By Mark Margulies
Most of you, I’m willing to bet, have flown on commercial airliners dozens of times in your life. So, let’s set up one of my favorite scenarios. Let’s say, one day, after all that experience as a passenger, you decide, “you know, I could really fly this plane.” Now suppose you knew enough to make you dangerous, and you got the jet off the ground. Okay. Now, you’re in the air, only to find that you’ve violated a federal regulation in regards to airspace restrictions. When you land, the airline carrier is sued. You, however, walk away scot-free, claiming ignorance of the subject. “After all,” you plead, “I’m no professional pilot. They should have known better, even though it was my idea.”
Sound like a far fetched theme? It could happen any day at any radio station in the country. (Not flying the plane…the lawsuit! Sheesh.)
In previous columns, we’ve discussed how client’s ideas normally do not end up accomplishing their goals. We’ve talked about how YOU pay the price when clients’ ideas don’t work. Now, let’s talk about whether your client will come to your defense in a lawsuit.
Lawsuit? You bet. Take this actual event. Last month, we received a request for creative from a salesperson whose client built a radio commercial around the song, “Rock and Roll” part whatever, by Gary Glitter. Most of you, if you watched any sporting event, know the song. It’s copyrighted, used only by permission. Well, the client in question didn’t know or even care about that. They wanted to use it. Copyright laws prohibit the use of commercial songs for promotion of any products other than concerts by the artist, or promotion of the artists’ products (music stores, etc.). Radio station licenses have been interpreted as to NOT cover their use for commercial purposes. That means, if the client had been left unchecked, and the production department didn’t understand the rules or just plain “missed” one, a spot using Gary Glitter’s music could have aired, have been heard by an ASCAP or BMI rep, been reported to Glitter’s lawyers who would then have taken great joy in slipping a nice fat copyright infringement suit on the station. And your client? Long gone, pleading ignorance.
It couldn’t happen you say? It HAS happened, and with Internet rules so vague and music so readily accessible, music companies, ASCAP and BMI reps are becoming more vigilant in their attempts to guard artists’ creative rights. That means it will be YOU holding the bag unless you assert your expertise as a radio professional. And part of that expertise is reigning in your clients’ “ideas.” Clients love to get involved in the creative process because they view the radio industry as one big fun house. Radio, to many of them, is a party a minute where nothing is taken seriously. Well, we understand it’s a very serious business, a business that relies on professionals to make it run right.
Now, there are dozens of less serious issues brought up by this “client’s idea” mentality. For instance, clients have no idea what your station’s production strengths and weaknesses are. That means they create ideas and concepts, which they expect you to execute—problem is, your station may not execute them well at all. And nothing works better at increasing tune-out and drawing NO RESULTS for the client than a poorly done spot.
Clients also have no concept as to what constitutes a proper amount of copy for 30 or 60 seconds worth of air time. So they write a 120 second diatribe and tell you it’s all important to get across. That creates serious problems for the creative department and for you.
But there are for more serious repercussions if a client’s creativity is left unchecked. Don’t forget, there’s also image regulations (with regards to impersonations, and personality parodies), the problem of personality endorsements, even what sayings are or are NOT public domain (i.e. “Let’s get ready to rumble…!”). No matter what market you’re in, you’ve got to be careful, and that all starts with careful control of the creative process with regards to your client. Even where lawsuits are not the issue, the client is not the expert—you are. And in professional sales, clients are paying for your expertise, just as they would a doctor, an accountant—even a lawyer. Never let a client’s ideas go unchecked, no matter HOW much pressure a client puts on you or your station. It could signal the beginning of a costly personal and professional nightmare.