Breathing Creative Life Into Your Promos

by James Stodd

There are many times with this job where it’s really easy to get stuck in a rut – and end up producing something that is generic and run of the mill. Sometimes it’s down to necessity – when the boss needs something on air “now” and you have to pull something out of the bag before a 5pm deadline. We all do it at some point, and whilst you can fight it, deadlines will always exist….

Sometimes, however, you get the chance to craft something that sounds out of the ordinary, that will cut through the day to day clutter, and hopefully will help give the promotion a special feel on air. These are the projects that really fire me up, and allow the creative juices to flow.

When I get the opportunity to work on one of these projects, the question that usually arises is: “how do I make it sound different?” It’s easy to get carried away in these cases and lose focus of the main job, which is to engage the listeners and make them aware of the promotion.

A few years ago, I remember a discussion in this magazine on where people get their inspiration from. Some got it by sitting in the garden, some staring out of the window when on the train, some got it in the shower (where do you make notes then?). I tend to get ideas in all of these places, and more, but always try to brainstorm with other people as there are always angles that you haven’t considered, and it only takes one idea to start off the process.

There are loads of solutions I’ve come up with over the years, many developed from ideas that have been discussed in RAP.

The first and probably most common is to put yourself in the place of the listener and to ask them to visualise the promotion or prize. For example, if the prize is a holiday, I ask them to imagine the feel of the water on their feet as they sit on the beach drinking the ice cold cocktail, or get them to imagine the clothes they’ll need to buy to go to the movie premiere. Immediately they can start imagining the prize. It creates an image in their mind, and a few relevant sounds help further create the image in their minds.

Another technique is to create characters that become part of the promotion. One was for a promotion called “Money Talks.” The station went out on the streets to find listeners who were listening in their cars. If they were caught listening they got cash. If they had the station name written down somewhere, they got double. Now on the face of it, a fairly simple promotion. But by developing the money as a character – talking (as if a coin down the back of the sofa, or cash in a cash machine) – it allowed the promos to stand out a little more. You can check some examples online at the RAP website. Go to www.rapmag.com and click on the “Highlights” page.

There is, of course, nothing stronger than “hijacking” a popular TV show or movie to give you the starting point for a promotion. We recently took the idea of “Desperate Housewives” to create the feel of a promotion where listeners won shopping trips to New York, etc. We used different voices alongside the station VO to mirror the narrator role in the TV show, plus wrote some scenarios using the DJs and a fictional location of “Hysteria Lane.” Since the promotion ran whilst the TV series was at its peak, it gave the station another shot at the topicality card.

And there is one technique that can’t fail to give you inspiration once in a while, the TV/movie trailer. It will become clichéd if used a lot, but if you want to make any event stand out, the use of a few choice words and well placed SFX can always bring something dull alive.

The other thing I tend to do with major promotions, particularly when there are a lot of key details that need to be in the promo, is write multiple fronts. This allows you to create a number of situations for 10–15 seconds, then tag the bones of the promo on the end. It gives you a wider variety of creative and also helps prevent the promos from burning as quickly (check examples on the RAP website Highlights page for “BRMB Phonetap”). I’ve sometimes used this technique to create promos that have around 25 seconds of creative narrative that really draw a listener in and let them imagine scenarios and then end the promo with a really simple “Win £10,000 Monday morning at….” They know we’re trying to sell them something, so sometimes why not try and give them something extra?

Sometimes though, you get the opportunity to do something in a completely different way. Recently, I was tasked with creating a series of promos that sold the music on the station as part of a major repositioning of the music. Instead of creating multiple montages, I focused on situations where the emotion of a song has a real impact, like the song that was playing when you start a relationship, or when you learned you were going to be a parent for the first time. These were simply structured with mainly sound effects and the music appearing in the context of how it is really consumed (in the background on the car radio for instance). These promos backed up the more traditional music images, but helped reinforcing the way the music connects with the listeners.

So the next time you have to come up with another winning idea, think bigger, try something simpler, and adapt an idea. It might just leave you more time for living your life and drinking beer!

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