Way Off The Mark!: Frequency, Frequency, Frequency.

by Mark Margulies

Location, location, location. Ask a real estate agent the most important aspect of real estate and you'll always get the same answer: location. Ask a radio executive the most important aspect of advertising on the radio, and the answer will be somewhat similar: Frequency, frequency, frequency.

All of us in radio are aware that to get your message heard and to make an impact with that message, a client needs to be aware of frequency. It's one of the key elements in creating a successful campaign or developing an image. And convincing the client that frequency is important to them and their marketing goals is a true battle. THEY look at it like every Account Exec's goal is just to pad their commission check with a heavier schedule. True, the extra money is nice, but without a schedule that features the proper frequency, the client's message is doomed to fail. That's why winning this little skirmish is so crucial to a successful advertising run. Once the client is convinced that frequency is the key to a successful campaign, fifty percent of that battle has been won.

So what happens to the other fifty percent? Most times, the Account Executive drops the ball. Because, again, they're entering into an area which is not the subject of their expertise. They're starting to tread into your domain. And this is why it's so important for you to be involved so early in this process.

Now, with a schedule that includes a medium to heavy frequency, the AE will recommend a series of spots to their client to be rotated -- sometimes two, three, maybe more. It's a singular mistake made every day in every market that's simple to correct, and it starts with YOU.

Remember, the first part is fine. They've got the right schedule and the proper frequency. Now, WE as production pros have to set the pace to begin to successfully complete the mission and deliver the message. Time and time again we're shown that the average listener needs at least three exposures to a particular sale, spot, name or idea before a radio ad begins to penetrate. That's why those wimpy schedules fail so often. They never reach the audience with a powerful enough message enough times to make the proper impact upon a listener's buying decisions. But, penetrating a market also means driving home a single, succinct theme -- a simple message that the listener can hear, pay attention to, absorb, and then act upon as you and the client want them to. To do that, the message must be clear (a strong, central FOCUS to your spot), and it must be repeated enough to make an impact. And that's where rotation destroys that ability.

Most AEs will come to you with a heavy schedule (twenty-four exposures a week or more) and say, "Let's run two or three spots so the audience doesn't get bored with the same old spot over and over again." Okay, stop right here. Make sure you have the AE define the word "audience." Does the AE mean the folks out in radioland, or does the AE mean "themselves?" It's an important question because, think of it, how many times do you get complaints from the folks at the station about a single spot running too much? Remember, these complaints are coming from people who are paying attention to their station EVERY MINUTE THEY'RE TUNED TO THE RADIO, UNLIKE THE ORDINARY LISTENER. Only shut-ins and Program Directors pay THAT much attention to your air sound. So, never use the station's personnel, or yourself for that matter, as a bench mark for whether a spot is burning out or running too many times.

The fact is, even though YOU may be bored to tears with a spot, the audience may just be warming to it. Their exposure level may not be reaching its fullest potential when you and your station, "tired" of the "same old spot," pull it off the air and destroy what you set out to accomplish. Dick Orkin based a career on people who listened and loved his spots, to the point of calling radio stations to request them. HE never worried about rotating spots during a heavy schedule. Of course, he also had a system for knowing just when to "retire" a spot at the height of its impact. He could then bring it back months later and enjoy a resounding "rerun" effect. This is something you have to begin to learn, understand, and determine based upon the specifics of your audience, their listening habits, and your format. When you rotate two spots or more, the audience never understands what you're trying to get them to do. It takes twice as long for them to "get the message" because the theme has been diluted by the rotation. Now you're working twice as hard to create the impact as you have to be.

The only time you should even consider a variation of a rotation during a heavy schedule is for a client who has a ton of information they want you to impart. Of course, we realize this is wrong from the get-go, but some clients are stubborn and refuse to listen to reason. They figure, the more spots they buy, the more they can say.

In that case when there's too much information to get across in one spot, create a shell you use as the spot, then use a donut so that you can change to rotate specific information. You keep the spot basically intact so your audience understands what you want them to do, but your donuts are filled with different information so each spot, when it's run, accomplishes a specific goal.

Remember: frequency, frequency, frequency does not mean rotation, rotation, rotation unless you're looking for trouble, trouble, trouble.

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