Poppy Sundeen, Poppywriter, Inc., Dallas, Texas
by Jerry Vigil
This month, we step out of the radio station and visit with your basic, high-dollar, free-lance copywriter. Her name is Poppy Sundeen, and her free-lance copywriting business is cleverly called Poppywriter, Inc..
Poppy has an impressive list of agencies on her resumé including Bozell & Jacobs, Carmichael Lynch, the Bloom Agency, and Levenson & Hill where she was VP/Associate Creative Director. About ten years ago, she left the agencies and went out on her own to find even greater success. Some of the accounts she's handled include the American Heart Association, Zales, Libby's, Owens Sausage, Seven Seas Salad Dressings, Southwest Airlines, General Mills, and Honeywell, just to mention a few.
Her long list of several dozen awards is much too long to mention. Just last year she added to the list four gold, two silver, and two bronze awards from the local Addy show as well as a couple of Tele Awards. So far this year, she's acquired seventeen Addy awards, three gold and the other fourteen divided between silver and bronze. Needless to say, she's doing something right, and that's why we brought her busy day to a screeching halt to talk to us.
R.A.P.: What made you decide to leave the agencies and start free-lancing?
Poppy: It was more a quality of life issue than anything else. I was doing twelve hour days, six days a week, and I never got to see my house in the daylight. I was eager to make a quality of life sort of change. The truth is, I didn't really start out to become a free-lancer forever. I wanted to leave the agency I was working at at the time, and my original goal was to take some time off to think about what I wanted to do next. Free-lancing was what I planned to do in the interim. When I started free-lancing, I loved it. Then my business just took off, and, within about six months, I was making more than I was as Associate Creative Director/VP at a fairly decent sized agency. And my business has grown every year since then. It's more lucrative for me, and my lifestyle...you just can't compare the two. I have my office at home, and I can be near my family. I might still work twelve hour days, but I'm right there with family and have a lot more control over my life.
R.A.P.: Do you have a formula you use when you sit down to write copy, maybe a form that lays out step one, step two, etc.?
Poppy: No, not really. But there are some basics I use that I don't really think about that much because they're so ingrained. And then there are some "tricks" I use to help me come up with ideas.
As far as the basics go, the first thing is to really know what it is your client wants people to know. What is it that your account is trying to communicate? That sounds so fundamental, but sometimes you just launch into something, and you don't think about that.
And it's important to prioritize. You need to find that one, overriding thing that really is the main communication that needs to come out throughout the entire spot. Maybe it's that XYZ Dry Cleaners gives you a better quality job. Maybe it's that they're more convenient because their hours are more flexible. Whatever it is, you need to prioritize and find the one thing your client thinks takes priority over everything else. Then you need to point everything else in the spot in that direction. The more single-minded a spot, the better.
Sometimes that's impossible to do. I'm sure that your readers run into clients who give them a laundry list. If they can get access to that client, talk with the client, and gain some control over the situation, the more they can get the client to focus in on one main thing, the better off they'll be because a spot that does one thing well is much better than a spot that does a whole lot of things in a half-assed fashion. I like to have one thing that I'm really trying to do, and then there might be several little points that I want to get in here and there. But that one thing is what shapes the spot.
R.A.P.: What are some of these tricks you mentioned?
Poppy: When I'm sitting there, and I've already decided what the main focus of the spot is, I do several things to help me come up with "the big idea." One of those things that works well for me is to think of an analogy. This thing that the client is trying to say is "like something else." Let me give you an example of a spot I did where I used that kind of trick to come up with the idea. This one was for a psychiatric hospital's adolescent program. I made the analogy between a disturbed teenager and a time bomb. The spot had the sound effect of a clock ticking throughout the spot. The voice-over started something like, "If you're like thousands of other Dallas families, there's a time bomb in your house...A time bomb that can explode at any time...." Then it finally comes to the point where it tells you that the time bomb is the illness inside your child's head. I'm just roughly paraphrasing this, but that analogy with the time bomb gave me something to hook on to.
Another thing I like to do is look through the list of sound effects in a sound effects library. One thing you can't quarrel with is that radio is the medium of sound. That's all you've got to work with, and if you can find some way to play with sound, you've got a spot that could be a little different and kind of interesting. One spot I did that would probably fall into that category was for another psychiatric hospital. (I tend to do a lot of health care spots.) This was for their alcohol and drug abuse program. The spot used monkey sound effects, and talked about the monkey on your back. When the announcer first starts out, he talks about how when the monkey first gets on your back, he's kind of cute and little and fun. Then he gets bigger and scarier and more dangerous. And throughout the spot you're hearing monkeys. It starts with the sounds of little chimps who sound cute and loveable and playful. Then the chimps turn into bigger monkeys and bigger monkeys, and they get bigger and deeper sounding and scarier until you end up with the roar of a gorilla at the end of the spot. This was an idea I got just looking at the list of available sound effects first. I wasn't looking for monkey sound effects to begin with.
R.A.P.: Any other tricks that come to mind?
Poppy: I always try to think about technical things you can do with the medium, things like speeding up the tape, slowing down the tape, or running things backwards. I did a spot once for a long distance telephone service where we were talking about ways to get more for your money in long distance. In the spot, the person was talking faster and faster, and we used a combination of physically speeding up the tape and having the person talk faster and faster. It was just another way to play with the medium. You've got to think of all the options that are available to you in the studio. There's so much you can do with a piece of tape.
Here's another thing I'll do. Sometimes, if you really listen to your client, they, without knowing it, will give you a great idea. I write down everything clients say because you never know what ideas they might give you. I was working for the Dallas Sidekicks [soccer team] a few years ago, and they said that their fans "are a part of the game," and that the fans were just as important as the players. So I thought, what if the commentator, the guy who does the color, was describing the actions of the fans instead of the players? It turned out to be a delightful spot. The commentator talked about somebody jumping up to cheer and almost tipping their popcorn over and stuff like that. He described the moves of the fans the way you would describe the plays on the field. It was a fun little spot. Sometimes the client will say something and not even know they're giving you a wonderful idea.
One of the things I hear happening a lot at radio stations is that it's either a dialogue spot or it's an announcer spot that's getting produced. Sometimes I think you need to look at what other options are out there. Pretend there is no such thing as a dialogue spot. I think part of it is just thinking outside the lines and trying to do something that's a little different. There's nothing wrong with dialogue spots. I've done a lot of them, but I think you need to think about what else is out there before you fix on that.
R.A.P.: You're right. Dialogue spots do seem to be pretty common. As long as we're going to do them, is there anything we can do to improve upon them?
Poppy: This is a real simple little thing, but I think a lot of people don't do it. When you're writing dialogues, read them out loud. A copywriter should theoretically make a lot of noise when they're writing for radio. If they're not making a lot of noise, they're doing something wrong. I think there are people who write dialogue without actually trying to voice it. And if you try to voice it and it doesn't sound natural to you, then there's something wrong with the dialogue, and you need to find a better way to say whatever it is you're trying to say.
Also, if I've got the client there for approval, and the voice talent doesn't feel comfortable with the dialogue, I'll change it. That's the true test. If the talent tries it a time or two and it sounds wrong, I'll say, "How would you say this?" They might choose to say it a different way, and if it's okay with the client, we'll re-write it.
R.A.P.: When stations do a dialogue spot, they often use their air personalities to act out a character in the spot. Do you think the listeners perceive the fact that it is this particular jock doing the character, and does this reduce the effectiveness or credibility of the spot?
Poppy: In a word, yes. Now, it's possible that the audience may not recognize that it's one of the disk jockeys, but if they're using the same delivery that they use on the air, the audience is likely to recognize them. I think that we in the industry, both in radio and advertising's creative and production side, are a lot more sensitive to that. There are people who think that the audience will recognize every voice that's on the air. I don't think that's the case, but if you use someone who is very familiar to your audience, then yes, the listeners will recognize them, and I think that reduces the effect of the spot. If you've got a station where there's a pretty loyal listenership, and you've got a spot with the afternoon guy on it, and you're running the spot in his show, I think it does take away from the credibility.
R.A.P.: When laundry lists are necessary, what can be done to make them better?
Poppy: I'd say just try to pare it down as much as possible. If you can get your client to understand that people are not going to remember a list of ten things, but that they might remember two or three, if you can get them to prioritize and choose the ones that are most important, that would probably be the best solution, unless there's some opportunity to make something out of a list. For example, if it's a restaurant's menu, then you can just rattle it all off, and the idea is not that somebody remembers the specific items, but that they get the idea that the menu goes on forever. Then you might want to make it into a comical thing, add more stuff to it and make it happen real fast by speeding up the tape or whatever. I'd either want to do something fun with it like this, or make the laundry list turn into two or three important items and not be a laundry list anymore.
R.A.P.: It seems that a lot of clients who provide stations with laundry lists are basically giving the station the list of items in their newspaper ads, and they think this is okay because it works in their print ads. Do you see this happening?
Poppy: Yes. One of the things I find frustrating sometimes is that clients oftentimes do not understand that radio and print work differently. They'll equate the first line of a radio spot with the headline of an ad, and there's no equation there. You cannot talk about the two the same way. By the same token, you can have a sale ad in the newspaper that lists seventy or eighty prices. There's nothing wrong with that because somebody will go through it and find something they want, circle it, and remember it. But they won't even hear it in a radio spot.
The best thing I think could happen for radio Production Directors -- and most of the time this isn't feasible -- is to have a good rapport with the client so you can talk to them about their copy and get them to tear down some of that input and make it a little more manageable. I think what happens a lot of the time is that the client doesn't know what the radio station needs, and so they just put everything in there. And the people at the radio station may not know that the client doesn't insist that everything on the fact sheet be put into the spot. Many times it's just a breakdown in communication, and the people at the radio station need to kind of lead the client along a little more. You need to begin to educate them. Usually that's a long process, and you may never see the light at the end of the tunnel. But it's always worth a try.
R.A.P.: What thoughts do you have on using humor in commercials?
Poppy: Humor, I think, is the hardest thing to write. I've had some real successful spots that were humorous spots. I've won some Clios and Addys for comedy spots I've done, but I'll tell you, I sweat bullets every time I have to write a comedy spot. It's so hard. Sometimes they look good on paper. Then you go to produce them, and they just lie there and don't do anything. If I were having to write copy in a hurry, the way that people at radio stations often do, I don't think I'd attempt to write comedy. There is nothing more painful than when I hear a spot that attempts to do comedy and it doesn't work. I ache for the people who had to do that because I know how that feels. It's terrible. I'd much rather do a straight spot and have people say, "Yea, it's an okay spot," than try to do a comedy spot and have it not work. And this is a totally subjective thing. I'm not trying to tell your readers what to do and what not to do. I just think there's no greater embarrassment than attempting comedy and having it not work. I have never felt real confident about doing comedy spots.
R.A.P.: It's easier to make a listener pay attention than it is to make them laugh.
Poppy: Yes. Making them laugh is a very hard thing to do. I find it's easier to make them cry, and this applies more to health care kinds of clients than anything else, although I have gone this route when I've worked with accounts like Zales. I did some spots for graduation which were a series of monologues. One was a father talking about finding his daughter asleep over her books as she studied for final exams, and he was reminiscing about her when she was a little girl. For things like that, for jewelry, you can do that kind of spot. But it's mostly health care than anything else.
One of my favorite spots along this line was, again, for an adolescent program at a psychiatric hospital. When you're trying to sell an adolescent psyche program, you're talking to the parents. Most of the time, you're talking to the parent of a child who has become so out of control that the kid is just impossible, and you feel like wringing that kid's neck. It's a seventeen year old thug, and they're doing drugs or whatever and making your life miserable. You look at that kid and you just want to smack his face. I had this idea for a spot. I thought, the first thing you need to do is get the parent to stop being mad at that kid. You need to remind them that they love that child, and get them to think about that long enough to tell them what to do next.
So I did a spot that began with a kid, a seventeen year old guy, a real obnoxious, smart aleck kid talking about how he's into drugs and doesn't care what his parents think and doesn't care about their rules. Just a real obnoxious kid. Then I cross-faded that kid's voice into a younger kid's voice, like a twelve year old's voice. The effect was that the kid was getting younger, and he continued to be kind of brash but he was saying things like, "I'm not sure what I'm doing...," being a little less secure. Then we cross-faded that voice to an eight year old boy who is scared some of the time and doesn't know exactly how to handle things. Then we cross-faded that voice to a four year old who wants Mommy and Daddy to make it better and wants his Mommy to hold him, and he has that sweet little voice. Then the announcer comes in and says something to the effect that underneath that rough exterior is the baby you gave birth to, the baby that you love and so forth. It was just a real emotional spot. I've played that spot from my reel for people sitting there in three-piece suits in business meetings, and I've watched them just come unglued.
R.A.P.: How do you feel about narratives or spots that tell a story?
Poppy: I think narratives are great ideas, and they're not as difficult to do as comedy. The nice thing about radio is that most of the time you've got a captive audience. They're not sitting there with a remote control. They're not thumbing through a magazine where they can turn the page on you. They're sitting there in their car, and, yes, they can turn to another station, but they're liable to be hearing a commercial on that station, too. So, the fact is, you've got a halfway captive audience, and if you can tell an intriguing story, then they're going to listen to you.
R.A.P.: How does one go about writing a narrative? Let's say you've got a client that wants to sell shoes.
Poppy: I think the difficult part about writing a narrative is that somewhere along the line you get to that laundry list, and all of a sudden, your narrative has no credibility anymore. Your narrator is no longer a storyteller. He becomes a salesman, and you lose your story. One thing I've found that works pretty well is to tell a story and then break it up by bringing in another voice, an announcer, to do the selling. For example, you can tell a first person story about walking down the street and having this terrible squeak in your left shoe, and you look down at that shoe and you realize that it really looks ratty and that your toe is pinched. Then you run into a person you'd like to meet, but you feel so rotten about your shoes.... You go through this whole story, but you bring in an announcer periodically throughout the story, or you can save the announcer for the last fifteen seconds of the story. That announcer can do all the dirty work and talk about how the shoes happen to be on sale. Then you can come back for more of the story and so forth. That way your narrator doesn't turn into the enemy. They stay clean. They're the narrator and not the salesguy.
R.A.P.: How important is repetition in radio copy?
Poppy: It depends. If the spot is all focused and works from the beginning to the end, you may not need much repetition. As an ex-ample, let's use that spot I just described for the adolescent program where the kid was getting younger and younger. We didn't need a lot of repetition in there because the whole spot was designed to get the point across. I think you need to mention the name of the client at least two times, but if the spot is working right, and if it pulls the listener in and carries them from point A to point Z effectively, then you don't need to say the name of the client a dozen times in the spot, or repeat your point a dozen times. The whole spot is doing it for you, pulling the listener along the path that you want them to take.
R.A.P.: Radio copywriters/producers deal with a lot of clients who want one of two things or both. They want people to come to their store, and/or they want people to call. So they ask that we put their address in their spot three times and their phone number four times. What are your thoughts on this?
Poppy: I think the clients are not understanding how the medium works. I've done a lot of spots for people who ask to have their phone number in there. I'll go ahead and put it in once, and I know that nobody is going to get it. People don't write numbers down off of the radio. They just don't do it, unless you've got a number like 1-800-HELP or something like that, something somebody can remember. But, generally speaking, I don't think people remember phone numbers or addresses from the radio. Again, that's one of those things where they're confusing radio with the way print ads work. In a print ad, that's fine. You have a number in the print ad, and people tear it out of the paper and keep it. On the radio, you want them to get the point you're trying to get across, and you want them to remember who you are. Then they'll go to their white pages or yellow pages and look up the address and phone number. I think advertisers are asking too much to expect people to remember a phone number off the radio. Just get them to remember that you're Acme Shoe Store and that you've got locations around Dallas.
Even if the shoe store is not easy to find and people have to call for directions, you have to remember that making people remember the address is not going to make them want to come to the store. The first thing you want to do is make them want to come to the store. That's more important than letting them know where it is, because the information about where the store is means absolutely nothing if they don't have the intention of going there. So the first thing you have to do is motivate them to be interested enough to go there. I think it is possible to do a spot where you give someone specific directions and they get that. But I think listing an address three times is putting the cart before the horse. If the store is hard to find, I don't think there's anything wrong with telling the listener how to get there, but I don't think you have to tell them three times. You have to spend most of your time telling them why they want that piece of information first, then at the very end of the spot you tell them how to get there. At that point, they might want that information and they might remember it. At least they'll remember your name well enough to go to the phone book. I think the thing to remember is that it doesn't matter how many times you tell them what your phone number is, if you don't give them a reason to call it, it's not worth anything.
R.A.P.: At most stations, the procedure to get a spot done starts with the salesperson getting some copy facts from the client. Then the salesperson gives the copy facts to the station copywriter (if the station has one). Then the copy goes to the Production Director who gathers some jocks and cuts the spot. In this chain, what can be done to get a better spot on the air?
Poppy: The problem in the chain you've described is that by the time the copy facts get to the copywriter, the copywriter doesn't have a chance to ask some really important questions to the client like, "which of these things is the really important thing you want your customer to remember?" So, getting the copywriter in contact with the client can help a lot.
R.A.P.: A lot of our readers have forms their salespeople use to get this information from the client. Maybe this form is something ALL stations should be employing.
Poppy: In agencies, we work from creative direction forms a lot. They're called different things at different agencies, but the term creative direction form is most typical. The ones that are really worthwhile force the client to come up with the main focus. The usual creative direction form begins by describing the advertiser, the market situation they're in, and what their target market is -- demographically and psychographically. It goes through this background stuff in real synopsized, short, simple form, and then comes to the creative focus which is, "what one thing do you want people to remember or to know or to do, based on what they hear?" It forces them to prioritize. Then, under that, are reasons why. If the creative focus, for example, is, "Acme Shoes are the highest quality shoes for the dollar," then underneath that you would have support reasons, and they'd be numbered one through six or whatever. Number one: Acme shoes are all made by hand. Number two: Acme shoes are less expensive than other name brands, or whatever, and so on.
That kind of form is so helpful because it keeps you from getting a list of stuff that goes all over the map. A list like that is a disaster waiting to happen because the spot that's going to come out of it is going to be unfocused, just like the list. It's going to be disjointed and go in a lot of different directions. If you can get some kind of form put together where there's a focus and reasons why that focus is true, it will be a great help.
This kind of form is something every salesperson who is gathering copy facts should have with them. If they're close to their agency clients, they can ask to see one of these creative direction forms and can probably get a copy.
Getting back to your previous question about the chain of events stations go through to get a spot produced, there's another link that can be improved upon. If you have a copywriter sending the copy down to the Production Director, you can improve things by having the copywriter and Production Director work more closely together on the script. The Production Director, theoretically, could be involved in the copy from the outset and might even have some ideas for the copywriter. He might have some ideas on what can be done with some of the equipment in the studio to make it a better spot.
R.A.P.: For the most part, agency spots on the radio are generally better than the station's in-house spots. Having been on the agency side of this situation, what reasons to you see for things being this way?
Poppy: It's a combination of things. The agencies are set up to write great copy. At radio stations, it's more of a sideline. At the agencies, there are people that do nothing but write copy. That's their profession. That's what they studied when they were in college. Still, I admire people at radio stations who take a crack at it because if that's not what you were trained for, it's asking a lot of a person to do that.
There are a couple of other factors that affect the quality of spots produced at the radio station. For one, you're limited to using the talent you have there at the station, and although there are a lot of good, on-air talents, there's a difference between a voice actor and a disk jockey. And I'm not putting down disk jockeys. There are a lot of voice actors who were once disk jockeys, but voice actors come at the copy from a different perspective. If I'm not producing at a radio station, I have access to any kind of voice talent I want, especially now that there's so much phone patch work being done. I can use someone in L.A. or New York, and I don't have to fly out there. I just do it over the phone, and they FedEx the tape to me the next day. So, an agency producing a spot has a much larger universe of voice talent to choose from, including children, which are people radio stations wouldn't normally have.
The third factor is that recording studios, at least the ones I use, are geared to doing spots and nothing else, and it's not uncommon for me to spend a whole day in the studio working on one spot. On the other hand, most of the Production Directors at radio stations don't have the luxury of having that much time to devote to spot production. It's just not feasible to tie up the studio at the radio station for a whole day just to produce one spot.
These are the three factors that give the Production Directors at radio stations a more difficult challenge. They're really having to push uphill in order to get a spot produced that they feel competes with what the agencies provide.
R.A.P.: Do you have any thoughts on why stations don't take the time and spend the money to compete with the agencies?
Poppy: Well, I don't really have any thoughts on it that I can substantiate because I'm working from the outside of radio, and I'm not seeing what's going on at the stations. My knowledge is really based on the radio people I know. I think it's really hard for stations to justify that expense when it's not what they're set up to do. Writing and producing spots is an added service they're providing to their clients, and it's a free service. The advertisers who are going through agencies certainly aren't getting that service for nothing. Just to do one spot, if you figure the agency creative fee plus talent, studio time, and let's say it's not a custom music job but a needle drop, you're probably talking upwards of three thousand dollars for that advertiser to produce that spot. A radio station provides production for nothing. So, for them to provide a spot that an advertiser would pay thousands of dollars for, I think that's asking an awful lot of the radio station. It could erode their profits. I don't think they could afford to do it.
R.A.P.: When you mention three thousand dollars as a figure, are you including any agency commission?
Poppy: No. I was figuring a creative fee, and this figure is just a rough idea. All agencies charge differently. Some agencies are on retainer, and you can't break out what they're charging for creative. Some agencies will charge for creative, but they're all charging differently. I pulled that figure out of the air, but a lot of the spots I produce end up coming in around there. And that's for anything that doesn't have custom music or something outlandishly expensive in it. So, what I'm saying is that for a radio station to be expected to provide something for free that might have that dollar figure attached to it if an advertiser went another route to get it seems like it's asking a lot of the radio station. I could see where it could end up that the radio station is putting more man-hours into it, more out of pocket costs into it, than they get back from the schedule they're selling.
R.A.P.: On the other side of the spectrum, there are station copywriters and producers who are in fact turning out agency quality spots. How can these copywriters free-lance their copywriting skills? Do they simply take some sample scripts to an agency and offer their services much like sending a voice demo to an agency that's looking for voice talent?
Poppy: Free-lancing my copywriting skills is different than the way a radio station copywriter might approach it because my background was working with advertising agencies. So, when I stopped doing that, I still had my network. I'm not sure how someone in the production end of radio would build up that network. It's actually easier for the salespeople to do that because they meet all the clients and the agency people. But for anyone, I think the first thing to do is put a reel together.
R.A.P.: You mean a demo tape as opposed to a folder with sample scripts?
Poppy: Oh, yes. For radio, the demo tape is where the rubber meets the road. That's the issue -- how does it sound? Does it work on the radio?
R.A.P.: Once the reel is done, who, at the ad agencies, should get the reel?
Poppy: The Creative Director is the one to go to. Leave a reel and a résumé, and let them know what it is that you're offering. Let them know that you're available to write if they've got overflow in their creative department and can't handle all the work that needs to be done.
R.A.P.: Can a radio writer/producer expect to get much free-lance business from agencies?
Poppy: To be quite honest with you, I think that a Creative Director at a large agency isn't going to go about getting free-lance copy that way. Agency people are going to want to work with agency people. Their preference, of course, is to use their own people because they've got that overhead to begin with and they have to pay these people salaries. Agencies are very resistant to using free lances if they don't have to.
R.A.P.: What even sparked the question was an article in Adweek that said free-lancing was becoming a more respected method of work for copywriters.
Poppy: Yes, it is. But the people who are doing that are agency people. A copywriter who only does radio is not that marketable. An agency is going to want somebody who also does print ads, television, and direct mail, and approaches it from an agency point of view. I think it's feasible for somebody in radio to get into free-lancing for agencies, but I think it would be a real uphill climb. And though the market is getting bigger for free-lancers, agencies are not thrilled about having to use free-lancers because it costs them money. They'll do it if they don't have a choice, if they have a very small creative department, or one that isn't broad enough in some area of expertise. But if they've got any creative staff at all, they'd rather keep it in house.
R.A.P.: How much can a free-lance copywriter expect to get for a script, and how broad is this range of fees? In Dallas, there are radio copywriters who will write copy for fifty bucks a shot!
Poppy: The range is tremendously broad, and if you get an agency-type person to write copy for you, you won't get it for fifty bucks. It's more like somewhere between seven-hundred and fifty to a thousand. But this is not necessarily the range. There are various levels of experience in the available copywriters. I've been doing this for about twenty years, and my rates may be different from somebody who hasn't been doing it for long. They may do it for less.
R.A.P.: What about clients who want a campaign? Does that cost more?
Poppy: That's all over the map because oftentimes someone will ask me to do a campaign, and usually they're talking about a mixed media situation. They're talking about print working with the radio and radio working with the TV and so forth. So that fee would be very difficult to generalize. It's hard to say what the rates are because people aren't very forthcoming about talking about their rates. Most people would rather have the client tell you what the assignment is then work out a rate based on that. I've never asked any other people that do what I do what they're charging, so I don't really know what kinds of rates are being charged.
R.A.P.: Most voice talents, with the exception of the big boys, all work for about the same amount. They deal with union scale and set fees. I would have thought it would be the same for copywriters.
Poppy: Not really. There are some people who have a rate card. I don't. I base my fee on what my client needs, and then I figure it out based on how many hours I think I'm going to spend on it. So, my rate is based on an hourly rate, which is seventy-five dollars an hour, and I estimate my projects on that. I'm sure there are people who charge more than I do, and I'm sure there are people who charge less. But I don't know who they are and what they're charging.
R.A.P.: What kinds of opportunities do you think there are for radio copywriters/producers to leave radio and go to work full-time for the creative department of an ad agency?
Poppy: It's a difficult switch to make. If somebody is going to do that, they should probably do it when they're young. Most of the people who get into agency creative these days have a degree in that. That's one issue. The other issue is that, in the average agency, maybe seventy-five percent of the work is print, not broadcast. So, if someone is going to make that leap, they're going to have to learn to write print ads. They're going to have to learn how to write for TV. They're going to have to learn to write brochures and direct mail and do work in a lot of other areas. So, if someone is going to make that change, they should do it when they're young and can afford to start out in an entry level position. You may be the most talented Production Director in the world and write great radio copy, but that person isn't going to be very marketable at an agency because all the people who are on the copy end of the creative department at agencies do more than radio.
R.A.P.: What resources would you recommend to our readers that might help them improve their copywriting skills?
Poppy: What might be helpful to them would be to subscribe to some of the awards annuals. One example is the One Show, which is a national show for advertising. It's a great big sixty dollar book that's full of print ads, but somewhere in there is the radio section, and you get it in print form. It's amazing how you can look at stuff like that and say, "Wow! What a neat idea that person had!" You can get ideas from looking at other people's work, and it opens up your head a little.
Various awards shows put out these showbooks, and it gives you a chance to see what other people are doing. Agencies all have these books, and if you have some affiliation with an agency, you can get your hands on these books. Most of them will have little mail-in cards in them that you can pull out, fill out, and mail in to get the books. The easiest thing to do is for someone who has some contacts at an agency to ask their Creative Director if they can see their One Show book. Copy down the necessary information to see about getting one for your station. Then, once you get on their list, you're on their list forever. Communication Arts is the other big one. You have to subscribe to Communication Arts to get their annual. You spend a lot of money getting a lot of things that are print oriented, but, if it's worth it to you, once a year you get the books that you really want -- the ones that have all the awards stuff in them.