Let's Get Creative

by Larry Williams

The Purpose of Creative Promos: Creative promos are designed to develop and reinforce an "image" for your radio station. If the format is CHR, the promo should convey a topical, up, youthful and fun feeling. If you're at an A/C outlet, it needs to be a little more adult and female oriented. When producing promos for an AOR station, you would focus them at a more male audience. If you're trying to develop an image at a News/Talk station, the objective is even a little more different -- not so much humor, but more urgency. Just remember to always keep your target audience in mind when writing and producing creative production.

Creative promos bring a lot of fun to the radio station, not only on the air, but behind the scenes as well. Most of the ones I've done in the past have received great feedback from the air talent. DJ's always seem to get pumped up about creative, fun stuff that enhances the image of the station. Salespeople usually hear it over the station's PA system or in their cars and stop by the studio to say how much they like it, too. (Of course, they also want to know if you can write some creative spots for their clients!) It's an all-around great way to keep the station energized.

When Do You Need Creative Promos? Creative "image" promos are an important part of your on-air sound. They establish a personality for your station. You should have creative promos running all the time. This doesn't mean saturate the station with them, but it's best to always have two or three in the studio. Good creative promos can usually run for about two weeks depending upon rotation and burn-out.

When the station is running a major promotion or contest, the generic station image promos won't get played as much. So make sure that you've done one or two creative promos for the promotion. During the times you're in between promotions, the rotation of the generic ones will get hotter and you'll have to update them more often.

Scheduling promos is best when you have the Traffic Department automatically put them on the program log. This way the jocks can't say they didn't know which one to run, and if an affidavit is needed by a client at a later date, you can have Traffic run it for you. Discuss with the PD when he/she wants specific promos to run and fill out the appropriate traffic orders with cart numbers.

Topics: The list of possible topics for creative promos is endless: Generic Station Image, Morning Show, Listen At Work, Contest, Special Feature (i.e. countdown shows), etc.. You can produce a creative promo for any programming element on your station. I try to always have at least two different creative promos running at any one given time. If there is ever a time when we don't have any running at all, it seems as though the personality of the station slows down.

Depending on the topic, careful rotation of the creative promos is vital. Keep in mind that just because you have these promos in the control room doesn't mean they should get equal rotation. Once again, talk with your PD to find the best breaks to strategically place them where they will do the most good.

The Creative Formula: It's time now to take your topics and put some of your creative ideas to work. But first you must answer these questions: What am I selling? How can it be sold effectively? Should I use humor, abstractness or drama? Use these questions to plan out what you're going to do and how you're going to do it.

If you're writing a commercial, you're trying to sell a product. If you're writing a promo, you're selling some specific aspect of the station. To sell the topic, you have to understand its qualities. Why would someone want this product? What does it offer the listener that a competitive brand can't? Once you have a realistic idea of the product and its strengths, then you can work on how to market it effectively.

For practice, try selling the same topic a few different ways. Example: The topic is the morning show. Humor: Have a radio/alarm clock go off. The morning jock appears in the room to help the couple with their day -- the latest news, weather and traffic. For the humorous part, have the jock arguing with the listener about what clothes they're going to wear today. Tag with "Listening to 'X' in the morning is fashionable," or something like that.

Abstract: You might try using a sound effect like a TV remote control flipping between channels, but instead of TV audio, you'd highlight your morning personalities and bits in tiny split-second sound bites. Every third sound should be something completely different and off the wall. Tag with "Everything you want in a morning show... all in one place!" or some-thing similar.

Drama: This is the more straight forward way to sell things. How about using a couple at the breakfast table listening to the radio and talking about the morning show and what they like about it. Tag with "Join 'X' for breakfast, mornings on...."

I almost always use humor with a little bit of abstract mixed in for flavor. Things start off normal and then get bent out of shape a bit -- like a Levi's Dockers TV commercial as interpreted by Salvador Dali. Listen to the "Snookums & Punkin'" promo on last month's Cassette and you'll see what I mean.

Where To Get Your Ideas From: Creative ideas can come from the most ordinary places: the office, shopping, driving, etc.. Television is usually the best source for material. Watch one night and take notes. Try not to write down any actual concepts from the commercials; that's just copying someone else's work. As you watch TV, let your mind wander. Something you see or hear will spark an idea in your head. Then, take that idea and turn it into something that will fit your needs.

In July, the "Pepsi Chill Out" com-mercial was running all over TV -- the one with Bo Jackson, Bert Parks and Dr. Ruth. I did the "Bo Knows Radio" idea two years ago when it was more hip. Writing anything around Bert Parks sounds too bizarre, so I started thinking about the possibilities of doing a "Dr. Ruth" type promo. She isn't very topical anymore, and I had to change the idea around a little. Using the same sex/psychiatrist premise, the "Dr. Feelgood" promo (on last month's Cassette) eventually emerged.

Right now, most of us have an excellent source for promo material: THE R.A.P. CASSETTE! But don't just rip off other people's ideas. Use what you hear on The Cassette each month to come up with your own concepts. If you find an idea you like, change it, make it different, make it your own, and make it better than it originally was.

Reflect Your Listener's Lifestyle: Be sure to center creative promos around people who fit your target audience. In other words the main character should be a typical listener of your station. When Stephen King writes a book, he always makes it about an average John Q. Public. Use that same philosophy when writing your script. It makes the story that much more intriguing when it's happening to someone just like you.

Whenever possible, include the simple things that are day to day events to your listeners: driving around, going to work, getting groceries, weekend activities, concerts and shows, etc.. If you are producing something for a CHR station that will run at night, you wouldn't write a promo that depicts two people drinking espresso or eating out at an expensive restaurant, unless you were going for the real abstract. Make sure that it portrays things that the majority of your listeners would actually do.

Theater Of The Mind: In all of my promos, I try to add a little "Theater Of The Mind." This is the most difficult part in the conception process. You have to take a good idea, and make it even better. The goal is to add a little "sparkle" -- make it larger than life.

If you're writing a humorous promo, an excellent way to achieve this is to add some dramatic announcer tracks (they put a comedic conversation in balance). Real life sounding effects and an appropriate music bed are also key ingredients to making the finished product effective. If you have weak copy, the sound effects and music will help pull it all together.

Believability: You have to make creative promos and commercials believable. If the spot contains poor acting or isn't produced very well, it'll stick out on the air. A good reference to keep in mind: "Make it sound better than any-thing else that runs on the station." Sometimes this is hard because of all the national agency spots that we play, but you have to remember that the promo will be running adjacent to these spots. If the spots sound better, the station's image will sound amateurish.

Execution Hints: There are a few techniques I use to insure that creative dialogue spots sound as good as they possibly can. Here are a couple of hints that may help you:

1) Always Cut Dialogue In Real Time: When recording conversation voice tracks, avoid cutting the tracks at different times. I don't care if you're a master of the multi-track, the end result is always better when the talent can play off each other.

2) Get Different Reads: Have your voice talent do it a couple of different ways. Make sure they cut a basic read, an acted one, and an over-acted version. You may decide later to use a different read than you initially wanted. (I've always found that a slightly over-acted version works best for humorous scripts.)

3) Use The Proper Music & Effects: Take the extra time to find or develop the "perfect" music and sound effects you'll need. Even when you have weak copy, you'll find that the music and effects will carry the spot when it's executed properly.

4) Always End With A Punch Line: That's about the closest way I can describe it. You should always end a humorous promo with a little up tempo line that's funny. It doesn't have to be a knee-slapping, side-splitting joke, just something that brings a smile to the listeners face. When ending other kinds of creative promos, the announcer tag line should always "wrap up" the story. The finished product should be like a piece of music with a crescendo as a finale.

Have Fun: Remember that any time you put something on the radio station, you're spending money. Your station charges a certain rate for commercials and whenever you run something for the station, it basically takes up an avail, thereby costing the station money. Use this time wisely. Make sure before anything hits the air that it is succinct and effective. Above all, have fun with it. When you have fun putting something together, it sounds like it on the air, and the audience will have fun listening to it.

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