by Mark Margulies

Multiple spec spots. Those are words that make Production Directors and copywriters cringe, especially in the fourth quarter. They make me cringe, too, because, after years of experience, I know that writing or producing more than one spec spot is the result of a Sales Executive or philosophy that has lost control of the client base. And that never makes our job any easier.

When Account Executives and Sales Managers ask you to write two or three specs to present to a potential client, they're not doing their job. They help perpetuate a widely held myth that many retailers live by: the myth that radio people are nothing more than glorified order takers.

In fact, if truth be told, most retailers will tell you honestly they think they know as much about what should go into a commercial as any radio representative. And that only happens when the control is turned over to a client in the form of "which spot do you like?" or "I brought a couple of different approaches for you to choose from." It allows the client to dictate what gets put on the air, thus completely compromising your station's integrity.

That helps to reinforce a further myth: because the client is paying for the air time, they should get exactly what they want. By merely complying with this thought and writing a variety of ideas, you, unwittingly, become part of the problem, not part of the solution.

That's why it begins as a copy problem. It's a problem of bringing the client into a decision loop that they should never be involved in, a loop that doesn't exist in other professions but, for some reason, permeates radio.

Case in point: you go to your doctor with a cold -- running nose, fever, sore throat, the works. You explain that you're looking for relief. He takes out three cold medicines and says, "Well, I think these will all work equally well. Which one do you like?" Since you don't know the difference, you choose one randomly, based on the fact that the color of the packaging is nice.

"OK," your doctor says. "I'll write a prescription for you."

"But will it work better than the others?" you ask.

"Oh, sure," he says. "As long as you think it's the best one for you."

How much confidence is that doctor aspiring in you that THEY'RE the expert and know what they're doing? Sure, it's YOUR money you're spending. But you're looking to an expert for advice and help; and they, in turn, are asking YOU to make the right choice.

Or how about this. You take your car to a mechanic to be fixed and find out you need a new fuel injector. The mechanic comes out with three that look a little different but are all fuel injectors. You ask him which one they recommend.

"Oh, they'll all work just as well. Which one do you like?"

"Well, which one works best?"

"We find they all work just about the same way in your car. Which one do you like?"

You look for a moment and choose the biggest one, based on the fact that, of the three, you like that one the best.

Get the idea? How much confidence do you have in that mechanic? Well, that's EXACTLY how your station is coming off to a retailer who doesn't understand radio the way they should.

Sure, retailers can be fuzzy to deal with sometimes. Some don't like humor, or specifically YOUR TYPE of humor. (How many times have we all heard that?) Some want a specific sound, like "those Molson couple" ads. Some like fast paced, high-hyped "Crazy Eddie" spots because they think they sell better than others. But the fact is, what they like or want and what will work are two different things completely.

Remember, if you wrote spots to please the client, you'd never get bitched at about results, right? As long as the client was HAPPY, the client would always remain a viable station client. But what do you invariably hear as soon as a client decides not to renew their buy:

"Well, I really liked what you did. It just didn't draw the results I expected."

Wow! Now THERE'S a real shock. Maybe it didn't draw results because it was written to please ONE PERSON ONLY -- THE CLIENT!

Understand that when the Account Executive presents more than one spec spot or one approach, it does nothing more than confuse a client. They're looking for ANSWERS, and all that's being provided are more questions. So how do we stop this vicious cycle and become part of the solution? Glad you asked.

You have to become the professional we all know you are. Start with the Account Executive. Sit down with them for a few minutes and find out about the client. If they visited the client on a cold call, find out as much as you can about what the client is trying to accomplish with their advertising. If the Account Executive air checked another station and recorded an ad for a prospective client, listen to the ad. What are they doing now, and could you do better? If they got the lead from a printed source, look at that ad. Look over carefully what's being stressed and get a feel for what they want to emphasize. Then, and only then, decide on an attack and move forward with your strongest pitch. Write and produce a spec spot that sounds tight and utilizes your talents. Then, sandwich it into a phony air check and bogus stop set that the AE can take and play for the client. That helps them better visualize what their spot will sound like "on the air."

And what about the client? Remember, you are a professional and so is (hopefully) your Account Executive. The approach has to be with the understanding that you will listen and respect the client's opinion, but that you wouldn't be doing your job properly if you didn't suggest certain improvements or alternatives. The client has to see there's a delicate balance between what they LIKE and what's going to WORK FOR THEM. They have to see that you know your business, that you understand what you're doing, that your recommendations are based on experience, not just on the fact that you had "this great idea." Once they have confidence in you and your station, they'll treat you like the professional you are. And once they experience positive feedback and results, you've made a friend for life.

So, put an end to multiple spec spots. It's time to stop giving up the control to the client by producing a number of choices that only serve to confuse them. You're not doing them any favors by offering them a choice, and you'll find by taking a more professional approach, the results justify the means. You'll have happier, more successful salespeople and a more content client base, which means happier Production Directors and copywriters.

And, if the next time you see your doctor they ask you to choose which cold medicine you like best, choose to see another doctor.

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