The humble comma, the magnificent full stop

I’m not great at spelling and grammar. I am in awe of the spellchecker on my computer and often frustrated that it switches to US English (whatever that is!) from time to time. But something that is central to what copywriters for radio do…is writing for the spoken word. So now when I write by blog I use those three little dots to indicate the pause in the speech, that slight rise in intonation.

(I always notice spelling mistakes on this blog AFTER I hit publish!)

Often when clients write their own scripts, or even new copywriters, they forget that they are not writing to be read, but to be read out loud. That is why, when you write a script you HAVE to READ IT OUT LOUD.

As you read it, with a stopwatch, you will notice where the voice would have to take a breath, a pause, break a sentence. Put the punctuation in. Make it clear. Help the voice over by putting a new sentence on a new line. It helps them because they can see the sentence end that they are aiming at.

Also, don’t use caps lock. Proper sentence case writing will help give meaning to the words and using uppercase words tells the voice you wanted this delivered firmly… or in certain context, shouted. (shouting in a radio commercial is not a great idea unless there’s something being dramatised). I was taught at school that the word “and” does not require a coma. But on a script, from time to time I will add one to give that increased sense of a pause,(sic) and possibly a new thought.

Make sure your producer knows what you mean when you put in CAPS or italic… or underline!
Make the font big enough to read and 1.5 line space it so the voice can put in their own notes. Some voice over artists have their own way of marking up a script so it you ask for a particular emphasis on a word they can repeat it exactly take after take. (usually if you take more than 4 takes of a script with and experienced voice over, there’s something wrong with your communication and not the voices ability.*

So read it outloud.
Put in the punctuation.
Write for the SPOKEN word, not the written word.

*I was once assisting with an agency session at a radio studio with a voice over friend. I walked into the studio to hear the voice pleading with the agency “producer” to give him some direction on how he wanted it differently. They had just completed Take 30 something. The agency bod turned off the talk back and said to the sound engineer… “I think we have it anyway… let’s use take 2”.

I’m glad the voice over didn’t hear it!!

read out loud


Vox Radio Advertising Awards

Now I’ve won a few awards in my time. Just a handful. And I don’t like to talk about them. But I’ve always said, the best award is when a client tells you the campaign has worked and you’ve made a difference to his or her business. And I mean it. It’s still nice to get a nicely framed certificate you can stick on a wall.

A couple of stations I worked at were very skilled at getting radio awards. One method was to look at the client list, think of some creative ideas, produce them and broadcast them in the middle of the night so they qualified to be entered as broadcast commercials. It then didn’t really matter if the client had approved them (although they were always consulted and told what was being done).

The weekend just gone saw the Vox Event in the UK, and the Vox Awards. These awards were set up because radio stations and production houses were producing excellent work, but many couldn’t afford the entry fees for some of the international awards (for example it’s about $300 to enter a single radio ad into the New York Festival). While I was at GWR we entered the Vox Awards and won many of the categories. We saw it as important to encourage a raising of standards. We wanted there to be a healthy competition in terms of producing better work.

I am sad to say that many of the larger UK radio groups didn’t enter much into this year’s Vox Awards. It’s a shame, because the likes of Global and Bauer (who did win some categories) consistently produce high class and award winning radio which should be showcased. It’s encouraging to a writer when the company enters their work. It’s a great feeling when your work is recognised by your peers.

On a slightly different note, please feel free to share any posts from this blog. At the end of any posting you will find a bar like this….

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

… by clicking on the icons you can share postings through your Twitter, Facebook or any of the others. You can also forward the URL to anyone you think would find any of the topics useful, writers, sales people, clients. Let me know if there are any topics I could cover on these pages. Your feedback is appreiciated.

I want a funny radio commercial.

In the first year of my radio copywriting career I was sitting in a restaurant in Crewe, Cheshire. The people sitting on the table behind me were talking about my radio commercial. I got a very good feeling of pride initially. They almost described the commercial word for word. It was a joke, a play on words. Then I realised that they didn’t once mention the name of the client. Actually the joke could have been applied to ANY client. The joke stood by itself and didn’t even need the clients name to be mentioned, and didn’t reflect in any way the benefits of the client’s product or service. As an advert it was a failure. An ad that was once voted the top radio commercial in the UK of the previous decade, advertising video recorders (OK that dates it a bit), made people laugh, including numerous awards panels. But the client said they didn’t sell a single unit as a result of the campaign

I listen to a lot of award winning ads and have even been invited to judge some radio advertising awards. In the humour section I quite often find very funny and brilliantly conceived commercials. One which I could only hope to do as well. But these brilliant ads, the ones that work, are the ones where the humour springs out of the brief after careful thought. In Kenya there was a great series of commercials for a washing powder… the situations were humorous. A blind date, the guy finally finds the woman and says “I thought you said you were wearing a red dress?” she responds “It IS a red dress!” The result, she should have washed her clothes in this powder that “washes out the dirt, not the colours”. There is no “joke” but a humorous and eidetic situation. The series went on to other situations… and because there was no “joke” or “punch line” people didn’t get tired of the ads and still remember them with affection.

On another occasion I was called into a radio station where a local solicitor was running Personal Injury ads. The ads he had been running were funny, demonstrated the product, but he wasn’t getting any response. But then if you had been in an accident like the people he was targeting I am sure you would not find the situation funny. I wrote a series of very straight, single voice commercials voiced by the very talented Nick Jackson. The client said when they ran on the radio station it was like turning a tap on, with dozens of calls coming in every time it aired. The message was no different, but the delivery was.

Humour is very dangerous when handled wrong. If there is humour in the product or service it will come out in the scripts, but forced humour is bad and you can tell a commercial where the client has been bolted on to a funny idea the writer has been trying to get on air for months. You do not want a funny ad, you want an ad that sells product.

The secret is to ask the writers to come up with some ideas from a very clear, and very brief, brief. Make a compelling offer or reason to do business with you. If that can be delivered in a humorous way, that’s great, but don’t make “getting people to laugh” the objective of your message. Otherwise you will leave the listener with the question… “Great ad…. what was it for?”

Laughing Man

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Let your writer test the product

Have you ever sat down and tried to do some creative writing? It’s not easy. The hard bit is getting started… “Once upon a time…” no too cliched… “it was a dark and stormy night..” already done. The problem is not that we can’t write something, it’s that we’re not sure what we are actually supposed to be writing about.

Writers block comes when the author just can’t make a start. They have the writing skills, the lexicon, the ability to create. But they are not certain what they are supposed to be doing. If there’s no plan, even getting that first sentence out is a problem.

To help you to create your message most radio stations, and some Advertising Agencies, have dedicated radio advertising copywriters. At Radio Africa I’m privileged to head up a team of extremely talented creatives. Writing a radio commercial is 95% brief and 5% inspiration. I don’t actually believe there is such a thing as writers block when it comes to creating radio advertising. The only time I get stuck is when I don’t know what I am supposed to be writing about! If the brief is good enough there is generally no need for the writer to see, hold, touch and feel the product.

But effective advertising comes when you allow the listener to “test drive” the results of the product. Your writer can get a better feel of that if you allow them try it. If you are promoting a coffee, send them a sample. If you are advertising a line of clothes, send them a garment. If you are advertising luxury scuba diving holidays to the Galapagos Islands… then you can contact me at Radio Africa.

On one occasion a car manufacturer gave me 10 days worth of driving in theirs range of new cars. You can imagine how much more time I dedicated to that client. But also I could write about how it felt to drive.

The writing of a good radio commercial starts with an excellent brief. But give your writers a little help. Let them touch, see feel and experience the product.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

You want to be the voice on your own commercial?

It worked for that electric razor guy. He voiced and fronted his own radio commercial. It seems like a good idea at the time. The Sales Person wants you to sign the airtime order and you… we’ll you’re probably where you are in business because you have a bit of an ego and they’ve spotted an opportunity to flatter you the client, stroke your ego and get you to sign. They say “You’ve got a great voice! Why don’t we get you to voice the commercial?”

Just because I can sing a few bars of a song doesn’t mean I want to humiliate myself on the X Factor!!

Frankly there are only a handful of clients who should ever be let near a microphone. You may have a nice voice but it may not be right for the delivery… may not sound good on air, the ads may not be written for your delivery, the station may have a policy not to allow client voiced ads, many clients freeze in front of a microphone (quite common).

Also you think that you will get your ad cheaper because you’re not employing a professional voice artist to voice the ad. Well, I usually charge double. Eeek… why? Because it’s going to take twice, or even 5 times as much time in the studio to voice and edit the audio, that the professional would have given me in one, unedited take.

Some radio stations have a policy of not allowing clients to voice their own commercials, and you will understand why when you hear some of the stations that do allow it. The professional voices used are very skilled at talking to time, talking clearly, not sounding like they are reading, bringing out the main copy points. They are also skilled at getting it right after just a couple of takes. If you have little or no experience it will take you a long time in the studio and time is money. At the end of it you may end up with a radio commercial that the station Programme Controller will not want played on his station.

Now you’re thinking I’m against client voiced commercials? No. I’m not against using the clients voice… it’s just it may be best to use the voice for a small part of the ad… maybe delivering your customer service promise of a tag line? Maybe you DO have the charisma to deliver the ad… like Victor Kiam. But you need to work really hard… first to get commercials written that you can deliver, and time spent in the studio to get it right. In Newcastle in the late 1980’s there was the phenomenon that was Mr. Rahman. An elderly Hindi gentleman that voiced his own commercials. They were famous… and he even was used to make announcements at Newcastle United for a while. But every sentence he said had to be edited and painstakingly put together to make his ads.

So take the advice of your writer or the station’s commercial producer. Perhaps voice just a couple of lines? Perhaps there is someone who could be your “voice” or perhaps rather than use your voice we could develop a character? There are a handful of clients who voice their radio commercials very successfully, but for every one that does there are a couple of dozen that sound dreadful on air and don’t do themselves any favours.

The real question is why do you want to voice the commercial? Is it because you want your friends to hear you on the radio station or is there a good, solid business reason. If there is, communicate it to the writer and see whether he or she comes up with.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Music, Jingles and Sonic Brand Triggers

At the weekend I was riding my motorcycle around Nairobi and found myself whistling the theme tune to “Last of the Summer Wine”. I have no idea what triggered it. But it must have been something deep in my memory.

I once read an article by an owner of an Advertising Agency in London that said that “jingles” in radio commercials were on their way out. That’s like saying that tyres on cars are on their way out. Certainly the badly sung bedroom produced cockney sing along cheesy Chaz and Dave double glazing jingle should be banned and the producers executed in front of a firing squad…. but music and memory are so closely linked it would be foolish to abandon music in ads. What needs to be rediscovered is the high production value music branding.

Music is extremely powerful for use in Radio Advertising, but you have to be very careful. As with Celebrity Voices, there is the danger that people remember the song and don’t remember the product. If you’re going to use a famous song, then like Levi Jeans, you have to have deep pockets (see what I did there?).

Why use music?

Music has the power to stimulate the emotions. Just try watching a movie with the sound off and see what a difference it makes.
Good Radio Sation producers have a full music library , with music in all styles from classical to jazz, rock to dance. There are news style themes, nursery rhymes, dramatic, ethnic and comedy tracks. In fact, music to suit all moods and to create all atmospheres. This is music that can be bought for use on Radio Commercials.

What music can’t I use?

Music is in copyright until 70 years after the composer’s death. So just about every piece of chart music will be in copyright, and could cost a large sum of money to licence for radio use. The same goes for theme tunes from radio, TV, or films. Sometimes you can be surprised and you can licence a famous piece for a lot less than you though. Some well known works may also still be in copyright, for instance “Happy Birthday” was a copyright piece of music until very recently, or works by more modern composers such as Elgar may still be in copyright. However there are some well known tracks that are in the public domain. The danger with these is that so many have used them over the years, they have become cliched and won’t help your commercial stand out.

Jingles & Music Idents

A jingle is a unique piece of music, usually with vocals, commissioned for your company in the style you specify. Music Ident are usually of a much higher quality and will have fully sung versions and possibly different stayles in the same package. Jingles are usually licenced to you for two years, and remain the property of the composer. You will pay more for licencing it on additional stations or to play in your shop or on your website.

How much you pay also depends on the complexity of the jingle, and the number of cuts or different versions. It’s an investment and so you should be prepared to pay a reasonable amount for a quality product. Some companies can create a “soundalike” of a copyright tune for you, but legally you could be on thin ice, especially if it is too similar. It is better to be original.OR buy the rights for the original (Levi… remember?)

Sonic Brand Triggers:

A SBT can be music or sound effects, or even a voice . They can range from a sung phone number to the stompng of a boot in an Army Recruitment Ad, to just a few notes like the Direct Line Insurance fanfare. They are mostly used by National Advertisers, but there is nothing to stop regional and local advcertisers using this powerful tool. The sound triggers the recognition of the brand with the listener. The most well known example is the Intel Pentium SBT that is used whenever Pentium processors are advertised by Intel, or mentioned in any advertising by computer stores. For more information on SBT’s visit the RAB Website

Music in whatever form gives your company a unique sound and brings a cohesion to all your commercials. Music is also very memorable, so a strong jingle or SBT that people hear often and end up singing along to, obviously helps in making your advertising and therefore your company memorable. Your writer should be able to help you with music production and give you some indication of costs. They may have specialists working for the station who would be happy to talk to you and take a brief for the music.

My best piece of advice… Invest properly and get something done well. The thing about cheese is that it smalls badly after a fairly short time.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

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!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine