Tales of the Tape - May 1996

dennis-daniel--logo-aug95-tfnby Dennis Daniel

It was my great honor to be asked by the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) to be a guest speaker at their Las Vegas convention this past April. The topic, "How To Turn Your Production Department Into A Profit Center." In other words, how to look at the production department as the entity it truly is!! (My audience was comprised of station owners, GMs, PDs and fellow production brethren.) As readers of this column know, this is a subject very near and dear to all our hearts! Why doesn't upper management get it? Why are we lumped between sales and programming? Why are we underpaid? Why is creativity something that is (in most cases) no longer nurtured and encouraged? I thought you might like to know how I tackled the subject. The following is an outline of my seminar. If it makes sense to you, show it to your employer! Make them see what is plainly before them, the fact that production is the lifeblood of their station! (Areas in italics indicate an actual excerpt of the talk that was tied to the various points presented.)

"How To Turn Your Production Department Into A Profit Center" - A Breakdown of the Main Points

by Dennis Daniel

A. Major Source of Revenue: "What is a major source of revenue for radio stations? How do we earn a living? By selling air time. And what runs in that air time? Commercials! And who produces those commercials? An ad agency, the client or the station."

B. Reasons Client Has Station Do Spot: If a client is using the station as its creative source (rather than an agency), chances are:

1. They are on a budget (or have no other choice).
2. They can't afford (or haven't even thought about) an advertising agency.
3. Their product or service is very clear cut and radio friendly (a nightclub, car stereos, a doctor, dentist, restaurant).
4. They've never been on the radio and never tried to have a spot cut before.
5. They like the idea that the spot comes free with the buy.

"What a perfect chance to shine! To show some creativity! To create something that's not only good for the client, but also for the sound of the station. We have control! But...who will create this commercial...and how?"

C. Various Production Department Scenarios: "The way the production department is looked upon and functions can vary from station to station, market to market." Examples:

1. A jock who also does production or is the Production Director (usually a part-time air personality).
2. A writer who assigns copy to jocks.
3. A traffic manager who also writes and assigns copy to jocks.
4. Salespeople who write (and sometimes produce) their own spots or write them for jocks to produce.
5. A Production Director who writes and produces, but doesn't voice spots.
6. A Production Director who does it all! Write, voice, produce and traffic.
7. A Production Director who does both commercial and station imaging production.
8. One person for imaging, one for commercial production.
9. An outside vendor.

"For the most part, the department is treated as a part of sales and programming, rather than a true department in and of itself."

D. The Right Person Behind The Mike: When it comes to the creation of a spot, why would anybody want to settle for anything less than the best? Why is this department, a major source of revenue, so maligned at so many radio stations?

"It may have to do with a general misunderstanding of the 'creative process' and the people who practice it. (i.e. 'A straight read with a bed is fine! Why get fancy.') Commercial production is one of the last bastions of creativity left at radio stations. Imagine how business would improve if the Production Director was someone who loved 'theater of the mind!' Someone who lived to create (and/or inspire others to create) interesting, attention getting commercials and station promos of every genre! Someone who dazzled your clients with great concepts and interpretation. Someone who brought images to life in the listener's mind's eye. Someone who could sell commercials on spec to both prospective clients and major advertisers looking for station promotional tie-ins! Someone who could turn your production department into a profit center!!! A place clients turn to because, just by listening to your station, they know the quality of the work!"

E. How Do You Get That Right Person? (These are all methods I have used!)

1. Look within your own station for people who really love radio.
2. Have a strong intern program to give potential producers the chance to grow and learn.
3. Place an ad in Radio And Production or other trade publications and say you're looking for a dynamic producer who loves the art. Then, listen to those tapes!
4. If you only have a writer (or salespeople) assigning spots to jocks, encourage them to get in touch with local comedy clubs and theater groups. There are lots of would-be writers, producers, directors and actors who would love the chance to do radio commercials. In almost all cases they'd gladly do it for free to get the experience. You may even want to offer them some cash or something on trade. This could lead you to good prospective employees for the future. It also provides vocal diversity on the air.
5. Hire an outside vendor. There are many production companies throughout the country that provide commercials and promos for radio stations that can't afford or can't find qualified people. They are usually very reasonably priced. You can strike up a frequency deal and pay for through commercial rate charges.
6. These days, most musicians have their own recording studios in their home. Find a local musician (it could be an employee) who has the capacity to create music. You can produce inexpensive jingles for your clients!
7. Use outside local studios for your production. If you have poor equipment and can't afford to update, you can barter studio time with local production houses and use their talent pool to voice and/or sing commercials and jingles.

F. The Right Tools: Whenever possible, always try to maintain the industry standard for studio equipment. The digital revolution is here and becoming more affordable by the day. Also, maintain an updated production music and sound effects library. They are an indispensable source of creativity and inspiration. (You can even create great jingles using pre-produced music beds!)

"By having the capacity to create great commercials and promos, you give yourself the edge in getting more clients on the air. Creativity sells! The 'ear candy' of your station is just as important as the jocks who speak and the music you play. They give the station an image in the marketplace. I know stations whose production is so good, other stations hire them to write commercials for them! Get some great talent in house. Pay them fairly. Nurture them. Make them feel part of the station's success and growth. It won't be long before your station gains a reputation for quality spots, thus leading to more happy, paying clients. Treat your production department with the same respect you do any other. Before you know it, you'll turn it into the profit center it should be!"