Spec spots. For some, a nightmare. For others, a welcome outlet for creativity. Over the years, spec spots have been well used, and they’ve been abused. When handled properly, they can do their intended job and create new revenue for a station. When handled poorly, they can suck the life right out of your creative department. This month’s Q It Upgets the lowdown on spec spots at a few stations in the RAP Network.
Q It Up: When it comes to spec spots, what guidelines and policies do you have in place for the salespeople? How much time do you require to produce a spec spot? How many do you produce in an average week or month? Are there any incentives in place as rewards when spec spots result in sales? Please add any other comments you might have about spec spots at your station(s).
Dennis Coleman <denman[at]swbell.net>, CBS Radio, Austin, TX: We do about 5 to 10 specs a week, but that number fluctuates depending on new salespeople and if we’re meeting our revenue projections. Sometimes we go a couple of weeks without seeing a spec, and that’s nice since we have 40 salespeople and a Non-traditional Revenue Department.
Our guidelines are a 2 day turnaround, but that’s flexible since the paid stuff always comes first. Also, we have no incentive in the Production Department for spec work. We talked about money, but it got to management and that was the last we heard of it a long time ago. As far as I’m concerned, the spec work can be done by any of the jocks. The spot usually changes before it airs anyway, and I don’t have the time to re-cut spots again and again.
Craig Jackman <craigj[at]canada.com> CHEZ 106.1-FM, Ottawa, Ont., Canada: There are no incentives for Creative/Production when a spec sells. It’s been proposed but was shot down. Part of me agrees with not paying bonuses on specs. I compare it to the size of contracts when producing paid spots. Comparing the guy who spends $500 for radio ads to the company that spends $50,000 (or more), that $500 is just as important to the small business advertiser as the $50,000 is to the national. I try to give both equal effort and purposely don’t know the value of contracts that come in. With specs, I try really hard to get out of the “it’s just a spec who cares” mentality.
The guidelines for specs are the same as regular spots: a complete and accurate fact sheet (not just an ad ripped out of the morning newspaper), and preferably 48 hours before a finished product is required. If they want it faster than that, we are open to negotiation.
A previous Retail Sales Manager had a requirement that each rep had to do a set number of specs per week or they would loose points. Naturally, most of the sales reps were putting in anything just to keep the points, and equally naturally, Creative/Production staff soon grew tired of wasting time and energy on material that never left the building. So, pretty soon our specs were uniformly awful. With a new RSM, the flat number of specs was dropped. Now specs are done when there is a purpose for them, and the quality is now much better.
Jimbo Kipping <jkipping[at]texas.net> LBJS Broadcasting, Austin, TX: Spec Spots? Here’s the simple way to handle those. TREAT THEM AS REAL SPOTS! It is a no-no to use the term Spec Spot here. If everyone came down with the idea that this was not sold, let’s face it, the likelihood of anyone, including the salesperson putting their all into the project, would be minimal, thus no sale and wasted time. TIME IS EVERYTHING IN PRODUCTION FRIENDS!
It is also imperative that the account exec be involved in the project. If for some reason the person does a “Dump and Run” with just a newspaper ad stapled to the production “green sheet” with the words “make it creative” doodled in coffee stains, it will just get routed back to them with an “incomplete” stamp on it. The Account Executive is the direct link between the client and the station. Why would sales expect a person in production, copy, or whatever your situation might be, to peer inside the vast emptiness of some clients' heads and know what to put in that spot when they do not? This is the biggest mystery and challenge we face everyday in the trenches.
At one time we had a Sales Manager, actually a salesperson with no management experience at all, promoted to the lofty position of Sales Manager. His idea for sales folks was to make them do 6 spec spots a week. Okay, let’s do the math: 6 x 7 = 42 spots a week that potentially, and in fact, did not sell. I’ll tell you why. The sales folks that were required to do such a task just did it to meet their quota, not of sales, but to show the “Sales Manager” that they made everyone jump through the hoops to get their weekly spec spots. Most of the time, this was done cold, with no prior contact with the perspective clients. You could probably guess how many of these “spots” actually went on the air. I can also tell you, that Sales Manager is no longer with the company. That format is also not with us anymore. Now that’s a crime!
Now, for those sales folks that do have a need to take a client a spot that demonstrates what kind of production to expect from our company, we are glad to pop a few previously successful campaigns on a cassette. This has really been a big time saver and a money maker. It is easier to do this and then come up with some copy for a client and proceed from there.
We have had a recent incident where a salesperson wanted me to go with them to a “potentially” big client here in town. Needless to say, after one out of building meeting, copy written, 2 spots produced, and 3 canceled follow-up meetings, we have since changed our policy about this type of selling. If the salespeople need us to help sell the client, they get to divvy up a little of their commission. You know, you would be surprised on how helpful the AE becomes when some $$ starts “SHARING” hands.
If a client has no intention of doing radio, I don’t care how good the spot is and how many awards you have won, you will spin your wheels. Couple that with some AEs that don’t care or are trying to make internal quota, and you have a potential time waster. Now there are a few account exec’s that you know are legitimately trying to get someone on, and they will have a pretty good track record on closing with a spec. These will be the ones that will take time and help with the copy and also be there for the production. That number will be closer to 3 to 4%. Get to know who will and who can not. If problems persist, get with the Sales Manager, unless they are like the one I mentioned above. If that happens, I hear food service has some rewarding careers.
John Pellegrini <John.Pellegrini[at]abc.com> WLS, Chicago, IL: Spec spots are highly discouraged here, and are never done for “cold calls.” It is my long-standing belief that any salesperson that requests a spec spot for a cold call, or as a follow up to a cold call, is incompetent. Spec spots on cold calls are a total waste of time and money, and if you want to know just how much money is wasted, see my articles on charging for production (shameless plug). In nearly 20 years of doing commercial production, I have never seen a single cold call spec spot sell. Spec spots should be handled just as you would a spot for a regular buy. They should be the result of lots of information gathering, getting to know the client, finding out the client’s story, and figuring out the best way to tell the client’s story. Advertising agencies make millions of dollars creating commercials for clients that take weeks and months of research and study. How smart do we look in comparison when we do cold call or follow up cold call spec spots with little or no client input? Maybe not charging for production is the correct policy for stations that create spec spots for cold calls, because those stations certainly provide their clients with exactly what they pay for!
No commercial should ever be a “Spec Spot.” All commercials should be produced for one reason, and that’s to get on the air and make money for the client. You cannot get results if you don’t know what the client expects! You cannot create an effective commercial if you don’t know what the client wants to sell. A client who demands to “hear something” before they will even discuss the idea of advertising with your station is a client who’s trying to blow you off, or test you to see how much of your business you’re willing to sacrifice to their personal glory. I don’t care how much they claim they will spend, clients who do this are worthless. Salespeople who placate this behavior are worthless, because you waste more time and money than you make. That’s another reason why highly rated radio stations can lose money. Wasting time on worthless clients—the quickest way to create this problem is “Spec Spots.”
A spec spot should be the LAST resort of negotiation, not the first volley. I can always tell how a station is doing by the number of spec spots they wind up producing. The really successful stations either do none, or as I said previously, their spec spots are done with the intention of being the final piece of the proposal, and are intended to go on air exactly as they are. The lousy stations are the ones who put increasing quotas on spec spots each month, as some form of measurement on how much their salespeople are getting out. All those stations are doing is wasting time and money until management gets fired, and the new management comes in with the same mistakes. Spec spots almost always end up as failures. No one ever became successful by repeating failures.
Craig Debolt < CraigD933[at]aol.com>, WESC/WTPT, Greenville/Spartanburg, SC: Our policy is a three day notice, minimum. This also requires some sort of knowledge of the advertiser and their product. (Please, no Yellow Pages cut-outs!) If we’re going to make an effective first impression, we want to blow ‘em away. Thankfully, there is no weekly quota hanging over the A/Es heads (or ours). Having worked in that situation not long ago, I know first-hand this results in busy work, not to mention pissed off production people when they find 30 or 40 cassettes in salespeople’s desk drawers that never left the freakin’ building. I’m getting irritated two years later just thinking about it! As far as a reward system, we pay $50 to the talent involved in a spec spot that was a direct result of the sell. These monies are split between the copywriter and any v/o talent or producers. It’s not a lot, but there’s a little incentive to do more than a ho-hum v/o with lame production music.
Donnie Marion <dmarion[at]urjet.net> 104 KRBE, Houston, TX: Our Spec Spot policy is pretty simple. Three days for production of a spec spot—basic production, one voice over music. But sometimes (more often these days), we have too many paying customers to find time to squeeze in a spec spot. We’re blessed with several jocks who can take the ball and run with it when we have too many money spots occupying our time. So usually we’re able to get the specs to the rep in a timely manner. However, I tell the rep, don’t make an appointment with the client until you get a cassette.
The other side is, I usually get an idea that’s the most fun to write and produce when it’s a spec spot. Since you probably don’t have any bad copy from a sales rep, there’s the freedom to create.
If I produce one or two specs a month, that’s a lot. Lately, we’ve had high ratings and even higher rates. That keeps many of the spec spot type clients from advertising. Our sales staff can usually close a sale, spec or not. Spec spots aren’t a big part of my month, but there have been times when specs were used as tool to close sale.
At 104 KRBE, there are no rewards, benefits, prizes, bonuses, fame or fortune when you produce a spec spot that helps close a sale.
Kurt Schenk <PookProduk[at]aol.com>: We are now Clear Channel Rochester and really have no distinct guidelines on paper that people will follow. Our Production Directors lay the rules out early and try to maintain them from that point on. We ask for 2 to 3 days to produce a spec. We understand the last minute buy, so we can crank them out quicker. But those don’t get as much of an effort. I prefer the fact we have no policy because then it’s up to us, the Production Directors, to set our timetable with each particular case. Some specs may take 2 hours. Some may take 15 minutes. I like our flexibility.
I couldn’t quote our total specs per week. I don’t do that many specs because I work for a highly maintained Dance format, so ALL OF THE BARS are already sold. However, I help out on the talk and Adult A/C sides. There are no incentives or rewards for specs for the production people. However, when I was at WMAX a year ago—and for a period of 4 1/2 years I WAS there—I was paid a base PLUS commission for direct business. So, what do you think? Yeah, I cranked a ton of specs out 'cause I had a vested interest in my monetary growth. Yes, yet again, Prod guys should get commission like the sales folks.
Richard Stroobant <bigdick[at]cjay92.com> CJAY 92FM, Calgary, Alb., Canada: I used to hate spec spots. But now, it has all changed. (It’s amazing what a little extra cash does to change your mind.) Before, we used to pump out spec spots faster than sausages. Our sales guys and gals thought it was best to use a spec to sell radio. WRONG. I used to do a spec spot or two a day. But today, it’s a lot different. Sales folk get us the info, and our creative department has 5 days to come up with a concept and script and produce it to a cassette for approval. Pretty quick turnaround, but there is a carrot to look forward to. Now we have a “money bag” with 10s, 20s, 50s, and 100s. Every time a spec sells to a NEW client, the sales guy, the writer, and the producer get a pull from the money bag. Our sales department also doesn’t use the spec to sell the station or radio. It is more of a “here’s what your spot will sound like.” It is much better now. A spec rolls in every week or so.
Mike Tuttle <soundlab[at]idsi.net>: It seams like these days, salespeople are selling the station on the merits of the production (not to mention the “name in lights” syndrome) and not what the advertising will do for business. So, I do quite a bit of spec work. On a normal week, I’ll probably do about 10 specs, half being simple rip-n-reads and the other half being multi-voicers.
As far as deadlines go, the same rules that apply to sold spots apply to specs. Usually I have simple V/Os in by noon from the salespeople for a next day start (or proposal in the case of specs) and multi-voicers or multi-element spots in one week before start date (or proposal).
Compensation/rewards for specs making the sale goes as such: If I scratch your back, you better damn well scratch mine! In all seriousness, the salespeople around here treat me pretty well with trade kickbacks (dinners, gas trades, weekend getaways, etc.), so I don’t have too much to complain about. Well, then again, there is that one salesperson that really[at]#$^&*.............
Don Elliot <voiceovers[at]earthlink.net> KFI, Los Angeles, CA: After returning from the NAB show and absorbing a consensus from around the country on the subject, I am noticing a trend which speaks highly FOR the argument of having a creative department that can serve the station’s sales department. The thing I’m noticing is that when a spot goes on the air produced at the local level for a direct client with no agency, stations are getting raided by groups who call the client after hearing them on the air. The client is pitched with the implication that their spot sucks because it is written by a salesperson and voiced by a DJ, and that they can provide “agency” services at no additional cost to the client with full creative. The unfortunate thing is that the poor retail salesperson has gone through hell and all the legwork qualifying and acquiring a good client with great credit and gotten them on the air, and then this happens!
Now for the REAL ball-buster. Yes, the client gets placed back on the air at the original station with a decent buy, MINUS the 15% commission, and PROBABLY also minus about 50-75% of the budget, too, if the “agency” decides to “spread the buy around” in the market on other stations. This way, the agency’s chances of succeeding with that client are apt to be more solid because the spots (and the failure risk) are spread over the market…and so is your original buy that WAS on your station. And all because you were too cheap to invest a few bucks in a copywriter for a fat account. A $100 free-lance copy job or a fast consult with the RAB might have saved a $25,000-$100,000 buy! Far fetched? Believe me, it’s real.
The solution? (I don’t like raising hell and complaining without at least ONE idea-starter for a possible solution): If you know your creative sucks, and it’s too late to do anything about it, at LEAST get a long-term deal signed before the end of the first day of the first airing so the client is raid-proof, at least for this flight. You probably won’t get them back. OR, better yet, put together a spot that gets results, so you won’t burn the relationship with the client. Don’t forget Leo Burnett: “BECOME THE CLIENT.” Think about his needs. Talk to their target demo, and talk to people, as we say, “in their own language,” not “advertise-eze,” which, I suppose, is at least another whole article...and book!
Protect your ass-etts, the ones you finally got on the air! Give them production and creative that will endear them to you for the next buy. This reply was meant to be a “big-picture” answer to the no doubt other frustrations that will surely emerge from this question—not enough time for creative, etc., etc.. The only thing management will listen to is something that will make them money. And the only thing that can get them to fix something (remember, turn it around with the concept; “the opposite is also true”), is to show them where they are LOSING money that literally slips through their fingers!