Andrew "Bag" Sidwell, Creative Director, FOX-FM, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
by Jerry Vigil
This month’s interview takes us back to the Land Down Under where we hook up with Andrew “Bag” Sidwell, Creative Director of Fox FM in Melbourne, part of the Today Network of the Austereo radio group. In this market of approximately three million people, we find a creative department that has taken the task of servicing “direct” accounts to the extreme, to the point where direct business accounts for forty percent of the station’s revenue, some half-million dollars a month! The secret to this incredible growth is no secret, really. It’s simply the professional execution of radio advertising at its best. It’s about salespeople going to clients with the concept of helping THEM make money, rather than “how much can I GET from them.” Bag takes this concept further by creating for these clients commercials with a focus less on the creativity and more on getting results for the client. He calls this “strategic creativity,” and he explains exactly what it is and how it works.
We’ve heard many of the basic principles that Bag talks about, and many of us use them--keep the focus, get their attention, theatre of the mind. But seldom do we see an operation where the focus on making radio work for the client is so intense. This month’s interview is a glimpse at what radio HAS to become if it is going to survive in this era of increasing avenues for advertisers to spend their money. Be sure your sales staff gets a glimpse at this interview. It’s guaranteed to leave them with eyes wide open and with a whole new concept of what they’re selling. This is also required reading for anyone at your station who writes copy, and especially anyone who deals directly with the clients when it comes to the creative on their commercials. Check out some of Andrew's work on this month's R.A.P. Cassette.
RAP: Tell us about your background in radio and how you wound up at your current position.
Bag: When I was fifteen, there was a job in the paper for a radio station office boy. I went for it and got the job. I was like the mail boy, got the papers for the journalists and that kind of stuff. From there I progressed into carting, and then I started to write funny little signs and make maps for the jocks on the weekends showing what sweepers and promos they had to play. Then the breakfast show talent, he was also the PD, asked me if I’d like to write some comedy for him. So, by the time I was eighteen, I was the comedy writer/creative producer for the breakfast show at 3KZ in Melbourne in 1988.
From there I joined Austereo and went to Canberra as a second production guy, the commercial production guy. The first production guy is a legend, Daryl Missen. He was the Production Manager there, and this started a great friendship which has lasted until now. I was just absolutely bedazzled by this guy, and I figured that maybe production really wasn’t my thing. So I went into copywriting there for a while. Then I went on the air part-time at night, still doing copy during the day.
Then we had a change of Program Directors. Daryl went to Sydney, and I ended up back in production as dual Production Manager. There were some pretty long hours, like all production guys understand. Then the Program Director moved to Brisbane, and he took me with him as his commercial producer.
After three months there, I decided I really wanted to travel. So I traveled with Daryl Missen. We both came to the States and toured radio stations throughout America. Mike and Bob Lee from Brown Bag Productions set us up visiting a few stations, and we ended up in Denver and met those guys. It was fantastic. They’re really great guys. We went on the air at The FOX in Denver, which was really cool. It was just for an hour. They did this segment on “questions you’ve always wanted to ask an Australian.”
Then we went to England and worked in retail. I got a job working in a video shop and just stayed in England for about ten months. Then I came back and got a job at 3KZ, which was the station I started at in Melbourne. I got a job writing for the breakfast show and also writing copy during the day. It was KZ-FM by then. Within twelve months I was full-time creative. They changed format from KZ-FM to Gold FM, and I did all the production for the format change. By this time, I’d absolutely decided that production wasn’t what I wanted to do, and I thought writing was.
I came over to FOX to be on air during the night show. That was five years ago. Then the station went to Classic Rock, and I was a bit too young sounding for that. I was twenty-two at this time. So they said, “What do you want to do? Whatever you want to do in the radio station you can do?” And I said, “I want to write copy.” There was a guy writing copy already, so they decided to create a second writer’s job, and from that point on, I’ve grown and learned so much. Now I’m Creative Director of the department and running a direct business of about half a million a month.
We changed back to a younger format in ’93. We’re now “Better Music and More of It” which is a Hot AC format.
RAP: Well, it sounds like you started writing in the very beginning, even when you were fifteen making the signs for the jocks.
Bag: I certainly did. Back when I was sixteen, the station I was at used to broadcast football on the weekends. I got to write their “footie” promos as we call them. I took that duty off the Production Manager. He was probably the first person who introduced me to writing. I started writing those, and along the way, I’ve always stuck with writing. I did a correspondence writing course for a while and dipped out when I moved from Melbourne to Canberra where Daryl was based. I met some pretty influential people at that time like a guy called Pete Fowler who was group Creative Director of Austereo. He taught me some fundamentals of writing which I still adhere to. For example, a promo should contain one good idea, and if you’ve got three in it, don’t be afraid to make three strong promos rather than use three killer lines in one promo.
RAP: Do you ever get stuck for creative ideas?
Bag: I’ve read a few of the creative interviews in RAP, and I always struggle when I read creative interviews because I find it hard to read about people’s creative techniques, what they do when they have a mind block and that kind of stuff. I think that each person has their own thing that they do, and creators are very funny about listening to what other people do.
Here we have the Radio Marketing Bureau which started a thing a few years ago called Script Bank where writers of all the stations in Australia would send in their scripts. So if you were stuck, you’d go to that. My whole theory behind that is, if you’re stuck, then maybe it’s time to look at moving on, seriously, because the creativity comes from getting the great brief from the reps, designing a great advertising brief that you get the information from.
I really think I’m focusing not so much on the creative aspects, but more on the strategical aspects, on strategical creativity. I focus absolutely on the client’s point of difference and how we can communicate that to the target market. And our job is to absolutely support our sales guys and help them get the best brief possible from the client. That’s where you’re going to find that you’re going stale in your creativity, when you’re looking at a bad brief. You’re trying to make stuff up because the right information hasn’t been gathered in the first place.
RAP: Obviously, you ask your salespeople to gather addresses and phone numbers and the basic copy facts, but what’s in this brief that helps you creatively?
Bag: We do a thing called a Marketing Model, a Client Needs Analysis. We kind of roll all these documents into one, and we have this thing now called a Wonder Brief, like the Wonder Bra--it pushes up all the good information to the top. (laughs) So we have a Client Needs Analysis in which we find out what the needs are, and you get your understanding of really what they need versus what they want.
We’ve got an absolutely brilliant sales team because we’ve been here a long time together, and we’ve grown really customer focused. When I hear the sales guys come in saying, “Oh, the client wants this; the client wants that,” I say, “Okay, that’s great. But what does their target need or want from the client?” We can write ads all day long that suit the client, but they’re not going to get the job done, and we’re not going to get repeat business. Our attention is going to suffer, and radio in general is going to get a bad name for itself because we’re not focusing on what absolutely our target audience is and why they buy a product.
So we focus on that. Then with all the great information we gather from the client, we find the USP, the Unique Selling Proposition, the one thing that the client has different over their competitors or does differently from their competitors. Then you’ve got a reason why the target will be moved into action to buy from this client, if it is realistic and it is strong. This is all part of the brief. We get the buying considerations of the target, the three major reasons why they buy this product or from this client. And the client knows this kind of information. If they don’t, then we recommend they put measurement devices in their stores or businesses to find out why, and research why people actually do buy from them. Otherwise, you’re just guessing.
So the whole thrust is to become a partner with the client’s business. We’re kind of helping them with the business, putting in measurement devices and helping them figure out why people buy from them. Then you start to understand what needs to go into the ad.
I don’t think one person like the creative guy, or the production guy, or the sales guy should be held up as the god. This kind of system is brilliant because the strategy is king, and when you work it and you absolutely milk it, everybody wins. You get the great information and the client gets the great results. You get the great focused creative. Forget awards philosophy and awards mentality. When you’re getting results and you’re getting clients booking back on your station, and you’re not selling on ratings but selling on results, it’s fantastic. I get a buzz from it.
RAP: Once you get a brief from a client, how much time do you ask for to turn that spot around?
Bag: Probably five days, but, twenty-four hours is not that irregular. I like to ask for five days because it’s a good production time, good idea time, and also a good time for the client to hear anything before it goes to air.
RAP: You do research before creating the spot. Do you do any after the spot is done or after the spot airs?
Bag: Yes, we actually study all campaigns that go to air. We do a thing we call Direct Client Call-outs. We have a person who’s not a sales rep and not a creator, so he’s not really close to the account. This Client Services Manager would call the clients and talk to them about their campaign and find out how the campaign went.
So with that information, it all started coming together. When sales management would meet, from each different area we’d get a little bit more information, and we started to see an overview of how we sat in the marketplace, what clients were successful and why, which ones weren’t and why. And the interesting thing that came out of that was the clients who weren’t successful were the ones that we call transactional buys. They buy on ratings, and they buy on price. And we don’t sell on that. So if FOX is rating high in a particular survey, that business will come on board. But that client will drive the sales rep, tell him what they want and how they want it, and this will drive the creative. “This is what I want in my ad” or “Here’s the script.” What we started to find was that those were the clients who weren’t having success with radio, and the ones we made the right recommendations to, based upon getting the right brief and using all the success elements, started to have great experiences with radio.
RAP: About how much of the business on the air is pre-produced when it comes to your station? What’s your direct versus agency business?
Bag: I reckon it would be close to forty percent direct, sixty percent agency.
RAP: That’s a lot!
Bag: Historically, it’s always been agency, agency, but now, the direct is absolutely going through the roof here. It’s definitely an emerging trend. Our whole thrust is, let radio drive radio. We don’t care about the print and the television. We’re not trying to do that. You can use specialists to do that, but use a specialist in each particular medium. The way that we set up our production and creative teams is not how radio has been treated in the past. We treat it like a business. We have talent budgets, and we get lots of actors in. I try at all times not to use jocks in ads. Last month we billed nine thousand dollars in talent, in actors coming in to voice spots.
RAP: With that kind of budget for hiring talent, you must turn out quite a bit of agency caliber material.
Bag: Part of our research measuring devices include these things called Client Advisory Boards, CABs, where we get direct clients to come in and talk about their advertising with other direct clients--why they use the radio station, what they got out of it, what they would like to see more of--and we do it on a regular basis. We had an agency CAB where agencies came in. It started off as a negative, but we got a brilliant positive out of it. What happened was, they thought there were two rates for buying ads, one direct rate and one agency rate. This came from the fact that they believed there were no direct ads in Breakfast (the morning show), and there were plenty of direct ads in Breakfast. It was just that they hadn’t expected the quality of the direct ad to be up there. They couldn’t tell that these clients were direct clients. They had no idea, which was an absolute and brilliant compliment to the sales and creative team.
RAP: This is an elaborate system for gaining direct business. How did this come into place? Was it something you did yourself?
Bag: We built it over a period of three or four years. It’s something I’ve definitely driven, but obviously I need support from sales management. And with a great Sales Director, we absolutely sold the division on it. It’s derived from lots of different systems and lots of different places. The clients meeting with clients thing, the CABs, actually came from programming because they have a listener advisory board where they get the listeners in and discuss things. These ideas are under your nose. We’re just looking at them from a different angle saying, “We can do that. That’s valuable information.”
I pretty much pushed for the talent thing myself. Creatives in the past have struggled to have backing from sales management, but the guys here are brilliant. It’s to the point now where no booking is put through unless a Sales Manager sights it and checks off that they’ve got talent on the booking, that they will charge the client for the talent.
RAP: So the client pays for the talent?
Bag: Oh, yeah, fully. And when I was talking before about how we called the clients and found how the campaigns worked, there were certain things we got from this. We started to find out that the ads with talent were the ones that were working and had a chance of working. So we started looking at what I call success elements. Do these ads contain the four success elements that we need: budget, a hook, talent, and the right call to action?
We started coming from a position of strength saying to the client, “Okay, this stings because we’re making a recommendation to you that is not targeted at you; it’s targeted at your target and your buyer.” And they’re starting actually to hear and believe and buy it. Obviously, we keep a book of successes, a results register of the clients it’s worked for, and that’s your credentials document, in effect. “Here it is. This is how it’s worked for these people.”
RAP: How did you set up the talent bank?
Bag: All the radio stations here have always had talent coming in on an irregular basis, but I actually structured a deal with some of the talent, not through their management agencies, but directly with themselves. I’d offer to give them regular work every second week if they would cut me a deal and come in and voice X amount of ads in one session, or as many as we could put in that session, as long as the work was guaranteed. They agreed, and I’ve had that going for two and a half years. Now the marketplace is catching up and starting to do that kind of stuff, too. We’re using a lot of talent. Like I said, we’ve got nine thousand spent just last month, and we’re pushing that already for this month.
RAP: How many people are in your talent bank?
Bag: Easily a hundred male, a hundred female.
RAP: Is the station adding any fees on top of the talent fee for themselves?
Bag: Some small accounting figures. The problem with talent here is, you have to put them on your payroll, and you have to pay payroll tax and different things like that to set them up. So we just cover for an “admin” fee, but that’s it.
RAP: Nine thousand a month on talent fees is a lot of talent voicing a lot of agency quality commercials. I would imagine your department competes with some local agencies to a degree.
Bag: Yes. We had a situation where we pitched against an international agency for a piece of a client’s business for a national chain of telephone stores that were opening. We pitched for the radio, and we pitched head to head with the agency. We out-sourced a jingle and had a really contemporary jingle made for the client and then did a whole launch strategy: “Okay, we’re going to kick in with these jingles to position you in the marketplace.” The launch was something different, and the positioning statement was about that difference. We put all our energy into that, and we presented everything on CD. We had the jingle and all the ads burnt to CD. We went in there and presented and won the business. We beat the agency which was an absolute killer. It was the first time we’ve done it. That was pretty much a quarter of a million dollars business spent nationally in the space of probably three months. But the jingle only cost us a couple of grand, and we didn’t charge anything extra to the client. We could have, but realistically we’re not about that, yet.
RAP: Ouch! That’s a quarter of a million dollars in business that an agency lost to a radio station production department!
Bag: Yep. That was pretty much one of our first head to head creative pitches that we went on.
RAP: That’s great. Your team’s efforts brought in a ton of money for your stations, and you let an agency know that you know what you’re doing.
Bag: Yes, and at this moment, that’s all it’s about. It’s about setting ourselves up as “radio knows radio.” For so long we’ve always sat back and let ourselves be bullied around, and it’s like, “Hang on a minute! We’ve got some great people in this network.” Now the creative is actually standing up as a partner. I think we’re empowered because we’ve got a great sales strategy, and we’ve figured out where we sit in that. Historically, creative has always been out on a limb like no one has understood what they do. It’s like, it’s okay for those guys to go and have temper tantrums, “they’re creative.” But that’s not acceptable anymore. We’re a business, and we’re part of the business.
I draw the comparison of what creative was in the old days. You’ve got your sales guys going into the marketplace talking to clients, and then you’ve got your creative, out on a limb, almost fighting the sales guy, which is so wrong. It’s like walking through a door with your arms out. The sales guy is the head, and the arms just don’t fit through the door, which is the marketplace. It’s been frustrating as a sales guy in the marketplace not having the support of these guys or fighting these guys.
So for me, it’s all about bringing creative support for the sales guys, bringing it fully behind them, fully understanding and respecting them for doing a job that I don’t want to do. How can I make their job as easy as it can be from all my strengths? Everything we do keeps them seen as leaders in the marketplace, winning business, getting results, and it’s worked. We’ve really built up a great production relationship with the sales guys, and we’ve tried stuff here in Australia which no one has really tried before.
RAP: My guess is, every sales department in radio would love to have your attitude in their creative department. How did this relationship with sales get started?
Bag: The first thing I did in this role was say, “Okay sales guys, if you want anything from production, you come through me. I’ll organize it for you, or Ian Waight, my creative writer will organize it for you, but you come to us for it.” Historically, sales and production guys have never got on, and communication has always been the breakdown. There’s been lots of emotion in the communication, and unfortunately, the two never merged. They never understood each other. One thought the other was highly strung or whatever. The sales guys didn’t know that the production guys had fifty promos stuck on them by the PD, and this cassette wasn’t a priority for them. But for the sales guys, the cassette is a priority because it’s servicing the client’s needs. So we’ve kind of put ourselves as the in-between point. Both creatives here have been in production before, so we understand from that point of view.
RAP: So you and Ian are the writers and the middlemen between sales and production.
Bag: Yes, and it’s worked. And the sales guys get along great with our commercial producer, a young guy, Mark Del Villar, who is twenty-one. He has been on digital equipment since he was sixteen, and he’s just a master on it. We’ve got the Waveframe, and it has absolutely changed the way we make ads. You go in there, and if something doesn’t work, you can just move it around.
RAP: You’re very fortunate to have management and salespeople who understand what you are trying to do. Most Production Directors understand exactly what you are saying, and many have tried to implement similar ideas to make those commercials work. But management so often sees the time buy as the ONLY important aspect of generating revenue. And sometimes it’s as though sales thinks we’re here to try and impede business for the sake of laziness, when in fact we truly want to create an effective ad. It sounds like the salespeople come to you and ask, “WHEN can we have this?” rather than the norm where the salespeople say, “I need this tomorrow, or we’ll LOSE MONEY.”
Bag: Yes, and that’s what has changed. I’ve only seen it and experienced it here at FOX. Now when I was in Canberra, I had an interesting change in myself. I was a shit, you know. I was a prick to these guys. I disrespected the sales guys, and I didn’t know the focus about what I was doing. I had a few mentors who got me to take a look at myself. They said, “Hey, it’s time for you to change what you’re doing.” Looking at myself I thought, “I really don’t like the way I treat these guys or respect these guys,” and I guess the biggest change was understanding, as a creative, that I really don’t want to do their job. It’s a really, really hard job asking people in the marketplace to buy your business, and you’ve got four or five other stations out there doing the same thing. We had three stations here at one time with the same format, which is not a lot compared to American markets, but for here it was quite tough. I’d never had it that tough before, and that was a mental kind of a housekeeping change I made.
And that coincided with the return of our new Sales Director, and he had the same vision. He had the same kind of understanding that this is the direction we’ve got to move in. He and I worked really well together, and I started doing things for we the company instead of me.
Everything was basically, “How can we start to win direct dollars? How can we as creative and production support these sales guys?” The Sales Director was telling us what he wanted to see from a revenue point of view and from a relationship point of view, and he came out with the strategy. We had a sales philosophy of focusing, finally, of getting results for the client, and from that moment on, we obviously grew. We grew from taking trips to the U.S., picking up bits of different strategies on customer focus, talent focus, management, all the different strategies, and applying what really works and what moves us in the direction we want to go in. Pretty much what we found and realized was that we needed to become more and more customer focused. We had to actually start servicing our clients. The sale didn’t end when the rep got the booking.
So I became a weapon for the strategy from a creative point of view which they probably never had before. We surrounded the sales guys, and we implemented this strategy. “This is the direction we’re going to move in, and we’re going to stick to it.” A lot of this goes to a guy called David Gibbs who was the General Sales Manager here at the time. Since then he has been promoted to the Group Sales Director of the Today Network because everything that took place, he put into place here. He gave me that freedom, and he said, “...and this is what I want from you. You can have a talent budget if you can prove to me that you can use it wisely.” So with it, I struck a deal with the actors. He gave me the freedom to do those things as long as I was supporting the strategy, and the strategy absolutely has worked. And we’re bloody powerful, an absolutely powerful direct response medium. Some of the results we’ve seen have just blown us away, and that’s because of the information gathering. We can’t just guess anymore.
RAP: You seem to really have a grip on what radio can do for the client. Imagine what a force radio could be if all stations applied the same efforts towards servicing the client!
Bag: I don’t know what it’s like in America, but around here, radio has never really been a cannibal. It’s always been seen as the third poor cousin to TV and to print. And it’s about time that we actually stood up and said, “We’re not. We’re actually really strong in what we do.” We should not fight TV and print, not say they’re the enemy. I was reading an article from America, it was called “The Leaky Bucket,” talking about having a Director of Results in a radio station, and it was great. It said, “Radio’s enemy isn’t TV or press; radio’s enemy is radio.” With all that we’re doing now, with all the client call-outs and focusing on the results, we’re actually starting to befriend the enemy and make ourselves stronger and more focused.
I’m just awed by the power of how it works, how radio reaches into somebody’s shower and reaches into somebody’s car and gets them just before they go into a shopping center. We’ve talked about the figures of how many people we see in their cars and all that kind of stuff, but we’ve not really talked about the powerful emotions or the intrusive power of that, and what that means, and how we can sell that, and what value that has, to be at somebody’s legs while they’re driving in the car, to reach out and touch them and rub their leg and say, “Why don’t you go in here, and when you’re in here, why don’t you think about this?” It’s great.
RAP: Tell us more about the production team. Mark’s not the only producer, is he?
Bag: We’ve got four full-time production people. The Production Director is a lady called Vickie Marr, and she works on an Australia-wide syndicated program called Martin Malloy. It’s bigger than Howard Stern in Australia, and she does all the production on that. And we have a programming producer who does all the promos, sweepers, etc.. We call him Black Matt. He’s white, but he wears black all the time. And we have a breakfast producer who works on the breakfast show, and that’s a full-time job. His name’s Craig Jansson. Then we have the commercial legend, Mark Del Villar. We share because we’re in the same building as Triple M. Austereo owns two networks, the Today Network which FOX is a part of, and also the Triple M Network.
RAP: All commercials have to grab the listener’s attention. How do you make the commercial stand out from the clutter?
Bag: This is a talk I’m having with our programming producer. Depending on the brief, what the information is, I have quite a few different ways of doing it. The whole thrust is, people don’t like to listen to ads. It’s not something one would do as a family--let’s sit down and listen to the ads. They listen to the radio for whatever the format delivers them. For us, we deliver music and entertainment. As much as we make our promos and ads entertaining, we’ve got to realistically say they aren’t listening to the ads. That’s the beginning. Now I understand where I’m at. The job I have to do is to communicate to them something that they’re not listening to, and that is quite hard in the beginning.
What I try to do and stimulate out of the producer and the other writer and myself is to have an element in that ad where the person listening--let’s say they’re in the car--actually looks at the radio like you’ve broken this physiology. They’re sitting there staring out the window of the car, then something just kind of gets them. Maybe that’s a production technique, a strong headline where the offer of the ad is in the headline, or it’s a sound, or whatever. You can even put a mistake to air. You know, we try to make a commercial so slick and so smooth. I reckon that’s when we get bogged down making it for other people, making it for other producers, making it for other writers, making it for awards judges. It’s like, “No, they don’t listen to these ads. How am I going to make this cut through?” And is it realistic for them, the person listening to the radio in that environment?
I listen when I’m in the car, and I get impressed when other people do it. I say, “Yes, you’ve broken the pattern of me sitting in the car.” I’m stuck in traffic not thinking about what’s on the radio, and something gets me to look at the radio. Maybe it’s slowing the voice down or speeding it up, something that’s just a trigger, that’s unexpected, and it’s got you. And the digital stuff is great for those little tricks. Ian, the other writer here, was working on an ad with Mark in production, and I remember driving down the road hearing it. The voice was bouncing from left to right in my car in the speakers. It was spinning, and I thought, “It’s got me. I’m in the middle of this ad!”
RAP: What is something you try to avoid doing in commercials?
Bag: One of the techniques I try to avoid is hard sell because I find it disrespects the person listening. Would you go in a shop and buy from somebody who is standing in that shop yelling at you? You wouldn’t do it. So why would you do it on radio? Are you doing it because you think you want it to stand out? Obviously, if all gets quiet, then it will stand out, but advertising works to a level. What we need to do is get smarter on making it work on more levels. Okay, the ad works, but how well did it work? “Well, it did this.” “Well, if I showed you a way that you could do this and this and this, more levels, would you be interested?” “Of course I would.” Then you start to not just hit one percent of the market, you actually start to reach more.
RAP: What are some of your thoughts on what happens to those scripts of yours in the production room?
Bag: Production, getting in there and rolling your sleeves up and working with a great producer, working together, talking about the person in the car, listening and making the producer question why he’s doing something, that’s what I really like to do. I did it with the program producer the other day. I’d written some sweepers for programming, and he played me the ones that I’d written. He just had some music grabs in there, and I said, “Why have you done that? Is it because you’ve always made your name making sweepers that particular way?” I said, “Why don’t you think about the person in the car? The sweeper is just there. Now, what is the job you want the sweeper to do?” “I want it to sell this aspect of the radio station.” Well, interrupt the pattern and sell it somehow. I said, “Take the way you direct your talent. You get the network voice out of a guy in Sydney, you get him into a session, and you just go through as many scripts as you possibly can. What you’ve got to do is bring signature elements to those particular scripts in the way that he says something.” I think one of the lines was, “It only gets better....” It was for the Better Music Countdown. The way he had the read it said, “It only gets better, the Better Music Countdown,” ta-da, ta-da, ta-da. I said, “When you direct him, get him to do this. It... only... gets... better” pausing between each word. He did it, and it absolutely stood out even more.
RAP: Collaboration between writer and producer is great. It gives the producer a new point of view which can often keep a producer from getting into a rut of doing the same type of work over and over.
Bag: That’s the whole thing with producers. They get locked away, and they get bogged down. This guy’s magic, and he brings magic to my scripts. But he may burn out, and we’ve got to have the responsibility of not letting him burn out. We’ve got to get in there and help with new techniques, new ways of looking at things, especially stuff that’s about looking at the target, thinking about the target, thinking about how they’re listening. It’s not about, “I’m going to make this to impress so and so. I’m going to make it to get on the RAP tape.” It’s not that. It’s about what’s going to work in radio because the whooshes and the bangs and the zaps and the music grabs, they just go by the listener.
RAP: You bring up a good point as far as working with the producer on making more effective sweepers and promos for the station. If you can generate great results for your commercial clients with your techniques, they should also work on the station’s “ads.”
Bag: Right. You hear these promo producers, “Isn’t it hot? Isn’t it great?” It is to me because I’m a radio guy, and I really like what you’ve done, but the person out there...? We get listener advisory boards in, and they don’t even hear that stuff. It’s like a bunch of noise to them. And that’s air time. That has a dollar value, and we should be using that more effectively. If we can do it with clients, we should be sharing that kind of information and knowledge with our programming producers, our PDs, the people who write the station promos and that kind of stuff.
I want to communicate to them that we have this countdown, and it’s the best songs. What’s the benefit in it for them? One of the sweepers I wrote for it says, “It’s like sticking four hundred of the best CDs on auto shuffle.” That’s exactly what it is. You don’t have to buy all the right songs. We’ve got them here for you.
I grew up on all those great, fantastic, funny attitude sweepers in the late eighties that came from a lot of the American stations. “The longer you listen, the later it gets,” in that ballsy rock voice. We got stuck in that for like four or five years, even longer.
You can have this station programming voice, but use it strategically. That reinforces and delivers the brand of the station. But don’t try and get them to deliver stuff that’s out of their strength’s realm. Use the right talent for the right script. I’ve got boxes of male and female actors, and I try and find new talent all the time and bring it to the guys. And don’t do it if you can’t get the best. Don’t do it if your budget doesn’t allow it. Don’t try and get a station voice to do something you’ve written for an actor because it ceases to become the great idea that was going to move the product.
RAP: How do you convince the client, or worse, an uneducated salesperson, that spending the extra bucks on talent is going to pay off in the long run?
Bag: I did a demonstration to the sales guys just to reinforce why talent is so important. I went through the process of what we do once we’ve got the right brief, once we’ve decided we’ve got the right information, an objective and a hook, which is what the people will respond to in the marketplace. I said, “Look guys, you’ve all heard before that radio is theater of the mind. I’ve broken it down even more. Imagine you’ve got this big theater. Now, backstage is the client and all the client’s information. In front of the stage is our audience, people sitting there. Now, once you’ve got the objective, we then go in search of an idea. Now the idea is the setting, the stage in the theater of the mind. The vehicle that moves it to the target listener is the length of time that the ad needs.”
I just made up an imaginary project. The product is a golf ball. It outdrives its nearest competitor every time guaranteed by thirty meters. Okay, what’s the best stage for that golf ball to meet that audience out there? Well, we’ll have two guys on the golf course. One hits a ball and the other says, “Oh, that’s a nice shot. Now let me have a go.” He hits the ball and the ball becomes a jet (jet sfx), and you hear this real low, gravelly voice saying, “The new Outflight golf ball...outflies its nearest competitors by thirty meters every time...so you can hit more birdies (sfx: bird getting hit) and more eagles (sfx: eagle getting hit).” And the sales guys are going, “Yeah, that’s kind of neat! That’s the right idea!” Then I look down at the brief and it says no talent money. I go, “All right, I’ve got a bright idea. I’ll just get some station talent to voice it, people around the station.”
I had already made this ad up with station talent and played it to them, and it was lame, absolutely lame. And that commercial ceases to be the best recommendation for the client. “What happens now is we pull out a straight voice for the read because that’s all we have because you haven’t sold talent. And what straight voice is, is a generic stage setting that other clients get who don’t have talent money. So it’s not the best idea for your client’s product to meet the people in the theater of the mind.”
You could just see lights go on in the room. You could even hear them. The demonstration was to reinforce selling talent, and now the guys are out there selling talent. Sometimes they struggle when you get a fifteen hundred, two thousand dollar booking. “Oh, I haven’t got talent,” and that’s a part of growing into understanding. It’s not all black and white. There are some that have to slide, but you’ve done your best to sell them. These types don’t make up the core of our business. But we’re not saying, “Get out. You don’t have talent.” We’re not putting walls up. We’re talking to them and helping the clients. And if they still want to do it outside of our recommendation, we do it, obviously. But that’s not the norm, and it’s great to see it change.
RAP: What are some of your thoughts on using sound effects?
Bag: I had to do a presentation a few years ago to a bunch of advertising students here in Melbourne. The Sales Director at the time told me he wanted me to do something on “why radio is the best medium.” So I went to production and sat with the producer at the time and said, “What demonstrates sounds?” We built a sequence with footsteps on gravel with birds, then a car door open/shut, seat belt goes across, cut to the outside, more birds, and the car starts and drives off.
I got these ad students to shut their eyes, turned the lights off, and I played that. When they opened their eyes, I said, “Okay, who can tell me what they saw?” We went around the table and one saw a truck. One saw a red car. One saw a girl walking across the gravel. I said, “You didn’t see anything. You heard it, and that’s the power of radio. It paints personal pictures.” Now, if that was on TV, it would be an art director’s interpretation of the brief, of the script, and everybody at home would see the art director’s car. So you lose that power of making it personal, the personal pictures elements. Just say, “Shut your eyes and see a body on the beach sun-tanning.” Guys will see a girl. Girls will see a guy. Some of the guys will see guys, and that’s the absolute true power of radio.
RAP: You put a lot of emphasis on getting a “good brief” from the client in order to write a spot that targets their needs. Do you ever get a brief that says the client needs one thing but find that he really needs another?
Bag: Yes. We’ve helped distributors of products get shelf space at the supermarkets. When you’re doing the brief you say, “Okay, what’s the objective of this campaign?” “Well, it’s to help sell X amount of products from the supermarket shelves.” I sometimes ask if it’s really that or if we can help the client get space on the supermarket shelf. That’s a different thing, and getting space on the supermarket shelves for new products is bloody hard. When the rep talks to his client about it, he’ll ask, “Would you want us to help you make an ad for a specific chain of supermarkets with your product mentioned in there so you can present it to them?” “Yeah, that’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to get shelf space!” So it’s not really sell cans in the supermarket? “No, I’m trying definitely to get leverage to get shelf space.” “Okay, we’ll help you do it. We’ll make the ads to help you get shelf space.”
RAP: So you’re saying that rather than make a spot for the client to present to the public right off the bat, you’re making a spot for the client to present to the supermarkets, hoping the supermarkets will give up some shelf space for the client’s product, based upon the great ad the client is presenting to the supermarket.
Bag: Exactly. What you find in the brief is that the rep hasn’t reported what the client really wants. The client is getting us to make an ad for what we think is supposed to move this product from the shelf, but what they’re really going to do with that ad is take it and play it to Coles Supermarkets and say, “Will you stock our product? We’re going to advertise it on the radio. Here’s the ad.”
If we didn’t know that was really the brief, that the client was looking for shelf space, what we would have done is maybe focused on the creative benefits of the product, etc.. The real job of the ad is to help that client get leverage. And if that ad isn’t going to air, I acknowledge that. But for us to help that client’s business grow, then the job of that ad is to help them get shelf space. If we uncover that in the brief, we actually find out the “why” behind the “why”--why they’ve come to us and asked us to help pitch their product. It’s that they want to use the tape, not on air, but just in a meeting. Okay, let’s structure it so that it’s going to do that job.
Here’s another example of what we’re learning about strategical creativity. I did an ad last week for a recovery drink, which is something you drink if you’ve got a hangover. The drink’s called "Feeling Seedy." In doing the brief we’re uncovering more and more about the business and the target audience. Okay, you’ve got a hangover drink. You don’t want to tell people to get this drink by placing the ad on Sunday mornings for hangovers because the last thing they want to do is get out of bed. So you have to move them when they’re in the supermarket to buy in bulk and stick it in the fridge and forget about it. Then whenever you’ve got a hangover, it’s there. So in effect, we’re trying to move this product into essential item status, like some headache tablets or whatever.
I’ll send this commercial for the demo on The Cassette. What we did is, we demonstrated the morning after, “Oh, my head, oh, my stomach.” Then we go to the night before, and the tape rewinds: “Hey, waiter, get another bottle of wine...make it two.” Now if you take it back a little further, we find the point in your week where you pass Feeling Seedy in the supermarket, and you could have avoided...whatever, and if you listen, you can hear the bottles calling out for you, “Hey, you’re going to need us. You’re going to need us!” Announcer: “Never let a hangover sneak up on you again....”
So what happens is the supermarket becomes the base of your idea, and you actually build it into what you want the listener to do with the product. You want them to buy it in the supermarket. It isn’t just a throwaway tag at the end. “Buy it at your supermarket.” It’s the base of what you want them to do, and you spend the time telling them what you want them to do. That’s what strategical creativity is. It’s getting focused, and this is what we do in our brief. The buying considerations: when they buy, how they buy, why they buy, and is it real? You’ve got to tap straight into that and reinforce how you buy it. “We want you to grab a six pack, stick it in the back of the fridge, and forget about it until another hangover mugs you,” or something like that.
It’s real simple, but I think what we lost sight of maybe in agency-land was, what is creative? You can never prove creative, and you can never argue creative with your clients. But you talk strategy and you talk results, and you’ve got a discussion on your hands. And it’s a passionate discussion about your client’s product. But you start using airy, fairy terms like, “Oh, that’s the creative bit of the ad. Don’t change that,” and you’ll just get into arguing about creative. If you learn to understand why you’re here, why people buy all those things, and if you target an ad towards them, then you can definitely discuss and sell your ads to clients.
RAP: How many meetings with clients do you find yourself doing?
Bag: I probably get out in the marketplace two or three times a week. That’s not as many as I’d like because what I’ve found is the clients actually buy from us because of the creative. And they get so absorbed into what we’re saying and don't realizing that they’re buying that. They don’t think you’re selling them anything, which is great because you’re helping their business. And the sales guy just sits there and smiles because the more the client talks about creative with me or Ian, the more they’re selling themselves on the radio station and the way we do business. Here’s a great example of what we’ve learned in the marketplace and how we used it in a pitch to the client. This was a classic. It was a diving school, and they had all the information in their brief. They had great information. The potential market of people who want to go scuba diving in Victoria is X amount of thousands or millions or whatever it was, and the percentage who had tried it was real low. They told us who their target was, and the major reason why they hadn’t made inroads in it was because people didn’t go diving because they were afraid of sharks. So we discussed that as a group, and that was the reason why everyone else was afraid. Then we found out from the client that no person in Victoria has ever been killed by a shark while scuba diving. In fact, the client said the most dangerous thing about scuba diving is getting in the car and driving to the beach where you’re going to do it, then driving home again.
So this was the pitch element, and we had to pitch against another station. What we would have done if we hadn’t learned that information is, we would have tried to paint a beautiful picture of the sea and what it’s like down there, using Eventide Harmonizers on the voice to get that bubbly sound and that kind of stuff, which means jack-shit anyway because the people are afraid of diving. We haven’t addressed the major reason that holds them back from purchasing.
So I wrote an ad that was really kind of open about it. We hired a great talent, and the copy read, “It’s our No Shark Has Ever Killed a Diver in Victoria Guarantee.” Look, you’re afraid and this is what we’re going to do to overcome your fears. One, we’re going to tell you this information. Two, you can bring a friend for free. So it overcomes that fear.
When the sales executive presented it, we worded her up on it and said, “Look, the opposition is going to go in and present an underwater picture painting of how great it is at the bottom of the sea. You can do that, but you still aren’t going to get anyone down there. Say that when you present. And say, `look, we thought of presenting something that’s underwater and all those things;we discussed it, but what you said was that people were holding back because of their fears. So we’ve addressed the fear issue, and we’ve overcome it with this idea.’”
So we played it to them, a whole divers’ association, and they loved it. Our competitor got up and presented a beautiful underwater picture painting of the bottom of the ocean, and the sales rep from the competitive station apologized for their creative and said they knew it was wrong. And that’s how it’s working, a great sales rep understanding the target market, finding out why they buy, and not being afraid to address those issues, and not trying to dress it up as crap. That’s not real for the listeners anyway, and they’re never going to buy it. As I said before, they don’t listen to ads, really, and they’re only going to listen if there’s something in it for them. And it’s got to be believable.
RAP: You seem to have a very strong desire to get the best possible results for the client, day after day. What drives you?
Bag: I want to win business. I want us to keep on winning business, winning pitches against agencies. We can do a job for the client, and the client will feed us as well. I want to see those businesses grow, and I guess it kind of comes from the fact that I’m the son of a small business owner. I know how much a small amount of dollars is, and that’s where a lot of direct clients begin. There’s no reason why we can’t use everything we’ve learned and actually apply it to some of these small businesses and start to grow them into bigger businesses, and that’s what we’ve seen. We’ve grown with them and become partners and not become the enemy, and not become someone who they see coming in trying to get their money. Instead, they see someone who can actually help them get to the next level.
Our number one rep is number one because he uses all elements of the sales strategy. He uses creative absolutely perfectly. He gets talent on every booking that he gets. He builds wonderful relationships with people. He’s so passionate about the power of radio getting results for clients. I hold him up to all the other guys. When a new one comes on and says, “Well, I want to take him down. I want to be number one,” I go, “Well, understand the reasons why he’s number one. He uses everything that he’s been given, all the opportunities, all the learning documents, all the meetings, all the training issues, and the number one thing is that he understands the way we do business. It’s structured to help clients’ businesses grow. It’s not structured to take money out of their bank and not put anything back in.”
The basis of our strategy has a seven step guideline, and number one and number seven are the same: Return on Investment, Return on Investment. The client must see their return on investment, and if you structure your business that way, you can’t see the booking as the end of it. Here, it’s like, “The booking is done; it’s signed. Now we’ve got to sweat. Now we have to put our life in this and absolutely guarantee that it’s going to work.”
RAP: It seems it’s just the opposite at so many stations here in the U.S. where once the contract is signed, the sweat is over.
Bag: Yeah, and we’re never going to grow as an industry. I get frustrated when I hear other stations doing it or clients being burned by other stations because I’m a part of that industry. I take offense to it. How can we continue to let other people out there devalue our industry?
I’ve been a part of companies who have been like that. I've seen what it does to you and how you have lots of people in it for themselves. I've seen how they burn clients and how clients talk amongst each other and go, “Radio doesn’t work. Radio doesn’t work!” If radio doesn’t work, someone hasn’t been using it right for you. That’s really how to position yourself in the marketplace, and that’s what we’re trying to do. This is what we’re about, and we want people to do business with us because we go this extra mile. And we don’t go this extra mile because we think it’s a way to get us money. We go this extra mile because it’s what works. That’s how we treat our business and how we treat our staff.
The way with a lot of sales guys has always been to treat the client as king and treat everyone internally here at the radio station as a schlepper. But you’ve got to understand that you treat everyone as a client, and you build great relationships with your people, your production guys, your creative guys, your traffic manager, your technicians, everybody. And when somebody needs something, everybody is there because they understand the direction that we’re moving, and we’re in a service giving industry.
It’s fantastic here. We don’t have sales and programming rivalry. The Program Directors, we’ve had two in the space of the last eight months, come here and just go, “I’ve never seen this before. The sales guys and the production guys get along fantastically." And that’s a credit to the executive team here. On an executive level, we have such strong individuals who all move in the same direction and understand. I guess it’s a work ethic, understanding that you work for someone else. It’s not your company, so what are you here for? I’m here to return that company a profit. And all you can ever hope to do is to do your job better than you could ever possibly do it. You will return that profit, and in return, you’ll be looked after.
So don’t focus on, “I’m working here so I can get this amount of money.” If you focus on that, you’re dead in the water. You actually focus on the passion or the craft aspect of what you’re doing, and you understand you’re doing it for somebody else. You’ll be successful, whatever your measurement of success is, and you’ll also be happy. It’s brilliant, and it works.
RAP: Any parting thoughts for our readers?
Bag: Number one, people have to learn to be able to communicate to clients, be in front of clients, and be able to talk business and understand what the money is, understand the value the clients spend. Understand that realistically you are the difference between them paying the power bill and shutting up and going out of business. You’ve got to respect that, and you’ve got to put your knowledge to work. Otherwise, it’s so easy to sit back in our offices and live the lifestyle some of us choose to live and disrespect the small, pissy client. It’s not a small, pissy client. Tomorrow’s great clients...they are here today, and these are the ones we have to put all this energy into.