by Dennis Daniel
I've been getting a little flak lately from my colleagues about my career switch over to the advertising agency side of the business and the fact that I've now become "one of them." Here's what they mean by "one of them." They mean the agency guy who calls up Wednesday, Thanksgiving Eve, at 4:59 p.m. to give them twenty last minute donut and tag changes that have to go on immediately and can not air without us hearing playback first! They mean the guy who calls up to ask them if they'd like to voice a spec spot for a possible agency client we're pitching, and they have to cut it today and FedEx it to the agency (usually at their expense) by 10:30 a.m. the next morning, with no guarantee that the prospective client will like their voice or that the agency will even get the client (and, of course, without any spec fee paid)! They mean the guy who says, "We can pay you $150 for the read, but you have to wait ninety days to get paid. And if the client doesn't pay us in ninety, we can't pay you till we get paid."
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar? In the eight years that I've been writing this column, I have written about them all! When I was on the radio station side of the mike, I used to spit blood at ad agencies! I even wrote several articles about how demonic, ungodly, perverted and sickening ad agencies were! You can't trust them! They're only out for themselves! Their copy usually sucks! They're nothing but a "retail mentality" bunch of has-beens, wanna-bes, and never-weres eking out their miserable living catering to the lowest common denominator clients who all have packs with Satan and eat yanked out hearts raw from new born babies.
And now, I'm ONE OF THEM!!!! AAARRGGHHHEEEYYYIIIIIIIIII!
Oh, it's so easy to criticize, isn't it? It's so easy to sit on your high horse and condemn others for their lack of being what you want them to be, huh? It's a snap to be an all knowing deity who pontificates about the faults of others all the live long day without ever turning towards the mirror to pass any similar judgments upon thee. (I know...guilty as charged.) Well, like my friend Tony's old Italian aunt used to say, "Letta the he, who is withoutta the sin (pause) TROW da firsta stone!" (Yes, she said "trow" instead of "throw!" We used to beg just to hear her say...after a long pause..."TROW!")
Let me see if I can explain the difference between the way I used to handle agencies and the way I've been handled. First and foremost, in all the "anti-agency" pieces I ever wrote, I always felt I was speaking to kindred spirits who could identify with my plight. It doesn't mean I used to tell the agency people giving me a hard time to shove it up their ass! The nice thing about complaining to someone is, you hope for a sense of understanding, right? Whenever the agencies made life difficult, I used to A) curse them under my breath and B) do what I was told anyway. It's the food chain, folks. Even though I hated the SOBs, I also realized that they were, God help me, helping to pay my salary. Therefore, I had to bite the bullet and put up with any and all of their crap. I figured, I might as well be a nice guy about it. After all, the person on the other end delivering the bad news was usually just a pawn in the whole scheme, anyway. The real culprit, nine out of ten, was the client himself! I had many "off the record" conversations with the agency folks who were calling in the last minute stuff. They were cool. They understood how my life was being made miserable. But, alas...what could they do? Their lives were being made just as miserable, if not more so, because they were the direct line to the client's demands, the first wave, if you will.
Now, let's talk about the way I've been handled.
A lot of people read this magazine. A lot of pros in the business have some slight recognition of my name. I deal with many radio stations. I've received a lot of voice-over tapes. From time to time, I've called upon people to do spec work or...even better...gotten them accounts. Other times, I've had to call upon Production Directors to make last minute "you've got to be kidding me" changes. Let's examine each entity, stations and VO talent.
RADIO STATIONS: When it comes to the radio stations, I've found that the smaller market ones have the nicest people. They understand the situation and they don't crucify you. They may not like the many last minute deals, but they try to be kind. (It stands to reason. They don't have the same ratings. They appreciate the business.) The big city stations? GIVE ME A BREAK! This confounds me to no end! Most city Production Directors that I know are not doing many "in house" spots. They deal with mostly national or local agency accounts. In other words...dubs. I listen to city stations and hear the production guys doing all those tags and donuts. You'd think they'd understand the deal! (Okay, calm down folks. Don't start sending letters to RAP saying I'm belittling what you do. I understand you work hard, have lots of responsibilities, and put up with tons of aggravation. Been there. Done that. However, I never felt it gave me the right to be a prick.) Because my agency is mostly retail and local accounts, it should be clear that problems are inherent in that scenario. When I was in production, a red flag went up in my head regarding certain accounts. I just knew they were trouble and dealt with them. (Even if I didn't know, when trouble came, I dealt with it--part of the job.) In the city, I've heard everything from "we don't except that" to "other agencies don't give us these problems" to "I read your column. You were one of us. How could you do this to me!" Look, I don't give a rat's butt what "other agencies" do. All I know is, the client, the person paying for this, the person who helps pay you, wants to make changes. It sucks, I know! Cry me a river! I'm the poor fool who has to call 20 stations and tell them the same thing I'm telling you! Have pity, would you please? Curse me out all you want when you hang up the phone! Throw things! Burn me in effigy. Make a voodoo doll of me and insert pins up my butt. Just PLEASE at least "fake" that you understand and be pleasant to my poor sorry self. Don't cop any "tude" okay? The Production Director of a major market radio station today could be the hamburger flipper of a major market burger joint tomorrow. Ditto for me. Let's just deal with it and move on.
VOICE OVER TALENT: Don't get me started! They yell! They scream! "What is this last minute crap! The big agencies don't do this to me! What do you mean I won't be paid for a spec! I read you column! You were one of us! How could you do this to me!" Schmuck! I'm trying to give you work! You didn't have to write it fifty times! You didn't have to deal with the client! You're just getting a script to cut! And yes, you may have to cut it again, and again! If it's a hassle, forget it! But, of course, they never do. Why? They need the work! Who's big enough that they can turn down work! If you are, God bless you; you're a better man/woman than I.
I'm sorry if I'm offending anyone. I wish things were otherwise. You all know how tough it is out there, what with stations that are downsizing, unappreciated and underpaid Production Directors, the whole sad story. But, like Hyman Roth said in Godfather II, "this is the business we have chosen." A little understanding of the way it is on both sides will go a long way. (By the way, I'm always looking for voice talent...send me a tape.)