Simply The Best

The client was very proud of their new company slogan. They’d had it sign written on their fleet and tattooed on the Managing Director’s 9 month old baby.

“Simply the Best.”

It was the MD’s idea, so of course every one in the entire company was behind it. They thought it was great. Someone even mentioned he had once heard a song with that lyric in it. And something about being “better than all the rest…”which is, obviously what they were! Even the sales exec was excited by it… after all the client was about to sign an airtime order… so it was the best line EVER. In terms of slogans, “Simply the Best” was… well… simply the best!!

Then I come along.

“In what way are you the best?” I asked.
“Errrr…we just are… we’re the best… simply!!”
“Best delivery? Best prices? Best product?”
“No, we’re… y’know… Simply… SIMPLY the best!… like Rod Stewart sang.”
(voice from warehouse… “TINA TURNER!!”

Oh OK…. So you’re NOT the best, but because you SAY you are you think people will believe it. Like the guy with the XXXL t-shirt and the words on his beer belly… The Worlds Greatest Lover… you believe it! It MUST be true.

*Handy hint for advertisers. Don’t just spout clichés in your advertising. Show why you’re better than all the rest. Make your claims believable… and substantiate them.

* Handy hint for parents. Tattoos on children are just WRONG. You are a bad parent. Shame on you!

No! What were you THINKING!!

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So you want to be a radio advertising copywriter?

Really!? Don’t do it.

What? You still want to take this up as a career? Writing radio commercials? OK, I’m guessing you’re probably dreaming of writing a Movie, a Sitcom, a novel or a children’s book. That’s what many of the radio copywriters I know have gone on to do, or were using their radio advertising job to give them income while they did this. Some of them very successfully.

I don’t have the talent in any of those areas…. But I can give you one or two tips to getting a job as a radio advertising copywriter at a radio station. (that being the best place to sharpen your skills), because I have interviewed dozens of candidates and sifted through thousands of CVs.) I’m not placed to tell you how to get a job at an Advertising Agency….

1. Surprise me with your application letter. I have seen so many boring and dull application letters from people trying to get jobs in radio stations. My first application letter was in the form of a rejection letter. It got noticed! Tell me about yourself and why you would be great at the job. It doesn’t HAVE to be a letter. Surprise me to get noticed.

2. Surprise me with your CV… in the interests section tell me more about yourself, interests, achievements and not just “socializing” which to me says the limit to your life is going out and partying on a Friday and sleeping it off over the weekend.

3. Even if you DO want to be a radio presenter, don’t say so in the interview. I want people who want to be copywriters… not people who want to “get in to radio”.

Writing Tests

Many stations do a writing test… they give you a brief and see what you can come up with. If this is your first job you’re not expected to know everything there is to know about writing ads. But try and think a bit more “out of the box”. We used to have a brief for blood donation, and the number of people who thought it was a good idea to use Dracula as the voice would amaze you. Not creative, a bad idea and a clichéd execution. Have fun with them but be ready to defend every word written.

The right amount of confidence

Defend your ideas to a point! Your interviewer will want to see you know why you’ve written something the way you have and that you can give the reasons clearly.

If it’s a fair point, then accept it. Most stations are looking for copywriters who can accept criticism. If you can’t take your scripts being messed with, altered, rewritten and pulled to pieces by someone who has never written a radio commercial in his life but because he’s been selling used cars of waste ground for 6 month he thinks he’s a marketing guru… (Oops…. Did that sound bitter? I’ve got NO IDEA where that came from!) then this job is not for you!
If you feel there’s a reason why it shouldn’t be changed, explain why… cool and clearly.
If there’s a tip I can give you in an interview it’s be interested. Ask questions about the job, how it works, the relationship with sales, how often you go on sales calls, what on the job training they offer etc. But as for the salary, be warned that most stations don’t pay big salaries for copywriters. What you need to do is make yourself invaluable to the station… so if you left they would be in deep trouble. Then they will throw money at you to stay.

Getting the Interview

How do you get an interview?

• Find out where jobs are advertised (for example in the UK and are good places to begin looking)

• Be creative, but don’t be a pain in the neck.

• Identify the people who are in charge… those responsible for hiring. (And if they ARE hiring)
• Make your CV interesting.

• Make your Application letter creative.

• Keep at it! For every 15 applications you send you may only get 1 response. Be resilient!

• Look for the people you want to work for! Who are the big names, the people with a reputation that you would learn from quickly? I was so fortunate to work under and alongside the likes of Dan McCurdy, Mike Bersin, Paul Renhard, Graham Elliott, Roger Harvey, Ali Booth, Cindy George & Paul Carter very early in my career. And later on with people like Tracey Reed and Tim Nice and great copywriters and producers at GWR. All people that I learned a great deal from… either from conversation or looking at the ways they handled a brief and presented to a client.

Hope that gives you a start!

A copywriter

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Ed Harwood 1955 – 2003

Ed Harwood (right) relaxing at a Creative Training Day

8 years ago I was in Northampton and about to go into a training session with Tracey Reed, my boss and Head of Creative for GWR when we heard of the death of Ed Harwood.

We were stunned.

It didn’t seem real. We couldn’t carry on with the day and cancelled the training.

Ed was a larger than life character. The big Geordie guy in the Terminator trench coat.

When Ed disagreed with you, he told it to you straight.

He was one of those people that you thought would always be around… bringing you back to earth with a bump, challenging the way you thought about things. He could scare sales people and put them at ease within seconds.

It was Ed that told me when the twin towers had been hit, it was Ed that I worked with at Beacon Radio as a fellow Freelancer before taking full time positions at GWR.

I first met Ed at Metro Radio in around 1989…. Where he’d come in to voice a commercial for an anti-smoking campaign supported by the guys at Viz…as the Character “Biffa Bacon”. His line in a strong Geordie accent… “Divvent smerk tabs… or a’ll knock ya heed off!”

Alongside the likes of Mike Hurley he’s one of those great characters from commercial radio advertising, and one of those people who’s advice, conversations and occasional rants, have helped me in my career. It’s strange that Ed came to mind today, a conversation with a sales exec this morning just reminded me of a session we ran at Beacon Radio. It suddenly took me to that day in the Northants FM, the day Ed was in a motorcycle accident. Taken away from his new wife whom he adored. To see some tributes click here.

Thanks Ed…. And no….a coke is fine! I STILL don’t want a beer!

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I want to go to the client with an idea!

Click click click went the high heels.

We could hear her coming. We knew exactly which of the sales execs it was because the click of the heels (And Randall only wore his high heels at the weekend)

The sales person was smartly dressed. Unfortunately that’s where the smartness (in this case) ended.

She was going to see a new client.

“I want to go to them with an idea! I’m sure I can get them on air with a great idea!”

“An idea about what?” I asked.

“Well… you’re the Creative!”

“I am… but what am I supposed to have an idea about? What are they trying to achieve? What is the offer? Why should our listeners buy from them? What kind of business is it? What’s THE BRIEF?”

The wheel was turning…. but the Hamster was dead.

“Errrrr… So I can leave that with you? I’m going to see him this afternoon!”

The problem about having a great idea for a radio commercial or a campaign is it has to come from a great brief. A simple, precise, compelling brief. If you want to get a client on air with a great idea you have to do the groundwork first. Clients buy great ideas, but the idea has to spring from a good brief, so the first meeting is not the time to show the client great ideas.

I visit several radio sales websites that have databases of “Great Ideas” for various categories. Need to get a plumber on air? Find 120 radio scripts for plumbers where you can change the name and get the client on air. The big problem is, what are you actually saying about THAT plumber? What’s the reason to call this guy to fix your leaky taps? How has the idea sprung from that clients particular and peculiar problems. The answer is, it hasn’t. They’re just generic ads that get the client on air. My goal is not just to get the client on air, but to get a campaign that works for them.

Actually… I have got a great idea for the client! Why don’t we have two women talking to each other on a bus?

I’ll get my coat….

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