Why Specs Won't Work: An Open Letter to Every Salesperson, Everywhere

by John Pellegrini

As indicated above, I'd like to ad­dress this letter to all radio salespeople. This does not mean that production and program­ming people cannot read this letter. If anything, I think they should, too. But the people who will primarily benefit from the infor­mation con­tained, at least the ones I hope will benefit, are the sales staff, Sales Managers and those who work with them.

First off, it's necessary to clear away two major misconceptions regar­ding specs. The first one being that production people hate to do specs. That simply is not true. We actually kind of enjoy specs because sometimes some of our most creative work hap­pens through specs. What we don't like, however, is the belief that our work has been wasted. I'll get into this further in a bit.

The second misconception about specs is that they don't work. Yes, you read that right. Specs DO WORK. (Stay with me here, prod folk; I know where I'm going with this.) The problem is most Production Directors don't know that their specs work. Let me illustrate this point by reminding you of what happens when you take a spec to a client.

The Production Director has really spent a great deal of time and creativity putting together a spec spot on the information you gave him regarding the prospective client. He or she feels that they have really cap­tured an idea that will work well for the client. You take it to the client and play it for him. They think it's a pretty good spot, but not necessarily the spot that they had in mind. This leads to a dialogue between you and the client talking over concepts and ideas that eventually pinpoint exactly what the client wants their spots to say and how they should sound.

If you didn't have the spec spot for the client to hear, you would have never got the exact idea from the client for their production. The spec spot enabled you to really capture the client's attention and not only get him convinced to buy your station but to get excited about his store or services being advertised. The spec spot worked. It got the sale.

But what do you tell the production person when you return to the station? "Well, he didn't like your idea, and here's what he wants."

The production person, not knowing what a vital role his spec played in getting the client to sign only knows that his idea wasn't any good. The implied signal is that the client thinks the Production Director sucks, and only the client knows how to write copy. Combine that with the knowledge that it took two hours to create that baby, and you have one very disappointed, if not angry, production person. Which goes back to my first point: Production Direc­tors hate wasting their time. The amount of time spent on creating that spec is viewed as time wasted.

If the Production Director has any sense of job value, he or she will likely complain about this to hierarchy such as Program Directors or Sales Managers or even General Managers. There will follow the usual amount of animosity, negativity, and bad feelings that keep our two departments at each other's throats rather than working together as we should be.

Here's a suggestion. Rethink how you talk to your production people regarding client reactions to specs. If the situation occurs as indicated above, simply tell the production person something like, "Hey, that spec spot was great! The client loved the idea and the best part is, he's confident you're the person to really make his advertising successful. What he'd like you to do is emphasize these points, add this, delete that, and he's ready to go! Your spec is the reason he's buying the station, but he just needs to have these other points emphasized instead of (fill in the blank)."

Do you see what I'm getting at? Let your Production Director know that they did a good job. Let them know that they helped get the sale from a new client who may have never bought radio before...or any adver­tising. You know that clients like that usually haven't got a clue as to what they want, and it's only by hearing something that they finally figure out what they want. Just like buying a car, you may not know what car you want until you test drive a few. But make sure the production people understand this, too. That way we won't feel like we're wasting our time on specs.

Production people, all I can say to you is, specs do work. I have found this to be true (sometimes the hard way). They just don't work the way we think they should. Specs are an idea starter. They should never be viewed as the finished product. If the spec creates business for the station, if the spec convinces the client to buy, if the spec brings in advertising dollars that previously weren't there, then they have done their job; and who cares whether or not they get on the air. Your paycheck is secure because you helped deliver another paying client to your station. Sometimes, that's all there is to our job descrip­tions.

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