By Trent Rentsch
I’m annoying the listeners again. I’ve produced an ad so sick, so depraved, so disturbing that the station… no, the CLIENT is getting complaint calls about it! Concerns, threats… this spot has obviously stuck some ugly emotional chord. And, I couldn’t be happier.
This slight exaggeration of the facts probably needs some clarification. As you might remember, one of the activities that puts money in my pocket these days is a gig managing at a call center. Midco Call Center Services is a sister company of KELO, my radio home off and on for the past 15 years. I’ve heard the word “lifer” used to describe me in the company, and my boss in the call center certainly knows my history as a little bitty cog in the big old Midcontinent wheel. That’s probably why, since we’ve been looking for help, that one of my duties has been to put the advertising together, both Sunday paper print ads, and of course radio ads that run on all the corporate sisters in town. As you might expect, this is probably my favorite part of the job… “probably?” What am I saying? It’s a city that has a jobless rate of less than 1%, with everybody and their hot dog stand out there looking to talk any of the five people in town with a pulse and without employment into working for them. What a great creative challenge, luring those potential Operators into the door!!
There are a lot of employment ads running on the stations here, all promising huge earning potential, hiring bonuses, a great working environment… yada, yada. I could’ve gone the same route. Our salaries are right up there with most entry level jobs in town, and we really do have a great, fun bunch of people that can make it a joy to come to work. Still, after listening to one help wanted after another, I knew that I was going to have to put up the circus tent to make anyone listen, to set us apart and make people realize that it IS a fun place to work. Everyone else sounded friendly, yet so serious. So, I opted to be silly, to the point of losing my mind.
Mic up, I start talking about how it’s a great job, taking catalog orders for Midco… "but I like to think of it as, answering phones. LOTS of phones! In fact, the phone never stops ringing… EVER!! It rings and rings and…," and then a real announcer comes on, explaining that this manager at Midco Call Center Services REALLY needs help! "So if you’re looking for a job…," and while she continued to explain the shifts available, I became hysterical about ringing phones as an underscore, nearly sobbing by the end of the spot.
Was it the right way to advertise a job? Making fun of management, showing that the company has a sense of humor about the fact that nobody’s left to hire in the market, breaking the mold that all other employment ads in town seem to be cast from? Hell, I don’t know, but the boss must not have too good a grasp on my history with the company, because she trusted my judgment and gave me a thumbs up to have all 5 Midco radio stations air the ad. Whether it was right or wrong, we did get response, and the other managers probably hated me in the weeks that followed, as we spent hours doing interviews. We ended up with some great Operators, and the ringing phones were picked up, so our clients were happy. All’s well that ends well!!
Not quite. There were all of those complaints. Okay, one complaint. I came to work one Monday, and the receptionist practically tackled me. It seems that she couldn’t wait to tell me the news (gee, and I thought she liked me). A call had come to the radio station from a woman who was very upset about the commercial. She was so upset that the receptionist there transferred her to the receptionist in OUR office, who in turn sent her to MY boss. (Great, I have receptionists hating me on both sides of the street.) The woman was really “angered” by the ad. I guess she went on and on about the “crazy man” who was “screaming and yelling” in the background, and how it bothered her so much that she would NEVER LISTEN TO THE STATION AGAIN IF THEY DIDN’T STOP RUNNING THE AD!!!
Oh boy. I didn’t know how my call center boss was going to react to this. I mean, if you are a General Manager in radio, complaints from listeners go with the territory. I’ve known Managers who have fired morning shows for NOT generating hate calls. Still, even in radio, a complaint about an ad is taken more seriously—too seriously, if you ask me. And, our business is a call center; our Manager has never been in the radio business. Our complaint calls generally have something to do with someone’s shoe laces coming in the wrong color. A complaint about the advertising of the company is more of a direct assault. I must admit that I avoided walking by her office for a better part of the day. Suspense finally got the best of me, however, and I timidly tapped on her door. She toyed with me for a few minutes, asking me about my weekend, the trip to Raleigh, did I finally get rid of that cold? I couldn’t stand it! “So, what about that lady?” I blurted out. She looked confused, then smiled and laughed, “Oh the one who didn’t like your ad? Crazy, wasn’t she?” And that was it. Nothing more was said, and we still run the ad every now and then.
That’s how it should be. Everyone is so afraid of offending someone these days that the slightest hint of an unpopular opinion is interpreted as an uproar. Truth is, no matter what you do or how you do it, you’ll never make everybody happy. It just WON’T happen! Heavily editing and homogenizing Creative isn’t going to make any difference to the goofballs out there, but it will stifle and ruin the boundless Creative potential of the radio medium. Of course, you should keep the audience in mind and be sensitive to their tastes, but one phone call about a silly little gag does not mean that you are offending the entire listener base, and certainly does not mean that the ad should be pulled immediately. I’ve also had a few people mention to me that the ad gave them a laugh, and it certainly worked (and continues to work) for us. I have a lot of years invested in radio, in Midco, and I’m not about to create something that will make the company look bad! The caller was nuts, plain and simple. My boss understood that—there are a few people managing in the radio industry that could take a lesson from her.
So, I wonder if my boss knows about the time I nearly burned down the station with my coffee cup warmer… but that’s another story.