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