The Brief

The most important part of the whole process of getting a radio commercial to air is the brief. It is no good writing a radio commercial with no information, or an ad ripped from the yellow pages. You need a proper brief. Briefs tend to come in all shapes and sizes. From a multi-page fact find to a few notes scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet. What I recommend is the simple What? Why? Who? The simplicity disguises the sophistication of the information required. A brief should be as the title implies… brief! In fact you should be able to condense it to a couple of simple sentences.

Let’s break it down….

    What do we want people to do?

What do we want that the listener to do when they hear the commercial? If you are a retail client they want people through the door (or to buy a particular product from you), if you are a car dealer you may want to “sell” test drives (more cars are sold when people test drive), taxi firms and pizza companies need their phone number to be remembered. Do we want them to change their soap powder or reduce the speed they drive at? Do we want them to call a freephone number. Do we want them to buy a conservatory.

Focus on one objective.. The commercial will be much more effective if you focus on one action, and make it clear what you want them to do as a result of the commercial. And if you want them to visit your premises make sure they know where you are… but give a location not an address.

    Why should they?

Why are listeners going to respond to this commercial? This is the clincher of the brief. Why should they do what we want them to do? Because our soap powder makes your clothes smell better? Because if I phone number I will get a free gift? Because our conservatories are half the price of our nearest competitor?
We are looking for a benefit, not a feature. Apply the “So What?” rule. Is what you are offering going to make our listeners drive past their competitors to the clients?

Again there are advertising clichés we hear every day. I have picked out just a few.

Some clients say people should come to them because they are “the biggest” in what way is that a benefit for our listeners? What does it mean to them. (I could buy a cake from the biggest cake maker in the world. Is it going to be tastier, cheaper, have more fruit in it?)

“We are the Best” In what way? Tell me how you are the best and what it means to the listener.

“We offer excellent customer service” How is it better than your competition?

“We’ve been established 39 years” may be important for the advertiser but it is irrelevant to the listener (or is it? Again, what does it mean to the listener).

“There’s ample free parking” This does not excite the buyer into visiting your supermarket, quite frankly I would take that as read. (Free parking may be a benefit if you are in a city centre where parking charges are high, but it still wont drive many customers into the store)

Also you need to test your offer. A station I once worked for had a Prestige Motor Dealer. His reason that people should come to him? He was giving a free key ring with every new car he sold. I do not think I would buy a £25k car from him rather than a competitor on the basis of a £2.50 key ring.

    Who are we talking to?

Different people will have different motivations to buy from you and that could mean different commercials. Recently I had a brief from a Garden Centre which wanted to reach ‘All Adults’. My friend who lives in a flat in the centre of a town has never set foot in a Garden Centre, she has no reason to. Your commercial will work best if we talk to one person. Give us a picture of the person (without using socio-economic babble). Tell me about the persons lifestyle, what are they like? What do they do? How old are they? Male or Female? How do they relate to the product or service we are advertising? It is better to focus on people who want the product than try to convince people who don’t want the product to change their minds. And who else? If there are other people we can talk to there will be more commercials and more brief sheets. Be specific – try to describe a typical customer and relate them to the product.

Finally take a look at your brief and ask is the reason (why?) A good enough reason for the person we have described (who?) to do what we want them to do? This is when your writer will start probing, testing and questioning your brief. If your brief is clear and simple you should get clear, simple, creative radio commercials that work for you!

    Any other information …

Your writer will also be looking for those gems of information that can bring the script to life. Stories from customers, unusual aspects to your business. What a gift to writers was the client who kept his pet parrot in the showroom!

What happens after the brief goes back to the radio station?

If the writer was not there to take the brief they should give you a call to check the brief. The scripts will then be written and presented to you, and then presented to the client. We have found it best that the person who writes the scripts presents them and answers any questions you have over the way they have been written. You can expect to be presented with the scripts in three different ways.

1. The writer comes with the Sales Exec to meet with you and to present the scripts.
2. The writer calls you and presents the commercials down the phone.
3. The Sales Exec arranges a meeting with you, and during the meeting you call the writer (by arrangement) and get they to present.

The writer wont just hand scripts to you and let them read the commercials. These are radio commercials and at the very least should be read out loud to you, preferably along side any music that has been chosen. This may seem unusual, but it’s the best way to understand how the scripts will sound. Sometimes a demo commercial will be made, but as this can tie up resources, takes a lot of time and costs money it will only be done in exceptional circumstances.

Once you have had the scripts presented, they will be handed over or emailed over for your approval. If you want to make changes discuss them with the writer. They may have very good reasons why the changes you are suggesting wont work, or they may be simple changes that can be easily made and the scripts re-sent.

Your writer wants you to be happy with the scripts, but they may not be aimed at you. Will they work with the target market. A night-club owner in Nottingham understood this. He did not like the music played as a background for his commercial… but it was the kind of music being played in his club and was targeted at people thirty years younger than him.

Remember to keep it simple!

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Using Famous or Celebrity Voices

I don't believe it!

The client phones me and tells me he has had an idea. It’s using an impression of Richard Wilson with the final line “I don’t believe it” I don’t believe it, it’s the third time that month I have to explain that the radio station and the client could be sued. Richard Wilson is available to do Voice Overs and makes a portion of his living from that kind of work. An impression of him is a form of theft. You could use the genuine article, but he may not do the catch-phrase and is probably sick to death of people asking him! AND how long ago was that show on mainstream TV?

Talk to your writer. A well known personality could add so much to your campaign.

Some Celebrities make themselves readily available for radio work, have great agents and are a delight to work with, but there others who you wont get past their agent because they “don’t do radio”. Some people wont do certain products or services either for personal reasons or because they are already tied to a regional or national advertiser in the same category, or their tied into a contract, like soap stars usually can’t do commercials or people doing Motoring Programmes may not be able to do car ads. Just try booking Jeremy Clarkson for a Motor Dealer ad!

Some are just too busy to do radio… and don’t need the money.
Some just can’t do it. Voicing is a skill and not everyone can do it… even some well known actors just can’t perform in front of the radio microphone.

Your writer can advise you, find agents, organise sessions, book studios in the capital, where most celebs want to work, or find studios around the country. You will pay a premium for Celebrity Voices, but it can be a lot less than you think. Think about producing multiple ads at the same time because the more ads you have done at once the more cost effective it can become. Your writer will be able to give you a quote.

When you are presented with ads for a celebrity voice there are certain things which should have been taken into consideration:-

They will be written for that specific person. Don’t expect that the scripts written for Tom Baker can be voiced by Joe Pasquali.

You WILL have to pay a fortune if you want any kind of endorsement. So don’t expect John Doe to say “Hi, this is John Doe and I love Billy Burn’s BMW Garage” You will be expected to pay thousands if the VO even agrees to do it. Most of the time you are employing the actor to play a part.

The voice must be recognisable. You might not be able to name the person but their voice will be familiar.

Make sure the voice would convey your sales message effectively. Ask the writer why he chose the voice, they should have specific reasons.

And book the celebrity… not the part they play on a TV show or in a movie. That part doen’t even belong to them…. so book Richard Wilson… but don’t expect him to be the “One Foot in the Grave” character.

And one more danger! Make sure that your product or service is remembered FIRST… NOT the celebrity voice, with the listener not remembering what the ad was about. The Celebrity voice sould be there to make you think MORE about the product or service.

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Let Your Staff Know

One day God was sitting when an Angel came up to him. “God, you’ve created all these wonderful things, but the guys down stairs would like to have a go… we’ve formed a committee… and we think we can do a pretty good job.” For the next week God could hear all the arguments and discussions coming from the board room… until he was finally presented with the results… “What is heaven’s name is THAT!?” He asked. “That…. Is a platypus!”


The shop assistant looked back at me blankly over the counter. He was doing his best impression of a goldfish. I was there because of the special offer on a mobile phone. Free in car charger, hands free kit and leather case. The problem was that the owner of the shop had not communicated any of their current campaign with anyone on the shop floor. The manager said it had been discussed, but no decision had been made. The owner had actually started running radio ads on the local station, but the shop did not even have the radio station playing in the store! No communication and a lot of red faces.

If you’re doing any radio advertising campaign… no ANY advertising campaign… it is essential that all your staff are briefed and know how to respond to a customer. It’s a good idea to play the radio commercials to your staff. But this is the moment to warn them, you are not looking for opinions. You’re not interested if your staff likes them or doesn’t like them. In all likely hood your staff are not the target audience for your product. You are letting them know what is going out on air. If you allow your staff to make changes, give opinions, make their opinions on the script you will end up with a platypus script. I have even had one client who would get the opinion of his 7 year old child before he ran a commercial… he was selling window frames, not even a product aimed at children. Not the actions of a smart marketeer.

Your emplotees opinions may count, you need the experience of your people at the sharp end, but at a much earlier stage of the creative, and in the overall creative collective brain of your business.

Remember, you staff need to know what’s happening with your advertising.

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Retail Sales Staff

Recruitment on Radio

My friend Ian loves his job. He is good at it. He’s dedicated. He’s also very happy in his current position. Ian does not look at the recruitment pages. Why would he? He’s not looking for a job. But one day he heard a radio commercial. The radio commercial was a recruitment ad for a rival company. They were looking for people just like him… and were offering some better conditions than his current employers and a chance to progress. For him it wasn’t about the pay, it was about the opportunity to develop his career. He was not looking to move…. but he was given a good reason to rethink.

For recruitment, radio reaches people who are not necessarily wanting to change jobs, but would move if they were given a good reason. Frankly, most of the people who scour the recruitment pages of magazines or website are people who are either dissatisfied and de-motivated in their current position, about to leave their current job for whatever reason, or are not yet qualified job seekers that will apply for any job in the hope they can bluff their way through the interview.
Radio will work well with your newspaper recruitment ads… the newspaper can give all the details and the application process… radio will reach people who are happy and motivated. These are much more desirable staff.

There are a few things to remember with recruitment advertising on the radio. Just like a product ad campaign, think clearly about how you want people to respond. Concentrate on 1 point of contact… if it’s to email a CV make sure it’s a “Radio Friendly” email address. Give the listener a really good reason to respond. With radio it’s worth spending a bit of time to ensure you only get the right kind of applicants. It’s better to have 6 applications qualified for a position, than 100 with only 1 suitable candidate. Don’t try to sell the whole job in your radio ad…. leave a bit of space and curiosity.

Also, you need to sound like someone who people want to work for. Formal language announcements on radio may have been fine 20 years ago, now you need to speak to people in a language they respond to. Government bodies are particulary bad at trying to make a job sound important by using language no one uses. Talk to the individual you are trying to recruit.

Radio recruitment advertising is very powerful.

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The Customer is Always Right

The expression “the customer is always right” is probably one of the most destructive clichés in business. Quite often I have clients re-writing part of their script, or trying to combine two scripts into one. Or the client attempts to shoehorn too much information into their commercials, or they come up with an “idea” for their radio commercial which is idea driven rather than brief driven. OR they want their phone number adding to the radio commercial for their car dealership.

The Customer is quite often wrong. But they are always paying!

I will use another cliché used in sales training. When you go to see a doctor do you suggest the kind of treatment you would like? No, you describe the symptoms; he or she makes the diagnosis and suggests the kinds of treatments available. You may get a choice and the doctor will give you an opinion on which is the best course of action. OK, let’s say this doctor gives us a course of antibiotics… would you suggest that you take half the prescription and save half the price on the tablets.

But then I trust my Doctor. He’s been to medical school. He’s worked in a practice with other Doctors who helped him when he was first started out. He’s diagnosed and cured hundreds and thousands of sick people. I trust his experience.
Now for your radio advertising you need the help of “Radio Doctors”. You need experts from the radio station to help you solve your business problems. You can tell a good radio sales person because they’re not concerned with opening your wallet, but concerned about helping your business to grow. They will ask more questions about your businesses than try and sell you “Rushton FM”. The BAD ones will come to you with pre-prepared contracts and spot plans before you’ve even discussed a brief. They will use all the hackneyed sales tricks in the book, because all they have been trained in is double-glazing style sales techniques.

A good sales person is like a doctor, they try to get to the root of the problem. They do a fact find and take a brief. They will become a trusted partner. Someone who is helping you to invest your advertising money to get a return on that investment. They will introduce you to consultant specialists, the copywriters who will communicate your message effectively, and they will schedule it to hit the right kind and number of people for your business.
You are an expert on your business; you are the right person to express the symptoms. You will have insights into your business and the reasons people buy from you, but properly trained sales people know how to help you use radio effectively.

This isn’t philanthropic reasoning that drives the good radio groups to train their sales people properly. The cost of the resale is much lower than the cost of the initial sell. So it’s in the Radio Company’s best interests to retain clients. You do THAT by making sure the radio works hard for them. When they try their best for you, but you make up your own rules and the campaign doesn’t do as well as it COULD have done…. well… the customer is always right!

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Branding Happens… Use Radio to Get a Response

When a man stands in front of you in an expensive suit, addressing a large audience, you believe what he says. It must be true! After all he is wearing an expensive suit! The man in the suit is a Branding Expert (although I’m not sure what qualified him as an expert) But my friend, a former client, is sitting next to me and chuckling under his breath.. The suit has just made the statement “It’s all about branding!” Afterwards my friend tells me, for his business selling sofa sets and beds, it’s not about branding, it’s all about sales. He doesn’t really care about branding, as long as he can sell for more than it costs him.

A former radio colleague of mine said this… branding happens! Yes, absolutely make sure that your radio commercials are true to your brand image, protect your brand, use radio to reinforce the brand image and those emotion tags that people give to brands. Every advertising message, every marketing campaign, even the way your receptionist answers the phone, all contributes to your brand image. When you go for a dinner party, people will form an impression of what you are like, even by the firmness (or lack of it) in your handshake. You need to make sure you put over the image you WANT to portray. That’s why spot advertising is important. You have great control over the image being portrayed. But if every message you put out IS branding… make that message about selling the product. What do you want me to do? Why should I do it?

Sometime clients tell me they want “name awareness”. So I ask them “How will you measure the success of your campaign?” If they answer “by the number of products we sell as a result of the campaign” then we can talk about the thrust of the campaign being to get people to walk through their door and buy product X. Sales. Radio advertising is multiplied sales.

If a smooth talking radio sales person, or advertising agency account handler tells you ït’s all about branding”, ask them how you would be able to measure the success of the campaign?

Branding happens. Use radio to tell people what you want them to do, and give them a really good, irresistible, compelling reason to act.

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How would you like to sound?

The other day I saw a needs analysis sheet. It had many good things about it. A needs analysis sheet will help the Sales Executive from a radio station get a really good picture of your business. It will help them to discover whether you can effectively use the station, and is usually updated every couple of years, or when the Exec who deals with your account at the radio station changes for one reason or another.

But there was one question on the questionnaire that made my teeth stand on end. It was this question…

What style of radio commercial would best depict your business?

a. Comedy
b. Straight read
c. Highly creative
d. Lots of sound effect
e. Slice-of-life
f. Other

Let me start with the question itself. Of course I want to know how you would like your business to be depicted. But that would not be best found out by asking what KIND of commercial you want. I’m better off finding out about your brand and passing that information on. And frankly clients quite often are not best placed to choose a style. But I do want to know how you feel your company should be portrayed. Some Needs Analysis forms ask… If your company was a celebrity or person from history, who would it be? That gives me a much better feel for your business.

Now the choices! Imagine going to see a doctor and as soon as you sit down he says… “What would you like? An operation, a course of anti biotics, or a couple of pain killers” Before we decide on the style of your commercial we need to take a simple brief. We need to find out your symptoms before we discuss possible solutions. And as a client I’m pretty sure you’re not really worried about “lots of sound effects”… what you want is a commercial that works for you. “Slice of Life?” What does that mean to you?. What does “Highly Creative” mean to you? Probably something completely different to your partner. (Creativity is about answering the brief and making a compelling message)

Would you buy insurance from this man?

Quite often I see on a brief form “The client wants a funny commercial.” You would think that it would give the writer a chance to show off how clever or funny they can be. But it has the opposite effect and closes the writer down. If I have a decent brief I can write a whole range of different style commercials. Some may be funny, but the humor has to spring out of the brief. It’s easy to write a “joke” into a commercial. People will laugh at the joke but wont remember the product or service, unless it springs from that brief.

So let your writer come up with some different styles of commercial. Allow them the freedom to be creative by giving them a clear, short, and too the point commercial. Leave out irrelevant details and think…

What do I want the listener to do when they’ve heard the ad?
Why should they? (Give me a great reason!)
Who is the target market?

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Don’t Stop Your Press Advertising to fund your Radio Advertising

A preacher who led a worldwide faith healing ministry was once asked what he would do if he got a headache. They were trying to trick him and make him look silly. John Wimber answered “I would take an asprin and say a prayer… and whichever worked first I would praise God for it!”

Your advertising should not be a matter of faith, it should be a matter of tried and tested principles… It’s an investment that you expect to give you a return. But, like a prayer and an asprin, radio and press work very effectively together.

Some people want to “test” radio. OK, let me tell you now… radio works. What doesn’t work is trying to advertise a product with no benefits to the listener. You are not testing radio, you are testing your offer, or product against the listener’s needs and wants. If you want to really see powerful advertising have a compelling offer and use a combination of press and radio. Press is really good at getting details across, radio is amazing at emotion or using the listeners imagination to “test drive” the product. The two working together can be amazing. I’ve had clients tell me that their press adverts work two or three times harder when combined with radio. There are things you can do to free up budget to help fund your radio. For example a half page press ad is about 75% as effective as a full page. So you can save money without losing much! And combining with press more than makes up for the 25% loss.

Use your press in a way that reflects the radio campaign, and use print to get over more complex visuals or information. (Like phone numbers!)

Use radio creatively, a good radio ad CAN entertain, but that should never be the primary purpose. Make sure you tell people how you want them to respond, and give them a compelling reason to do so.

Use both media and make sure you make it as easy as possible for people to business with you.

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