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


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Radio – Getting Back on the Path

I found this today. Challenging and in my opinion… spot on!

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Not “too little information” just “not the right information”.

The sales person looked across the desk at me. The look.. a little bit frightened and confused. I know that a trapped animal can be dangerous… I once worked in a facility that rescued abandoned animals and I’ce seen that look before… just before the claws come out. I try the explain that the brief she’s given me is just rubbish… that the person who took it… namely her… has not used an ounce of common sense. That a 5 year old child with no radio advertising experience could have done a better job. That she was using up valuable oxygen that a sentient lifeform other than her could have been putting to good use.

Of course I tried to put it more diplomatically

The problem was the brief. Since the advent of email it’s been all to easy to just take what a client has mailed and paste it into the brief sheet, without taking any time to process, thing about it, and more importantly… to discuss with the client about how radio works and fashion a brief that will actually help the client.

When I joined a radio station in the UK I was bombarded with piles of information… the previous writer had told the sales execs that they were not giving enough information. The problem wasn’t the quantity but the quality. Masses of information just confuse me. You give me 6 points in a brief, I will chose the one that I have a great idea for… but it may not be the most important point to the client (or more importantly, the potential customer). Then we get the backwards and forwards of “the client doesn’t like the script”.

When you hear a local radio ad and you’re wondering “what was that about?” you’re asking the same question the writer had when he wrote the commercial. If it’s not fixed BEFORE the briefing, you will never get good commercials

A good brief is short.

If it’s longer, it’s probably 2 or more ads.

If it’s got several Selling Propositions… you should be thinking several ads!

The problem, as I see it, is that Radio Stations worldwide don’t invest in training their sales staff in radio advertising. I am happy to say that most of the groups I have worked for in the past have…. But there is still too much emphasis on “double glazing” sales techniques, and closing… than there is on being advertising consultants for their clients. The GREAT sales people I have worked with have made huge commissions by helping their clients to achieve their goals… and by standing up to their clients when they made the kinds of descisions that can RUIN a client’s campaign. Here are some useful phrases to help you on your way….

“I can’t get you on air tomorrow… we need to make sure your ad is spot on… and that takes a bit of time!”

“Thanks for all the information you gave me… now I’d like to ask the questions we need to answer to create you a great radio campaign!”

“If you want to say that… let’s create another commercial… now… why is it important to our listeners?”

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Back again… and the Earshot Creative Review

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here. The main reason was, I got married.
I had a huge amount of fun on the wedding day.

Back at work now and thinking about radio and radio advertising… and trying to help clients get the most out of their advertising. It wasn’t a good first day back with a client who can’t seem to get the fact that their visual pun doesn’t work on radio. Ah well… onwards and upwards.

While I was working in Sierra Leone I was interviewed for the Earshot Creative review. The publicity says… “Also this time, Nairobi-based radio advertising consultant Simon Rushton says we should always prioritise effective advertising over creative advertising and he explains how to do it. On a beach.”

I just want to say it’s right to say “prioritise” since I think radio advertising can be and should be entertaining, witty, funny, emotional, creative and innovative. But that should come along side the selling… and back up the motivation to act.

Did I say that in the interview?

Listen Here!

Scary Floating Heads... that's me on the left!

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Writing to Time

It’s hard to get all your camping equipment in the back of a 1979 Triumph Spitfire. I know this from bitter experience. But it is possible to get enough for a week if you pack cleverly… and leave out all the things that are not really important. Leave behind the airbed. the guitar, the cooker. (I can live off tree moss for a couple of days.)

Like mine, but mine had wire wheels.

It’s amazing how many clients think they can simply add words to their crafted radio commercial. “Can we just say we’re open 7 days a week… including Sunday?” (really… Sunday is included in those 7 days?) “can we just add our phone number?” The answer is yes, you can add more words but you will have to move to a different duration… from a 30 to a 40, or a 30 to a 45 (depending on how airtime is sold where you live).

It happened to me again today. The client gave us an ad (written by an advertising agency) that they said was a 30 second ad. I timed it at 50 seconds. They cut it back… I timed it again… 40 seconds. They insist that it was do-able in 30 seconds because they had “done a word count” and it came to 100 words… which in their opinion was OK for 30 seconds.
A few problems… they had not allowed time for the sound effects, they had not realized that the client’s name looked like one word but was in fact three words, and that a phone number (yes, a completely pointless phone number) was actually ten words. My word count… 125 words!

Even then, 3 words per second is quick… so 90 words for a 30 second spot is a little optimistic.

There is only one way to get an accurate time on your radio commercial. Read it out loud, with a stopwatch, and put in the sound effects while you’re reading it through. Project your voice a bit and read it clearly, don’t mumble a hurried script.

My belief is that a commercial SHOULD be as long as it needs to be to do the job. But if I’ve written it to a certain duration, and you want to add words, we need more time. It’s not like press where you could maybe reduce the font size.
No, I can’t make the voice go faster! It will ruin your ad!

No, I can’t speed it up, scrunch it with clever electronics and cut all the breaths out! It will sound false (or like Mickey Mouse on speed… not that Mickey would take speed… he’s been clean for years!).
So, buy a stopwatch… and read it out loud!

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