People Just Don’t Care

I was at a conference last week. There were a lot of great speakers and presentations, mainly about media and social networking. It wasn’t revolutionary for me, but it brought up a few issues that made me think about radio, and of course my personal passion that is radio advertising. One of the useful tools they showed us was At this website you can put in key words and see who is talking about what. Of course I put in “radio advertising”. What I discovered was a few professionals I hadn’t connected with, a few individuals talking about ads they liked, and a few people ranting about how much they HATE radio advertising.

It’s interesting to find people with polar passions, but the majority of people just don’t express an opinion. When you’re in the business you think the listener should be interested in DAB, in the radio station’s website, in the fact that you’ve won a Sony Award, a New York Festival Award or an Aquiva Gong. But people care about radio, like they care about their toaster.

A Toaster (Bothered?)

What people WANT is the piping hot and buttery serving of entertainment and the tasty spread of news and information. They are not bothered HOW it’s delivered (why should I get a digital radio when my FM set works just fine?) And for local radio it seems like they don’t really mind where it comes from (according to the latest RAJAR statistics the centralized and homogenized radio groups are doing very well and gaining audience.. their Local FM Brand doesn’t mean as much to them as it does to a few radio enthusiasts bemoaning on bulletin boards ). They don’t want ads that get in the way of their entertainment but will tolerate a certain degree of interruption because they understand that it’s the price to hear their favourite song, or a traffic update. Unlike me, the listener does not TURN UP the radio when an ad break comes along.

Or do they?

It’s the job of the advertising to reach those people who’s problems can be solved by your product or service. That problem can be a small one like “I don’t know where to take my partner for dinner at the weekend” to big ones like “I’m drowning in debt and I don’t know where to turn”

The way to get people to turn up, or at least to tune in, is to talk to them in a way that relates to their lives. Explain the problem with empathy, and give a clear solution. What do you want me to do? Why Should I?

People don’t CARE about your business… but they may care about what your business or service can do to help them in their every day lives. Why should they care if you’ve been in business for 120 years. Why should they care if you have 100 outlets (they MAY care that there is one convenient for them) they probably don’t even care that you have a wesite, facebook page or twitter address.
When you advertise, take a step out of your little world… and try to think why people should do business with you.

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Dan O’Day on Radio Advertising

Dan O'Day

I first met Dan O’Day about 15 years ago. I had heard his name mentioned by programmers and I thought that his main seminar program was all about training presenters. I soon began reading pieces he’s written on radio advertising. Dan showed a passion for getting results for clients. Many sales operations forget that the best sale is the resale… that is the client that books again because the radio advertising works for them. Many radio sales operations I know focus on getting the client “on air”… as long as the client “likes his ad” that’s all that matters… give him what he wants! Reading Dan’s Advertising Letters and reading his advice online at has helped me to concentrate on “getting the advertising to work”.

In around 2000 I completed the course he wrote for the RAB in the USA.. the Certified Professional Commercial Copywriter Course. I was the first person outside of the USA to get the qualification (according to the RAB the first person outside of Texas!). I learned many new things, but also things I already knew were organized logically, and received wisdom was challenged. (For example the section on client voiced commercials opened my eyes to a different way of thinking about it, when most radio writers threw their hands up in despair at the mere mention.) I am about to put 2 of my staff through the course, because it’s as relevant today… and in Kenya… as it was 10 years ago in the UK.
I’ve since been fortunate to attend his seminars in both Paris and London… enjoyed a car journey with him from Bristol to Northampton, and kept updated by his blog on both his travels, thoughts on advertising, and his experiences around the world.

My advice:-

If you are a radio advertising copywriter at a radio station or at an agency, take the CPPC course. It’s around $350 from the RAB. Also, sign up for his advertising email.

If you’re a client or a sales person read some of his articles and advice, even take the CPCC to get the insight on how radio advertising works.

If you are a radio station owner, book him for Advertising seminars for your commercial team.
You may not agree with EVERYTHING he says, but you will at least be able to organize your thoughts and formulate your opinions based on clear arguments and discussion.

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Thinking the wrong way around…

This week I’ve been dealing with a client. It’s one of those impossible situations where they’ve told the station what they want, and in the form they’ve asked for we simply can’t deliver it. There is a problem from a station point of view that we’re very protective of the brand. From the other side the client has become fixated on an approach. They are not thinking about how to get the campaign to work, they are thinking about how to deliver an idea that they’ve had.

When I train sales people on taking briefs I ask them, if they have an idea while they are taking a brief, they keep it to themselves. This is the opposite to an old Sales Director of mine who would tell them to come up with ideas there and then! They would bring the idea back to the station and the creative team would have to try to deliver that idea. Or if it was not possible then explain to a client… who was expecting that particular concept… why we couldn’t do it. I think that Sales Director was not wrong, but badly timed. We would have lots of rows about the briefs his sales people brought in. The time to WOW the client with a great idea is when you’ve worked on it, honed it and made sure you can execute it.

Yes! Ideas Sell. That’s the whole concept of Creative Led Selling!
Yes! Sales people come up with some great ideas.
But there is a thought process that goes into making commercials, and it’s not JUST about making great SOUNDING radio. It’s about making the campaign work. “The client wants two woman talking on a bus” is not a brief!!

Think about your radio like this. What do I want people to actually DO when they’ve heard the ad. And have I given them a really good reason to do it. Judge the script the same way. Does it communicate the brief!

The concept or idea should not form part of the brief. But it can be a note at the end. If it’s a great idea your writer will be happy to use it. If it’s a dead end, give the writer the freedom to move away from that concept.

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Rodin's sculpture entitled "How am I supposed to make this idea work on radio!"

You don’t want to wear the “plus” hat

In my department I am fortunate to work with three very talented writers. They consistently write well and think about the effectiveness of their commercials. We have a little game in the office, if I, or one of the producers, spot the word “plus” in one of their commercials I fashion a hat from newspaper and they have to wear the “plus” hat for the rest of the day. It’s a bit of silly fun, but with a serious message behind it. First of all, the word makes very easy radio clichés… “plus a bouncy castle for the kids, “plus free shoelaces with every pair of shoes”. Secondly it’s a lazy way of linking things and thirdly it helps clients to break one of the rules of effective radio commercials.
The rule is… ONE message per commercial.

This week I wrote a short ad for a client on a limited budget. 20 seconds pushing his Wednesday night event. He approved the wording, but wanted to add in about his Thursday Nights (“plus, on Thursday nights there’s Jazz!”. That’s a different message, a different reason to go and a completely different target audience. It didn’t HALF the effectiveness of his commercial, because to find the time for the message I would have to cut the big reason to go on a Wednesday!
Unfortunately clients are often spending a big proportion of their advertising budget on radio, so they feel they have to say everything, when it’s actually better to do the opposite. Give one message and people will get it. Make that message worth responding to, and let people know HOW to respond and it will work for you.

One message per commercial.

A "Plus" Hat

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Mike Hurley

Mike Hurley

Three years ago, one of the UK’s top voice artists died suddenly. It wasn’t just a sad loss for his family and the Voice Over world, but Mike was also an amazingly talented writer and evangelist for good radio advertising. Somewhere in the vaults of Capital Radio Nottingham/ Trent FM is a splendid video of a presentation Mike did for clients of the station. His eyes sparkle with passion as he talks about how to make radio advertising WORK.

In the voice over booth we got some of the best out takes. His sharp wit taking over when his voice tripped on some over-written agency sows ear. Or an explosion when he got a take wrong. Some Voices will give you a glance when they finish a read and you KNOW that they think they’ve not done it as well as they could.. but they hope it’s good enough for the producer. Mike wouldn’t do that. He’d immediately volunteer to give a better take. He wanted to give his best…. Even for the voice fee of a £14.90 local radio script.

I remember spending time with Mike at Radio Aire in Leeds. He used to visit Yorkshire TV next door and then pop in to a) see if there was anything we needed voicing b) wait to pick his son Mikey up from school and c) just pass the time chatting animatedly about radio, what was good, what was bad and what needed putting right. I considered Mike as a good friend.

There’s some more about Mike here…
And a video of a TV documentary about his work…. “Voiceover Man – Voice Over Artiste Documentary, Confessions of a Vocal Prostitute”

See if you can spot the duvet in the studio! When Mike was doing sessions down the ISDN Line he would put the duvet over his head to create the sound proofing.

I can’t believe it’s nearly 3 and a half years since he passed away. I can still hear his voice.

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How to say road numbers in commercials

There’s a fascinating debate going on about how to say road numbers in Radio Commercials. Did I say fascinating? What some people may not realise is there is thought put into these things. How do you say a road number or a phone number to help it stick in the mind?

Have a look at Emma Clarke’s blog for more insights 🙂

The A1236 somewhere near a phone box... remember them?

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Writing to Time

If you have a go at writing your own radio commercial, it’s very tempting to try and cram as much information into it as possible. But with Radio, less IS more. And if you have a limited duration you need to decide what is the KEY importand message you want to get across. Radio is not like press. You can’t cram more in by reducing the font size!
It seems to be one of the hardest things for a new writer to grasp. But its very important that you do not overwrite your radio commercial. If you listen to some of the bad radio commercials on radio stations perhaps half of them sound bad because too many words are crammed into the commercial.

Word Counting

An average talking pace is around 2.5 – 3 words per second. If you are running a single voice, thirty second, announcement style commercial that has more than 90 words it’s over written and you need to cut out some words. But this number is also influenced by the number of voiced you use, and how they interact, it’s influenced by leaving space for Sound Effects, by the pace of music and tone of voice. Only use the word count as a guide. There is no substitute for using a stopwatch.

Short Commercials

The hardest commercials to write to time are often the shortest ones… Ten second commercials. In a 40 or 50 second commercial the voices have time to pace themselves, and perhaps pick up time on certain sections. In a 10 second commercial there is little flexibility, you have to be spot on. Clients have said to me “Can’t you just read it faster?” Yes you can, but your message will sound garbled, rushed and you are not showing consideration to the listener. How would you like it if a door to door salesman launched into verbal machine gun fire as soon as you opened the door to him? Respect the listener.

Use A Stopwatch

Nothing beats reading out loud with a stopwatch!

The only way to truely get the timing on a commercial is to read it out with a stopwatch. Yes, outloud! Not under your breath. And you should read it with the music if you have music on you commercial… and leave time and space for sound effects, acting and dialogue. With practice you will be able to spot if a script is over written just by looking at the script. If your writer overwrites ask him if the script will fit in the allotted time. If your script is overwritten it will not sound as good as a script given space and time. Underwriting can also be a problem, but at least music and sound can fill the spaces in most scripts. The use of silence or pauses can also be very effective (not huge silences, as there are technical and programming issues with these). Soon a writer will be able to look at a script and know it’s over written!

Add A Word – Remove A Word

Also it is important to remember that if you add words to the script you need to take them out. Similarly if you take words or sentences out your writer will have to rework the script. It’s about creativity, clear communication and balance.

Exact Timings

You are probably wondering why your commercial has to be exactly written and produced to 10 second units (In some countries like Kenya 5 or 15 second units). These days many radio stations are networked, usually overnight. This means the same programme could be going out on several transmitters, so ad breaks have to be balanced. If you are running three minutes of commercials on transmitter A you have to run three minutes on transmitter B. Also the standards and costings are based on set second units. If a client books a 30 second slot, but runs 33 seconds of copy, they are stealing 10% from the radio station.

Using Different Durations

In the U.K. the Average commercial is around 40 seconds but most radio stations quote the airtime shedule based on 30 second spots, because of this 30 seconds has become thought of by many people as the standard duration: but some great ideas are ruined trying to shoehorn them into 30 seconds. In the USA, most commercials are 60 seconds with a few 30’s dotted around, but you listen to some minute long commercials where the idea has to be padded with useless waffle.
30 seconds may be fine. But your offer might need an above average creative treatment to sell it. The ad should be as long as it needs to be to do the job. Stick to one message per commercial, and instead of one cluttered long ad, have two or three shorter, simpler ads. I personally find my best work has come out at around 40 seconds, then it can be ruined because the airtime has been pre-booked as 30 second slots and I’ve had to remove 10 seconds of material.
Research shows that longer ads have better listener recall. Creative content can make your ads more memorable, and it is easier to write creatively to longer timelengths. Longer ads also give more time for branding, and are able to establish characters and situations. Longer ads also mean less ads per break, which means less clutter, more recall. (For more on using different durations and the benefits of longer commercials visit the RAB website).

Allow your writer to be creative with your timelengths. What is wrong with three 10 second ads every other spot in the break, or a 40 second at the start of an ad break with a 10 second reminder at the end. Or a different commercial playing morning, noon and night? Or a short ad directing people to a fixed, longer length spot at some point in the day (“listen out at 5.15 today for our late availability holiday offers / details of our used car of the week”). Your Sales Exec will be able to show you how you can use short ads tactically with longer ones to build O.T.H. (Opportunities To Hear).

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