Production Deadlines A Must Or Kiss Your Station's Smile Goodbye

by Jeff Left

Does your station have contract and/or copy deadlines? If not, you need to go across the street and see what life is like in the sane lane. How many times have you gone off like a 12 o'clock lunch whistle somewhere between four or five p.m. on any given Monday through Friday? Odds are you've blown your top more than once when the production "in" basket all of a sudden got three feet high with production orders, and "they're all due tomorrow." To every Production Director without deadlines, five p.m. is like the incoming wounded on MASH! It's a mad scramble to get all of this "stuff" done and on the air. The basket isn't full of easy production either. You've got dubs, tags, full sixty second reads, copy changes, 2-voicers, and yes, some reps even need a spec spot by 6 a.m. tomorrow.

If this insanity is at your station, the mushroom cloud of bat attitude will soon destroy your staff. Deadlines help everyone. Let me rephrase that. MANDATORY deadlines help everyone! If you are a sales rep, how can you feel good about someone doing your production with a "who gives a $#@!" attitude? Do you know that your Production Director has maybe four options after five p.m.? He/she can stay an extra couple of hours late, or assign the production to the afternoon drive jock who gets off at seven, or the night jock who gets off at midnight, or the overnight jock. All these options exist only if each of these jocks even does production at your station. And if they do, chances are they already had production assigned before the "incoming wounded" arrived, and any more production will force THEM to stay late.

Combine all this frustration with all those last minute changes on the log for your Traffic Director to deal with (who had the log done already) -- bumps, trades, write-ons...what a scramble! Then, tomorrow morning, you can count on round one between your programming and sales managers regarding oversold hours, sloppy production, or whatever else results from the constant last minute barrage of contracts and production orders on the traffic and production departments. Is there any winner here?

Mandatory deadlines are the solution! A good deadline is one p.m. the day before the spot airs. That goes for contracts as well as copy. Reps have to start educating the clients with a realistic version of the "immediacy of radio." It does not mean we can get a spot on in the next fifteen minutes. It means we can change copy fast or get a spot on in 24 hours. Selling radio with this "we can get it on this afternoon" attitude can hurt you on the street. If you were the competition, telling a client you could start their schedule this afternoon, I would pull the rug out from under your feet by selling the client on the fact that my station is sold out to the point where I can't get a spot on the air for at least a day or a day and a half. We're sold out because our station WORKS for advertisers. I would plant the seed that your station is always able to take a spot at any time because few listeners equal a lot of avails. Right there, I have won the client over to my station.

This mad dash to get all this work done does not produce quality work. Then, the client hears the poor effort and pulls the schedule! I have never heard of a client saying, "Great spot! Pull all the ads!"

And reps have to get a better grip on what Friday is. Let's be honest. Most reps know on Monday what they need for the upcoming weekend. And most can get it in early. To us in production, Friday equals Monday! By five p.m. Friday, we need everything done so Monday we can work on Tuesday's material, not to mention all the things we'll have to re-cut on Monday!

Maybe we in production should just walk out at five and leave the basket. I mean, the reps just walk away; why don't we? Maybe the best way to have reps deal with what production goes through is to have them wait until we get done. It could be as late as seven or eight p.m.. Certainly, we could never do that and come back to a job the next day. But that three foot high stack of work that drops in at four or five in the afternoon is the equivalent of a sales rep getting three calls from clients at 4:50 p.m. who all want the sales rep to come see each of them "right now" with written proposals for a schedule of spots to start the next day! Sure, a commissioned sales rep will give it his best shot. But put that sales rep on a straight salary, give him the same three calls at 4:50 on a Friday afternoon, MAKE HIM GO ON ALL THREE SALES CALLS till seven or eight in the evening, and chances are the sales rep will sense a bit of frustration not unlike the Production or Traffic Director's. Getting back to reality, the fact is they walk at five and we are stuck with that stack of work.

The solution is for the reps to get their contracts and production orders in earlier, at a time referred to as a "deadline." If management gets behind this deadline and really enforces it, a lot of internal pressure can be done away with, and the next company picnic might be the first one where everyone actually has a good time.

I worked for Knight Quality Stations Boston for three and a half years, and I'll never forget the sign on Norman Knight's desk. You shouldn't either. It read: "WHY DO WE NEVER HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT RIGHT, BUT WE ALWAYS HAVE ENOUGH TIME TO DO IT OVER!"

Get with your managers get some copy/contract deadlines put into effect. It will rid your station of a lot of negative feelings between people and help build a stronger, happier team. Break a lip! 

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