Spec Spots: When to Make Them Your Best

by Jerry Vigil

During the process of prioritizing your day's work, spec spots often fall towards the bottom of the list. The reason is simple: If there are several promos and scheduled commercials to cut, the spot that "might" sway a client to buy isn't as important. Though it may get cut in time, the amount of time spent on it is often reduced because of its speculative nature.

 The spec spot is a sales tool first, and secondly it is the request of the client. The salesperson is either selling the client on how good of a job you can do with his commercial, or the client is willing to buy, but wants to hear the spot first.

In the first case, you have a salesperson who is aware of your creative talents and is willing to trust you to do a super spot that will close the deal. Promising a client that the station will provide a unique and effective spot will usually get a difficult client to agree to see the salesperson one more time. The salesperson is selling your talents.

In the other case, the client is probably very experienced at dealing with radio salespeople. He asks for a spec spot knowing this will give him another week or so to postpone a decision. Sometimes a client has simply had some poor spots done for him, and just wants to hear what he's buying before he buys it.

The order gets to production without any information other than a "date needed by" and maybe some basic instructions. Do you spend two hours on it and produce a masterpiece, or do you set it at the bottom of the stack and rush through it at the last minute?

Place a dollar value on the spot. Find out what the potential buy is from the sales rep. Does the client have several thousand to spend, or is this a two day, two hundred dollar order. You can usually tell by reading the script or copy facts. If it's a spot for a flea market, an annual contract is not pending. If it's for a large chain of video stores, there's money to be "had". 

If the spot is for the flea market and you have more work to do than time to do it in, give the spot whatever time you can. If the spot is for a major client, consider these thoughts before you go into production.

If you're writing the commercial yourself, contact the sales rep and make an appointment with him and the client to discuss the spot. Meet for lunch or ask for 15 minutes to chat with the client in person and visit the establishment for which you are cutting the spot. This accomplishes several things. The salesperson will appreciate your efforts to give the client a superb spot. The client will receive attention he is not used to getting from the other stations. Naturally, you will get better information to cut the spot from. Ask the client what kind of music he hears under his spot. What is the demographic target the client is trying to reach? Once you've met the client and seen his place of business, you will have a better idea of what the client wants and how to give it to him. Even if you're not writing the spot, a meeting of this type will still accomplish the items mentioned.

So the client benefits, and the salesperson and the station look better from the clients point of view. But what about you? You've taken more time out of your day for this spec spot. What can you personally gain?

Assume you've met with the client, produced a fantastic spot for him, and made him very happy. The client now knows your name and your face. He's worked with you. If he likes you and your work, you may well get asked for a dub of the spot to run on other stations. Hello talent fee! Ask the client if he buys other stations. If he does, let him know your spot is for sale. Many clients don't realize they can get a spot produced at one station to run on another. Let him know you do free lance work. The client may recommend you to the business next door as "the man" to produce their spots. Keep in mind that the person paying for time on your station, to air the spot you produce, is the client. He's the man with the money. Get to know him and you've opened some doors for yourself.

You've also strengthened your relationship, not only with the salesperson involved, but with the entire sales department. That sales rep will let the others know what you did for him. Don't be surprised if you're asked to meet with the client of another sales rep. If you're good, you'll be lunching with sales reps and clients regularly, and the sales rep usually picks up the tab! (He's got the expense account and trade-outs with the restaurants!)

This concept will work with scheduled spots as well, not just spec spots. It works best with new clients since they are looking for something new and fresh from your station. If you get an order for a spot from a new client, this is an opportune time to give the client a call and introduce yourself. The fact that you are the person actually producing his spot makes you an important person to that client. If you plan to call a client to talk with him about his spot, inform the sales rep before you do. Ask if he has any problem with you contacting his account. Let the sales rep know of all your communications with the client. Work together.

Your station may already have someone on staff who performs these services, possibly your Creative Director or your Continuity Director. You may still get involved, as producer, simply by asking to be.

Remember to evaluate the client as soon as you get the order. There's no need to spend unnecessary time on a client that's buying only 5 spots to run for one day. Place a dollar value on the order and determine if the client is big enough to receive the special attention you can give him.

We're not suggesting that you give less than your best to any job, but if you're as busy as most production slaves, you have to consider using your time and talents wisely.  

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