Tips & Techniques: When Your Bright Ideas Aren't So Bright After All

by Mark Margulies

There isn't a Production Director this hasn't happened to. It's part of the arrogance and brilliance that make you what you are. But just for a moment, relive this scenario if you will.

You're just sitting around, minding your own business when it happens. The Account Executive comes in with a piece of copy that just strikes a chord in your mind. Something about the clients' name, the product, the information enclosed -- something just clicks. You realize you've got a killer idea for a spot. You can't wait to get to your typewriter. You write it and it executes perfectly. You hustle into the studio, voice it, produce it, and it sounds great. You present it, the Account Executive adores it, they play it for the client who loves it, everything goes as planned. You return to your room and pat yourself soundly on the back for a monster job well done. In fact, you figure, while you're at it, why not go marching into that big blowhard of a boss' office to ask them for that long overdue raise you so mightily deserve? That sounds like an incredibly good idea. But instead, you're content to wait and bask in the glory of a job well done.

Except something terrible happens along the way to becoming a legend in your own mind. The spot is bombing...miserably. Not an ounce of response. The client is frantic and pulls it from rotation, then replaces it with a boring, overused hunk of crap. You're pissed. The AE's pissed. What happened? It was such a brilliant spot, right? Wrong. You spent all that time really spinning your wheels because your copy had absolutely no focus. And that's why no one responded as planned.

Most times creative spots don't work, there can be many different reasons. An inadequate flight, a nervous client, the wrong expectations, or simply, a flat market. But one reason that keeps coming up over and over is COPY. Your idea and execution were perfect. But your copy stressed the wrong thing. That meant your audience just didn't understand where you were trying to lead them. And despite creative brilliance, they wouldn't do what you and the client envisioned they would. There was no focus.

Focus comes from being able to identify that single-most important element that the client wants to transmit, then building that element into a creative and powerful message. To be able to do that, you have to start with a quality piece of copy.

Copy, as everyone who's a so-called expert will tell you, is simple to write. Almost anyone can, and usually does attempt to do it. But you soon learn, it's not that simple. Writing in sixty and thirty second increments is tough enough. Being clever and creative and effecting a message is even tougher. But, if you've stressed the wrong thing, taken the wrong approach, or simply don't understand how to execute a spot properly, you've wasted your chance to capture that audience. So writing copy becomes a bit more difficult than those so-called experts say it is.

Next, remember one thing about creative thoughts. They're like belly buttons; everybody has one. But what will separate you from the Account Executive or the client who has that "great idea for a spot" is your focus. That's the ability to key in on the main message, then be creative in its execution. How you focus your creative spots, not whether your spot is creative or not, makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not they work.

So when you're writing copy, remember that it's great to be creative, but the wrong place to start is with "a great idea." Start instead with reason for the ad in the first place. Once you've established the MAIN PREMISE for this client's ad (the MARKETING GOAL), you've gone a long way to accomplishing your task, because once you know what the client wants to do and how they're expecting their ad to perform, your spot can be creatively catered to fit that need.

Case in point. A client wants his phone to ring off the hook and has provided a great loss leader with which to work. So what kind of copy goes with that? You've got to start thinking about what kind of spot, scenario, or situation will gear people towards their phones and towards the client's number. Focus. It means no clutter, no complicated ideas or useless information about the client and their extended family or directions to the store in the ad. No silly, innocuous, give and take two-voicers that never even come close to channeling people towards their phone. No cliche ridden copy that gets tuned out quickly. Think creative, BE creative, identify your focus, and keep it direct. If you write snappy two-voice, make sure it's created around the focus. If it's a one-voicer with sound effects, it should immediately identify the focus in the theme. Everything about the spot should reinforce the message, whatever that message may be. That's how your ideas center around the marketing goal and away from extraneous concepts that are good, but end up being ineffectual.

Focus is the key factor. It's as important when writing copy as it is when you're making magic happen in your production studio. So remember, a creative idea is a great thing. If you get good ideas, write them down and keep them handy. They'll probably be useful at another point down the road. But to truly develop effective, creative radio ads, learn to focus and keep in mind your client's marketing goals. Do that, and more times than not, you WILL be heading into that blowhard's office with a legitimate request for a raise, because not only will you be creating happy clients and effective radio spots, you'll be creating revenue for your station. And that could mean the difference between payments on a Yugo or real transportation that will take you to a better future.

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