R.A.P.: Would this percentage be of the 15% agency commission?
Frank: Twenty percent of everything. Whatever they bring in: Production fees, media buying fees, or both.

I charge a production fee on top of the media buying fee, but when you're just getting started you have to be ready to negotiate on the spot. Say you're pitching a big client and they say, "We like your stuff, but if we just go with the radio station we don't have to pay a $500 or $600 production charge. They'll do it for free." Now if all this client is going to spend is a thousand or two, fifteen percent of that is three hundred bucks. You don't want to give yourself away. But if they're going to drop ten or twenty thousand or more on a campaign, and you're going to be handling the media buying, you need to be ready to negotiate on the spot. That's up to the individual how they want to work it. Most agencies farm out the production, and the client ends up paying for the production on top of the 15%. Different agencies have different deals. Some are just on a commission basis, others add on production costs and other creative time spent. You have to look at your own individual market and see what the market will bear. If nobody will pay extra for production, and you want to start your own agency, you may have to go the route of just doing it for the commission. If you can do that and make a living, that's great. But if you want to have your own studio, you have the cost of the equipment, office space and a staff. You either have to have huge accounts that are bringing in huge commissions, or you've got to balance it out by charging for the production.

R.A.P.: Do you find yourself producing a lot of spec spots?
Frank: Yes. I went through one stage where I said, "I'm not going to produce spec spots. That's a waste of time. I'm just going to go in and talk to these people and if they're not ready to do something, then to hell with them." Well, I had to change that attitude real fast. The thing about spec spots is that if you target some of the big businesses -- whether it be banking, the auto industry, hospitals or the real estate market -- if you do a really good spec campaign and they don't buy it, you can take the same campaign to somebody else and just change the name. You always have something you can peddle around until somebody buys it.

R.A.P.: How do you pick your clients? Do you listen for a bad spot on the radio?
Frank: No, I've been basically going after people that aren't on the radio. I figure people who aren't using the product are the biggest source of new business. So I go through the newspapers looking for people placing half page ads and full page ads. Many times they've never been approached about radio. It's just that the newspapers got to them first. Or maybe they tried radio in the past and had a lousy spot or a lousy account executive -- Whatever it was, it didn't work for them.

Sometimes they find me, but more often than not, I've got to go out after them. It's prospecting. There are a lot of places that you know are going to use radio: car dealers, restaurants, furniture and appliance stores. Sometimes it just takes going in there and really selling them on radio first. If they're on radio already, then it's selling them on the fact that you've got a better mousetrap.

In sales you occasionally run into somebody who is just a jerk. They know it all and they're real happy with what they've got, even though you know they're doing no business. They don't want to talk to you. Fine. You move on to the next guy. But with most people, you can approach them in the right way and say, "Listen, I can put together a campaign that's going to send your sales through the roof." Now, they gotta listen to you for that. You may be full of it, but what if you're right? So they've usually got a few minutes to give you the essential information you'll need to put a spot together, and they'll give you a few minutes when you come back with the spot and their campaign.

That's the way I approach it. I get in for the first time and talk about what their needs are. I don't ask them what kind of business they're doing right now, but I ask them what kind of business they'd like to do. If you say to somebody, "How much money are you making right now?" they'll react as if you're invading their privacy. But if you say, "How many cars would you like to be selling?" they'll say something like, "Well, I'd like to sell seventy cars a month!" which means he may be doing fifty or forty. Then you say, "Well, if I can come up with a campaign that I'm pretty sure will get you up to that seventy cars a month, would you at least be willing to hear it? Would you be willing to listen to my ideas?" No one is going to tell you no unless they're absolutely out of their minds. If they do, you know you never want to talk to that guy again, anyhow.

So you produce the ad and go back in and say, "Here's the campaign I put together that's going to get you your seventy cars a month." They either fly with it or they don't. This is also where the selling comes in. You know you've got a good campaign. You know if it were on the radio with the right budget, it would work. A lot of clients are simply afraid. They're afraid to spend the money. You've got to sell them on the idea that it'll work.

If you come up with some great ideas, and you believe in yourself, just keep at it. Keep your costs low, refuse to let the inevitable rejections get you down, and you'll do OK.

R.A.P.: What's your typical work day like?
Frank: It usually starts around 8:30 or 9:00. Mornings are when I tend to make most of my phone calls. Afternoons are devoted more to seeing potential clients and doing my writing and production, which very often goes into the late night hours. Some days I'm totally involved with selling, no production whatsoever. I work almost every weekend, too. Weekends are when I get caught up on paperwork and try to kick around some creative ideas for projects that aren't due "right now." Sometimes projects are due "right now." I might have a presentation to do on Monday morning and I haven't had a minute to spend on it the previous week. So I have Saturday and Sunday to come up with whatever I need to come up with. It's a good twelve hour day some days, and others I'm sitting around twiddling my thumbs.

Some days you just don't have the energy. You know those days, they come along every once in a while. That's when I say, "Hey, it's one of those days. Put your answering machine on and get out of the office. Go to a movie, ride your bike, have lunch with a friend, and don't worry about it." Then I get up the next day, the creative juices are flowing again, and I get back into it.

R.A.P.: Are you driving back and forth to Aspen a lot to handle the accounts you have there?
Frank: No. I use a fax machine and Fed Ex. A fax machine is essential. As far as time goes, it is so much easier and faster, even with a client that's just across town, to just fax them the copy.

Audio

  • The R.A.P. CD - February 2002

    Production demo from interview subject, Terry Phillips, WYCD-FM, Detroit, MI; plust more commercials, promos and more from Jeff Wine, Dame...