But, to be fair, these are just the amateurs. Truly professional salespeople can slime you and actually make you enjoy it! OK, I'm being facetious. I've been a radio writer/producer for over ten years, and in this article I'll offer some tips and techniques on how to maximize your relationship with the sales staff, because the old love/hate truism is truly at work here: you can't live with 'em, and you can't live without 'em. Certain myopic production people figure, "Screw sales, I work for the PD." (SFX: BUZZER) Wrong answer, Blademeister! Not to sound like the GM, but sales is the lifeblood of the radio station. Besides, the PD might hold the keys to your job security, but the Sales Manager could hold the keys to your free ski condo weekend!

Let's consider salespeople as a species for a minute -- a subset of humanity. They're a breed apart, quite distinct from we programming types, with different needs and motivations. But, since production serves all masters in the radio station, your best tool for understanding is empathy. Put your feet in their shiny shoes for a moment. What do they sell? Air...Time -- pretty intangible, fluffy stuff. Admittedly, some of them make great bucks, but then, they take the hits for it. These guys are in the field every day dealing with rejection, getting doors slammed in their face, suffering ego blows the rest of us more sensitive types might wither under. Talk to anyone who free-lances for a living and has to hustle their own clients, and you will gain a new appreciation for the radio salesperson, I guarantee.

Like good production talent, good sales talent is hard to find. But increasingly, Sales Managers are using an option programmers don't have: they're recruiting from outside the broadcast field. While this infuses the station with fresh blood and new ideas, there is a downside: the Sales Manager is going to spend most of his time teaching these rookies how to sell time. They won't necessarily learn what makes a great radio spot, but they'll learn how to "get the order" or else. So it falls to you to deal with newcomers who are relatively clueless about how our medium works. Instead of looking at this as a drag, look at it as a golden opportunity to spread the Radio Advertising Gospel According to You! Turn high sales staff turnover to your advantage by training them when they're young. Like kids, salespeople respond to consistency. Why not create a manual that spells out all your procedures and policies in writing, from lead time required for completing production, to talent fees for releasing spots to air on competing stations. State your production priorities in order: promos, sold schedules according to dollar amount, then specs. Write down your pet peeves such as multiple phone numbers, or for that matter, all phone numbers except the 1-800-FREE STUFF kind. How about clients with speech impediments who simply must voice their own spots, or laundry list ads that ignore the One Good Idea Rule and go for the Wall of Words effect. (Remember Phil Specter's Wall of Sound where all individual sounds were lost and only "the effect" remained?) Include that list of do's and don'ts in your Guidelines Manual, and most new salespeople will regard it as law. The idea is to work smarter by saving time. Get this material into a "code" and you won't have to keep repeating yourself. I know one Production Director who got so tired of making the same speech to incoming salespeople that he actually made a cassette training course and told them "let's talk after you've processed this." Now that's time management. Brilliant.

When it comes to motivation, chances are your job satisfaction comes from producing a great promo. But for a salesperson it's (guess what)...getting the sale! Their first impulse after scoring is not to do an in-depth interview on this new client's commercial needs so that you can write the best spot possible. They want to hightail it out of the room before the guy changes his mind! Unfortunately, between figuring their percentage, doing the paperwork, and schmoozing the Traffic Manager to get these spots on tomorrow's log (love you, babe), telling production what kind of commercial they're going to need is low on their priority list. So get a system any salesperson can follow: a Production Fact Sheet that asks the kind of questions you would ask if you were there with the client. A one-pager from which you could write the entire ad without another consultation. This blueprint should include Journalism 101 stuff like Who, What, When, Where, and Why; as well as "What's the Frequency" (so you know how hard to work...you know the Law of Inverse Perversity: the less money a client spends the more of a pest he is), "What's the Goal" (so you know the ad's objective), "Who's the Com-petition" (the client's not yours), "What's Gone Before" (study history or be doomed to repeat it), and here's an important one: "What Kind of Personality does this client have?" Chances are, your button-down banker won't buy that Wacko the Clown script, no matter how brilliant it is, so save it for a client with a sense of humor. You can probably think of other questions you'd put on your Production Fact Sheet, but try to keep it to a short list. And make sure you use this system once it's in effect. No more slap-dash meetings in the hall. Make them present you with straight-forward information...and they'll respect you in the morning. But remember, it's like you're the blind person and sales is the seeing-eye dog; unless they're accurate, you're gonna walk straight into traffic.

Of course, given the nature of the biz, even after all your hard work, there still could be a few...


Turn and face the strain. If changes upset you, reconsider your line of work. One of radio's strengths is flexibility, and one of its attractions is free alterations. Advertisers know this, they exploit it, and there's not much you can do about it. If paying for production were standard practice, maybe clients would pay more attention. But it isn't, and they don't. However, you can save yourself time and energy by making a point of finding out why changes are being called for. If one of your salespeople continually asks for revisions, and you suspect it's because he is slack or unfocused, ask that his clients approve scripts before production. Be prepared for whining, though. For maxi-mum political impact, make sure the Sales Manager is party to this request. In fact, try to make the Sales Manager your ally in everything you do. He or she can get the sales staff's attention better than you can, and the manager's help is much more likely to effect the ch-ch-ch-changes you're trying to bring about. By the way, don't be afraid to use "WOG" on the sales staff. That's "Wrath of God." Strive too hard to be an obliging, nice guy, and instead you become Mr. Doormat. Above all, provide great service, but let the problem children know that their livelihood depends on getting with your program. I'm not talking Prima Donna here, just good business based on professionalism and efficient communication.

Can't have a well-rounded look at sales without touching on spec spots, can we? Don't you love 'em? (SFX: Big crowd boo!) Specs are one of those necessary evils in radio life, and while there's no arguing they can be effective in moving a prospective client from a position of "no" to "maybe," the fact is, most specs never see daylight. It's a shame because they're often your best work, written as they are, to convert skeptics. Don't get mad, get even by creating an "idea bank." You've seen this suggestion in the RAP pages before, and I wholeheartedly second the motion. Instead of making a custom spot for every spec request, write these spots generic to the category. Clever to be sure, but not too specific. If Joe's Grill doesn't buy your idea, do a quick rewrite and it's presentable to Josephine's Bistro, or Jose's Taco Grande. You think radio advertising stars like Dick Orkin make a custom spot for every single client? For AT&T, you bet. But for Guiseppi's Leaning Tower of Pizza in Your Town, you may be hearing one of his syndicated restaurant ads that air all across America.

Once a month sit in on a general sales meeting. Why? Because sales thinks what you do is magic. And like magic, they have no idea how it works. (Funny thing is, we're all "creative geniuses." It's just that some have learned to tap into it and others haven't.) It pays for you to explain your creative process to the sales staff, especially your need for time, because when it comes to developing a great idea, there's nothing like it. When sales asks you to be a genius and come up with something "totally new and different, something that breaks through the clutter," make certain you get the time you need to let your unconscious do its thing, because that's where this stuff called "genius" resides. They have to understand that when they (or their clients) demand this breakthrough work by "five this afternoon," chances are you're going to go with the very first idea that pops into your head, good bad or ugly. That's truly dangerous. Now, I can write what I call a "cookie cutter" ad in no time flat -- a cliché-soaked no-brainer that will walk and talk like a radio spot and get the job done. Unfortunately, it'll even fool some of the people some of the time. But, if you're a pro who takes pride in your craft (and your subscription to RAP is a pretty good indication that you are), you'll agree with me that this is unsatisfying. Whether or not it can be done, real professionals want to make a masterpiece every time. But rather than agonize over it, I tell the AE, "Look, you can have prime rib or you can have a Quickie Burger for the same price; the choice is yours." You'll quickly find out who eats what, and you'll be able to "cook" accordingly.

Whether or not we realize it, we're all salespeople ourselves -- writers, producers, and voice talents who deliver promos and spots that attempt to motivate, to persuade...to sell. It's like one team with offense and defense, or one body with two arms. So let's dispense with the Us and Them mentality, with the "underappreciated" whining, and use our noodles, our psychology, our own sales and managerial skills to get what we need from our co-workers on the sales staff. Since it's really about respect, Aretha might say demand respect and you get it. Beg for it and you don't.

Have a great New Year, RAP-pers, and may your cume zoom.


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  • The R.A.P. Cassette - December 1999

    Production demo from interview subject, Shawn Kelly, Clear Channel Communications, Albuquerque, NM; plus more imaging, promos and commercials from Stephen...