Attention PDs and GMs: Is Your Station Getting The Most Out of Its Production Department?

by Dennis Steele

Our Top Ten list tonight (Hey look, I know it's a cliché, but I'm on deadline, so leave me alone!): Top Ten Ways You Can Make Your Production Department More Productive:

#10: Hire a great Production Director and pay him/her a decent wage.
#9: Create an S.O.P. and then make it the law.
#8: Make the Production Director a player in sales-client relations.
#7: Create a high standard of quality for everything that goes on the air.
#6: Upgrade the equipment in the production studio.
#5: Make station-produced commercials more entertaining.
#4: Produce "Theater of the Mind" station promos.
#3: Let clients know that your production department is open for business.
#2: Hire someone to write ad and promo copy.
#1: Enter good spots or promos in the local Advertising Awards competition.

Allow me to explain:

#10: Hire a Great Production Director and Pay Him/Her a Decent Wage. How do you know one when you see one? Well, they combine a little studio expertise with a lot of bent ideas. They've got every "Looney Tunes" episode memorized and can recite whole sections of classic movies, complete with fairly good impersonations of the lead characters. They know why some sound effects are funny and some aren't. They don't like to dress up for client presentations, but they know how. They don't hate Account Executives because they know that's where the money comes from. They are conversant on microphone placement, azimuth, the baseball strike, the Simpsons (Homer, Marge and O.J.), AQH, TSL and PC (both kinds). They understand "Theater of the Mind" and that a digital workstation doesn't necessarily make you more creative, just faster. They know how to read (and actually do), write simple declarative sentences, and spell without a net (or a spell-checker). They know that "W" is pronounced "Double-U" and not "Dub-Yuh." They have a great demo reel. And if you ask them for a second one, they say "Okay," and send you one within a week. If you find someone like this, hire them immediately and pay them well. If you use them correctly, they will make you money.

#9: Create an S.O.P. and Then Make It The Law. A "Standard Operating Procedure" is a big memo that basically spells out how your station gets its advertising on the air. It pinpoints the duties and responsibilities of everyone in the production process. It explains policies, standardizes paperwork and provides a "handy rule book" for everyone to follow. After you hire your killer Production Director, make him/her write a complete S.O.P.. Then, agree to enforce it, sign off on it, and make it the law of the land. This will not only prevent heated discussions between production and sales late on Friday afternoon, but it will reduce memo writing on production issues down to a trickle.

#8: Make the Production Director A Player in Client/Sales Relations. You've got your killer production person, and you've got your rule book. Now it's time to make some money. Set up your station as a "one-stop" for your client's advertising. Besides selling them time and placing their spots, make your "creative services" available to your customers. Take the time to help your client craft an effective spot by bringing your Production Director in on meetings with clients. Invite them to a sales meeting once a month.

#7: Create a High Standard of Quality for Everything That Goes On the Air. The S.O.P. should include quality control standards for everybody to follow. Then, everybody on the staff should be made aware that high quality standards are valued by management. Make sure that every jock who is assigned production knows what they are doing in the studio. If a spot sounds bad on the air, track down the reason and fix it. Turn down the spots that don't meet the quality standards set up in the S.O.P.. One happy client is not worth hundreds of listeners tuning out. Strive to make all the spots on your station fit your image. Remember, about twenty percent of the station's on-air presentation is something other than jocks and music. That stuff should sound every bit as good as the other eighty percent. Set your station up as the market leader when it comes to quality.

#6: Upgrade the Equipment in the Production Studio. The audio texture of the station should be consistent. Ideally, the production studio should mirror the acoustics and technology of the air studio. The main studio microphone should be the same as the production microphone. Tape stock should be clean and of high quality. Consider replacing old machines with digital technology. The added cost will be made up when your production people crank it out faster. Think of your production room as an investment, not just an expense. If it sounds good and you use it right, it will pay for itself in no time.

#5: Make Station-Produced Commercials More Entertaining. You hired a killer production pro, remember? Now, challenge him/her to produce good spots. Give him/her some time, equipment, some sound effects and maybe a nice music library or two and listen for results. Develop commercials that work with station programming, not against it. Be cognizant of spot placement within a break. Play your best spots first in the break. Listeners say they hate commercials. But what they really hate are bad or boring commercials. The challenge is to create advertising that people will actually sit through. Do the best you can with the time you have.

#4: Produce "Theater of the Mind" Station Promos. Of all the produced elements on your station, station promos should most reflect the heart, soul, and personality of your station. Make sure your promos and drops are more than great plugs for the station; make sure they're great radio, too. The best-sounding commercials on the air should be the ones for your station. Make sure that your call letters only go on those promotions that enhance the image you want to portray.

#3: Let Clients Know That Your Production Department is Open for Business. Make sure that the sales department has a demo reel of the station's best spots and promos in their briefcase at all times to play for clients. Challenge the production department to come up with spec spots that actually sound like real ones. And give rewards for spec spots that result in an order. Promote the fact that your creative services are a real alternative to expensive advertising agencies. If a spot your station produces lands on another station in the market, make sure the tape and box it came in look professional and have a label on the front with your station's logo on it. And make sure you pay the talent for their services.

#2: Hire Someone to Write Ad and Promo Copy. If your Production Director is cranking out "Theater of the Mind" promos and entertaining commercials, meeting with clients, and working with sales on clients' campaigns, another writer is essential. A full-time copywriter pays for him/herself in better quality spots, quicker turn-around, and reduced stress on your Production Director. There are lots of young college graduates with Advertising or Communications degrees looking for an entry-level job in their field. No budget for a full-time copywriter? How about part-time? Or a college intern?

#1: Enter Good Spots or Promos in the Local Advertising Awards Competition. Your station's call letters up there with local agencies gives your station credibility. It gives exposure to your station's creative work. Who knows, you might win, and that's a morale and ego boost for everyone involved.

Think of your Production Department as a revenue source, not as overhead. Give your Production Director clear goals and realistic deadlines. Give him/her the tools to do the job right, and I predict good things will happen.

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