% of the people in the city where I live. Not many people can say that they can affect the behavior of their customers as well as a huge listening audience. Even a doctor can't make a statement like that even though they feel like their profession makes the greatest contribution to mankind.
Knowing is understanding. Remember the proverb: "Never criticize a man until you've walked a mile in his moccasins." Just as the Account Executives should make an effort to understand and abide by the rules that have been set forth by programming and production, the Production Manager should try a little harder to understand what a radio sales executive's job entails. In the long run, both sides benefit. Sales gets higher quality production and more sales, and production gets the perks associated with a good relationship with the sales department, not to mention the "adda-boys" from the General Manager and the PD and a greater probability for raises and new equipment to keep the good production flowing out of that sanctuary called the production studio.