by Dennis Daniel
Many of us in the old production game love to get our hands on some extra outside production cash. One of the benefits of our jobs is that our work is constantly on display. The radio station is like a billboard for our work. It just stands to reason, if the work is good, they will come. Who are "they?" Why the ad agencies and time buying services out there in the great beyond. Nine times out of ten, I have gotten freelance work just by people hearing what I do for my station. After seventeen years, I'm lucky enough to have a certain reputation. I've also been able to hold on to my accounts over the years because I can charge them reasonable fees. (Why not? I have no overhead. The studios are here. The supplies too! I don't have to pay for electricity, heat, phones...nothing.) Being able to supply production at low rates keeps them coming back for more. However, there are times when exceptions to the rule creep in. Let me tell ya a story....
About ten years ago, I landed an account called Lamp Warehouse. They're the largest lighting store in New York. I got it through a friend of mine who used to do the news at the station I was working at. She had gone into the agency business, and this was one of her first accounts. Right off the bat, Bill and I got along famously. He used to write his own ads. I'd look them over, make a few changes here and there, and we'd cut them -- bing, bang, boom. No problem. Quick and easy. This went on for years. Lamp Warehouse was a dream account. Always reliable, and Bill always paid cash up front. Best of all, he was a hands on kind of guy who appreciated what I was doing for him. So, Lamp Warehouse was (and still is) bliss on earth.
As time went on, my buddy who gave me the account stepped out of the agency business. Bill decided that he still wanted to use me regardless. So, several more years went by where I dealt with Bill directly. Then, one day, about eight months ago, I received a call from a guy named Harry Lipshitz (not his real name). I had just done two new spots for Lamp Warehouse (by the way, I was writing them by this time), and he was calling me to inform me that he was Bill's agency, and that he wanted to hear the spots.
Wooo, Lassie! You're who? You want to what?
Bill, beautiful but busy guy that he is, had never told me he hired an agency. This is okay, because the agency was just placing his time buys, not doing creative. In fact, he had had the agency for several years; I just never knew it. Why? Because I always just did the ads and sent them to Bill. Anyway, when Harry asks me to hear the spots, I told him, "No way." Basically I said, "Look, pal, I deal directly with Bill. I have been for years. He approves the ads. And as far as the latest two are concerned, he loved them. Case closed. You'll get them, and then you can send them to whatever stations they're on, get your fifteen percent commission for all your hard work, and go off on your merry way." The nerve of that guy, huh? Calling to hear ads he had nothing to do with creatively in any way! He'd never called before. Why now? Jeez, I never even knew he existed.
Well, old Harry pretty much accepted my response and understood where I was coming from. He said, "I just wanted to know what they were about, really. I wasn't calling to say yea or nay." "Well, if that is indeed the case, Harry, and you are Bill's agency, shouldn't you have some kind of dialogue with your client to find out what the hell he's trying to sell at any given moment, hmmmmm?" Logic would dictate so, right?
So, just as I was about to hang up the phone with this giant of the industry, he hits me with, "Oh, by the way, do you do any other freelance work?" Bzzzzt! Bells ringing! Alarms sounding! Okay, so maybe I don't like what the guy was doing. Maybe I think he's a yutz. Maybe I despise agencies in general. But, hey, I gotta eat, right? What the hell! Maybe the guy has some work for me, right? It's worth a shot! Stranger things have happened! I'm a vocal whore, right? "Sure, I do outside work for anyone interested." "Well," old Harry snarls, "I've got a project coming up I'd like to talk to you about." Bing! Bong! A "project" eh? Ooooo, I love the sound of that word. A "project." Sure. Damn straight. I'll talk to old Harry about his "project!" (Sound of cash registers ringing!) Harry continues, "I've enjoyed the work you do for Bill, and I think I can use you." Use me! Use me! "When can we get together to discuss this project?" Get together? We have to "get together?" I know. What's the big deal, right? The big deal is, 99.9% of all the outside work I do, I do over the phone. People call the radio station, tell me what they want, we discuss it, I produce it, and that's that. Part of all this comes from my having been around so long. I'm trustworthy, and I get the job done. So, the old "get together" idea doesn't sit right with me when I first hear it. But hey, it is a "project," right folks? Fine. "Where would you like to get together, Harry?" Harry proceeds to give me bizarre directions to some little hole in the wall bar/restaurant in some god forsaken place. I'm to meet him at 7 p.m. to discuss the aforementioned...da da daaaa..."project" (echo effects). What happened at this little meeting, this little melding of the minds, this little swap shop, this little get together? Next month, I will give you all the gory details. Till then, please keep this in mind whenever you deal with agencies: they are not cut from the same cloth as us, my production brethren. They can not do what we do as fast as we do it for the price we can do it for! But!!! They have to justify the high prices they charge clients by making them think they can do what we do. It is indeed a tangled web, and I will make it all the more clear and untangled the next time my words greet your eyeballs in this handy publication!
P.S. If, right now, you are having a bad day, if you are being kicked around by sales, programming, promotions, if you don't feel appreciated, if you feel abused, cheer up! Take it from me; you are not in any way alone. It is what the job is all about. Just remember, if you have skill, you will always have a job. People like us are very hard to find nowadays. Sooner or later, appreciation will come. Hang in there and always care passionately about the work that you do! Thousands hear it everyday, and that is an amazing miracle! See you next month.