JV: So it sounds like you might write and produce a dozen or so spots in a given week.
J.J.: Possibly. It depends on how long the writing process takes. Sometimes when we’re going through the writing process, we might have like 12 scripts that we’re looking at, four different campaigns — which is going to be the best, you know? And then, of course, nothing goes to waste. We have those ideas saved, so if the strategy comes up again, we can revisit those ideas. But, yeah, maybe a half a dozen things, and mind you it’s not just individual spots. I mean a half a dozen campaigns going at once. There’s always something going on.
JV: Are you finding yourself working a lot of extra hours, or do you manage to capture it all in an eight hour day?
J.J.: We kind of joke around here. It’s like we’re always working. I don’t think my brain ever shuts off because if I’m not producing or writing, I’m reading a book. I’m checking out different radio formats to get a feel because you never know which format you’re going to be writing for. I’m watching TV. And the way I watch TV is funny; I tune more into the commercials and the messages, and I’ll check out the production on the RAP CD — things like that, just always doing something.
And we have a research director here too. So if I don’t have a piece of research that I need or whatever, I can go to our research director; her name is Summer Mullen, and she’s amazing. She can find information on everything.
JV: I wonder how the CSG compares to a typical major market ad agency. It sounds like the place is a combo agency and production house, but probably unlike most out there because you’re directly connected to the Clear Channel group.
J.J.: I’ve never worked in ad agency, so I can’t answer that question. But we are very fortunate here at Creative Services Group to have a few people that have come from the ad agency side. Our current Creative Director, Liz Smith, has years of ad agency background. Terry Yorkmark, our Senior Writer, has a long, long history of working in agencies.
JV: So Terry is yet another writer there?
J.J.: Yeah, he’s another writer we have. And our research director, Summer Mullen, is a writer too. Then we have what we call a “swat team” of people elsewhere in the company that we’ll send other projects too. If we’re overloaded, we’ll send them a project to work on.
JV: Well, you must have a ton of resources to work with, one of which is probably a huge talent bank of voiceover people.
J.J.: Yes, we have what we call the CSG voice bank. We are constantly soliciting for demos from independent talent or people within the company, and we have all of that, the demos and contact info, at our fingertips. Joe Lomonaco, who works for Clear Channel in Rochester, New York, unearthed this plethora of independent voices from all over the country. He was able to get us all these demos and found some wonderful people for us.
Here’s another thing that we have done, and this was something that was probably staring us in the face all along and it kind of flicked us on the forehead. One of the show producers upstairs for Clear Channel Atlanta came to us and said, “Hey, I’m involved with a couple of improv groups here in Atlanta, and these people would love to do some radio voice acting.” And we’re like, “no kidding?” So she has hooked us up with many people.
JV: Do you get a lot of in-studio voice over people?
J.J.: Yeah. If they’re local Atlanta, we bring them in. A lot of times we’ll do ISDN or just via email. When we set up a session outside the studio, we direct them either on the phone or on the ISDN.
JV: You’re probably directing more voice talent now than you ever have in your career, am I right?
J.J.: You are absolutely correct.
JV: What have you learned about that in the past year?
J.J.: There are many ways to get people to act, to say, to convey what you want them to convey. Vito and I and Dave Savage, who works for Clear Channel Atlanta, just did a presentation last week at the Clear Channel “meeting of the minds” where we talk to other producers and imaging people in the company. We gave a presentation on coaching voice talent, where to find interesting voice talent and such. And yeah, directing talent is something that you just develop over time because sometimes you’ve got to run out in the hall and get someone. And I know guys that do commercial production day to day can identify with this. You’ve got a three voice spot. You’ve got to find the three voices… now. You’ve got to run out in the hall and go “okay, you, come in here.” And you’ve got to get them in there, get them comfortable, and line read them sometimes. And you pick up various techniques: never give them the script. Just feed them the lines. Don’t let them sit down. Do not put headphones on them because either they’ll shy away from the mic or they’ll fall in love with their voice. And trust me; we’ve got enough people in this industry that are in love with their voice.
JV: You’ve been doing this for a while now, day after day, coming up with good creative on a regular basis, knocking out the spots that are national quality, etc. Is it getting easier for you? Is it getting harder? How do you manage to keep drawing from the creative well?
J.J.: Well, I know it would sound defeatist to say you’re only as good as the last thing you produced, but I don’t think it’s a defeatist thing. I think it’s a constant challenge for someone, because if you do a great piece of creative, a great campaign, it just makes you want to strive to make the next one even better. And how do you keep the well from going dry? The biggest thing people need to realize is you never stop learning, ever. You can learn from everybody you talk to. I was talking to some people last week, guys from smaller markets. I learned stuff just talking to them, stuff that they do in their studios that I didn’t even think of, and it’s like, “Wow, that’s cool. I want to try that.” So you never ever stop learning. The tips that we gave people last week were like, get out of the studio. Go to lunch. Don’t go to lunch with your co-workers. Go by yourself and just listen to people talk. Listen to how they talk. Listen to what they’re talking about it. It’s great food for thought.
JV: How do you feel about radio’s future as we battle the satellites and the iPods and the internet stations and such?
J.J.: Well, as far as satellite radio, I read something recently that echoed my own thoughts. When cable TV came out, everybody was like, “Wow! Cable TV. Less commercials…,” blah, blah, blah. You turn on cable TV nowadays, and you’ve got plenty of commercials. You’ve got infomercials, you’ve got commercial stations, and what else do you have on there? You have your local channels. It’s the same way with DirecTV. You get your local channel package.
And getting back to keeping the creative juices flowing, here’s something Bob Case, our VP/General Manager mentioned that he had heard. It was the chief marketing officer for McDonalds worldwide who said, “We need to start getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.” We get into our comfort zone and we think that that’s the right way to stay because we’re comfortable doing it. But if we get comfortable with being uncomfortable, the creative is just going to get better and better and better and better.