by Andy Frame
Some parts of the country are decidedly "seasonal," meaning tourism, or some other rather large force has a steering effect on the economy. Usually, it seems to be a feast-or-famine kind of steering, too.
For a couple of months out of the year, money rolls in freely, promotions are hot, station visibility is high, sales commissions are up there, and nobody is ordering specs! Why should they? Business is good! Life is good! Who needs new business? You will, because the same steering forces that bring in the feast, bring in the famine. Soon enough, the strip clubs and restaurant trade is the only thing breaking up the two thousand song-in-a-row marathons.
How can you help your sales department? (No, this isn't treasonous. You should be working together.) One of our air talent inquired why we don't do many spec tapes. I replied that we don't get many spec orders. Our sales staff is content with the same six bars, two strip clubs, four restaurants, and one screaming car dealer. (This plays scheduling hell with the traffic manager, too.)
I went to my Sales Manager. "We did something called New Business Wednesday at my old station," he said. "But let's move it to New Business Friday here."
By Thursday of every week, the sales staff has to have to the Sales Manager a "Lead Sheet," a list of people they're going to cold-call on. Every Friday, they're not allowed to do any old business, or see any current client, unless it's to put out a fire. They must cold-call. They have to bring in three spec orders
each and have them on my desk, with production orders, when I hit the door Monday morning. They have to have a spec cassette on their desks for appointments Thursday morning.
Three days. Nine specs.
First, I look over the account and see if the salesperson is trying to shag me. Is this legit? Is it in the station target? Are they just giving me a Yellow Pages clipping to have something to turn in? Am I going to waste my time? You'll have to feel them out to determine if you're being conned. Take the orders to the Sales Manager and discuss each one for a moment. Rely on your gut. Second, see if you have all the info you need for a spot. Forget price-per-item crap. Forget laundry lists. You have carte-blanche creativity on this gig. What do you want, or need? Make a phone call. Ask a question. Get the information. You are the Production Director. Take the baton, and direct!
Consult your idea pools, write your copy, and assign it to the staff members that you trust. Take half of it for yourself, and assign the other half out. Don't let the Program Directors push you around with their last minute baloney. You are trying to manufacture a product that your salesperson can use to make money for your station. Another ten-in-a-row-promo can wait!
Make spec spots that any bonehead can sell, so when the salesperson comes back without the buy, you are completely exonerated of all blame. You caught the pass, ran ninety yards, and made the touchdown. I recently made two spec tapes, and the salesperson got turned down flat. My fault? Not a chance. The Sales Manager wished he had the accounts to take those tapes to!
The problem? The salesperson didn't pre-qualify the accounts! He brought in a month-old newspaper ad to work off of! The other account was right in the middle of their promotion. Bad timing? Undoubtedly. Inexperience? No question. But, he had the ammunition, even if he was firing at the wrong target. There's nothing you can do about that.
But, by turning over one spec a day, at least, you can keep the cold-call New Business mill grinding. And, if one kicks back a no sale, reinvent the same concept for someone else, again and again, until someone finally buys it!
Do you have a friend at the station that you enjoy working with? Develop a two-voice shtick that can be molded to fit a variety of client needs.
This kind of New Business spec program gives you enormous latitude for creativity. It's a chance to have fun whipping up stuff you may have only thought of and could never do previously.
Take the chance, work with the Sales Manager, and maybe you can be a part of helping your station through the dips in the road as your local economy drives through the year.
Speaking from experience, Sales is a lot tougher than Production...a lot. The rewards are higher, but the job will kill you. Take this New Business idea to your Sales Manager, and discuss the real world applications of it at your station. You won't get any more respect. You won't get a raise, but you will have a nice dose of personal satisfaction. "Your" idea will look good on a resume, and those wild (and completely legit) spots will sound excellent on a demo tape.
This program requires a motivated Sales Manager that's not afraid of his/her sales staff. You won't hit 100%, but every hit is money that the station didn't have before. And, if you have good salespeople, they can return to the new account, and gently work with it for additional monies as the slow season plods on.
You have to be reliable week after week, so find someone that is good for ideas or is a capable writer. Having a good producer helps, too. This way, with the workload split up, consistent spec tapes can be generated, and everyone gets to have a little creative fun. (Think about it. Wouldn't it be nice not to do a spot saying "Tonight! (fx) Tonight! Ladies drink two for one (flange) two for one!")
Bike shops, photo shops, the list is almost endless depending on your format. Slow business is adversity to your station. Shine during adversity, and you will blaze during profitability.