Q It Up: How Long Should a Spot Take to Produce?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95by Sterling Tarrant

Don't you love Tuesdays? To me, Tuesdays always seem to be the day when at least thirty spots will be dumped in my lap, all due by Friday or before. I'm writing this on a Tuesday, and today it's been so bad that I decided to do an unofficial survey. I went around and asked all of my co-workers if any one of them would like to be Production Director. All but one said "No." The one who said "yes" is so positive that she'll agree to just about anything. She's now shoveling poop out of the men's room with a spoon.

Two months ago, I wrote about timesaving tips and, boy, do I need them now. It prompted Von Coffman, the creator of "Radio Writer" software to call me up and send me a demo of the program. If you'd like to know more about Radio Writer, see the review back in the August, 1996 issue of RAP. It's a great program. The ability to have your copy saved in a database and to do a search on any word and have it call up every instance of that word is amazing! What a time saver! In fact, Von said he created "Radio Writer" because of time constraints. He had a manager once who thought he could write spots, and they'd always be a minute twenty or a minute thirty or, on the other hand, forty-five or fifty-five seconds long. Then when Von edited them down, he basically had to rewrite it and that took a lot of time. So he wrote a program that actually keeps track of how long a piece of copy is, as you write it. Amazing!

So as Von and I spoke, I asked him to give me his thoughts about a situation I currently have. I have a jock who would like for me to spell everything out for him in terms of how long a spot should take to produce. He basically wants me to be able to tell him when he's hitting the mark in terms of doing good production in a reasonable amount of time. Before I share what I came up with, I thought I'd get Von's thoughts. After all, he's had fifteen years of Production Director experience, and in addition to "Radio Writer," he also owns his own production house called "The Spot Seller" in Pocatello, Idaho. Here are his thoughts:

I think a really good rule of thumb is that you should take all the time you need to do the spot. Who's to say that today's $200 client won't be tomorrow's $2,000 client? My basic philosophy is that you put as much time into the $200 spot as you would the $2,000 spot. If my voice is on the thing, I want a small rip and read to sound as good as something I spent six hours on. No matter how big or little a client is, you do a stellar job because you never know when that client will turn around and spend a whole bunch of money with you.

I agreed with Von, but there's often a proverbial manager who wants to make sure he gets the bang out of his Production Director buck. What about that? Von says:

Well, companies like mine take advantage of the management philosophies that want you to write and produce a piece of copy as fast as you can. One of the selling points of a production company is that they can give a client a bigger bullet for their advertising gun because a radio station is quickly making their production.

If a client is spending ten percent of their monthly gross revenue on advertising, and let's say in a perfect world that they're spending it all on radio and your client's revenue is fifty grand, thus $5,000 will go for advertising. That's a big chunk of change. For a client to spend that kind of money and to then have a guy go in and spend ten to twenty minutes to write and produce his spot...if you were that client, wouldn't you feel kind of slighted?

So let's agree that you should take the time to do it right at the conceptualization and copywriting phase. But it's Tuesday and I've got thirty, oops, make that thirty-five spots on my desk due by Friday. What then, Von?

Well, a lot of sales departments treat their production departments like a drive-thru spot shop: "I'll take two sixty's and a thirty to go please, with a Diet Coke to shoot it down with."

If you train the sales department to give you a lot of lead time and to give you all the information the first time, then you don't have to worry about how fast you knock 'em out.

Okay, now my sales department is trained and they're giving me lots of lead time every Tuesday, but they're now turning in last-minute orders on Friday. What now, Von?

Well, now there's a difference between knowing whether to do a theater of the mind piece or just a rip and read with a nice piece of music under it. But regardless, it still has to be a stellar job.

So at that point, since the salespeople don't spend the time to give me the time, I shouldn't really be concerned that I'm writing and producing a sixty-second spot in thirty minutes? I didn't ask Von this question, but I can interject here and say...YES! As long as it's still a stellar job. Do you see why I'm asking all of my staff if they want my job? Do you see why they'd rather shovel poop than take it?

Okay, so I'm back to my original premise. And that is, time guidelines for production that I can present to my fellow producers. Here's what I've come up with, and I'm basing this on the following foundations: the copy has been written and approved, you're using a digital editor, and you have a good working knowledge of it. You also have a good knowledge of the production and sound effects libraries, and you have to archive the spot and possibly make an additional dub. Here are the guidelines:

Dry Read: Fifteen minutes or less.

Read With Music: Thirty to forty-five minutes (that is, finding appropriate music that matches the copy)

Two to Three Voice Slice of Life: Thirty to sixty minutes

Hot Promo or Concert Spot: One and a half to two hours straight. Don't count interruptions and phone calls

For all of these add another thirty minutes if you're coaching inexperienced talent.

That's just for production. For copywriting, the guidelines are a lot more nebulous. That's because sometimes the idea is there. Other times you have to stare at a cow or something to find inspiration. Back to the production guidelines. If you have to attend a staff meeting while you're in the middle of production, add another ninety minutes. If a spot involves a kid or a dog, kiss half your day good-bye. If it's a Tuesday, hide.

Finally, if you think these guidelines are full of it, I'll be in the men's room shoveling.

Seriously, feel free to send comments or suggestions to add to the guidelines, and whatever you do, don't tell your boss that you can really do all this stuff in half the time. Keep being a miracle worker.

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