Q It Up: Production Orders

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95by Sterling Tarrant

What if song writers had to deal with your typical everyday Account Executive filling out a production order when they were writing a typical song? The following is an instance. For clarification, I'm typing the typical AE's responses in italics.

Date Due: ASAP
Date In: 6/1/97
Client: Butterfly Kisses
Target Audience: Everybody
Type of Commercial: Straight read
What is this song's goal: Sell products and get the phone ringing
Other Information: Make it creative, GET THE PHONE RINGING!!!!

Actually, I'm sorry. That's not typical. The typical Account Executive wouldn't take the time to add that many exclamation points at the end of that last response. And for the sake of space, I didn't include the whole rest of the production order page that contained information that the AE didn't bother to fill out.

This month we focus on production orders. First of all, when it comes to production orders, I'm a firm believer in updating them at least once a year. If for nothing else, it forces (well, it tries to anyway) your typical Account Executive to look once again at what information you need to write and produce an effective spot.

You see, I also believe that a perfect production order is like a song. For instance, it lays out a story in as few words as possible. Like a song, it should get you interested about the background and the emotional appeal of a product or advertiser. Once you get past the familiar basics--Client Name, Date In, Start Date and Address--a properly filled out production order gets an AE to give you what you need to sing beautifully.

Of course, there are different orders for different stations; and if you are new to the business, we turn now to Johnny George, one of the Masters from "Hotspots" in Indianapolis, Indiana for a primer on the basic production order:

One of the things that I've done in the past is made the production order look like the front of a cart, showing client name, intro time, total time, start date, stop date, who's responsible for it, and the outcue...the last three words or so. It provides a quick way for a producer to type up a cart label if you're not using a digital system. The two most important things right up at the top...date that it came in and date due. Other things to include on the order: Co-op information, and if there are different cuts, all with different dates.

Archive information and music information are important, too. If a client runs seasonal campaigns every year, you need to know where to go back to find the spot. Dub information is necessary, too. Does the AE need a cassette? Do you need reels for other stations? For multiple stations in a building, a solution we've used is to have different colored sheets for different stations. Always remember, the production order is your paper trail. Not only can it lead you to where a spot is located, it makes sure you have the documentation to show you did your part of the job.

There are other ways that production orders are laid out. For instance, I myself (Sterling) have to be more concerned with copywriting than with traffic since my own situation is more like that of a production house producing spots for multiple stations. Georgann John, of WVOR/WHAM/WHTK, and the recently acquired WMAX and WRCD (and occasionally WNVE) in Rochester, New York also uses a similar production order. She explains:

What I use is something called a production fact sheet. It's a "one sheet" because the simpler, the better. It's just to generate a commercial. The top of the sheet is, of course, date needed, air dates, what station, length, salesperson, name of the client, advertising address, which is important because this is the name as it appears in the commercial. For instance, if the company's name is Joe's Bar and Grill Incorporated but they want their name on the spots just as "Joe's," then that's what I want on the sheet. If the client refers to their address as "Right on the corner, right on the price," then that's what I want on the sheet, instead of "123 Merchant Street."

Then I have a line that asks "Who are we targeting." We have to be very accountable for the results of our commercials. So when I'm constructing our ad, I have to know not just basic information like "Female, age 35," but what kind of female. What's her lifestyle? For example: "A career mother who doesn't have time to shop during the day, but still likes to look nice on a budget." That's targeting information. Then I'll know how to speak to the person I'm writing the commercial for.

Then I have a line for co-op qualifications and about six or seven lines for copy information, because less is more. Let's face it, these ads are only sixty seconds at best, and too much is too much. I just want facts, like "Levi's for $4.99," or "New shipment of Hondas just in stock."

Then I follow with a time dated offer/reason to respond to keep it from being just an image commercial which really doesn't prove performance for a client. We'd have to give the listeners a reason to pick up the phone or walk in the door. It could be a sale, or a preseason pricing, or a festival, or limited offer that ends soon, something that causes a time-sensitive offer. We're trying to get people in the door and prove that we can perform for a client. If we don't, they won't place a buy again.

Then I have a basic direction of copy. Male, female, specific talent requested, or a funny or serious ad. I like to be in charge of as much as the creative aspects of the ad as possible so that I can take the spot to where it needs to be.

I do have a very necessary line called "Script Approval prior to production" because if I don't get that, there's usually going to be some quirk, like a word missing, or something the client or salesperson forgot that I have to add back in there.

We turn now from Georgann John back to Johnny George as he stresses the need for "Client Personality" to be included in a production order:

It's good for the AEs to take a look around a person's office and make notes as to what a client's style is. In that way you can trigger a client's hot buttons. It's sad, but not too many stations bring the production person into the sale. Nine times out of ten, I think the salespeople give you a tape, or newspaper ad, or some idea of copy and they start making excuses about it, ultimately saying, "Feel free to do whatever you want with it." If the Production Director can get a feel of the client's personality and incorporate it into the ad, you're well on your way to closing the deal.

Does it all work? Yeah, when it's followed it does. When everybody takes the time to fill it all out, it does. However, getting them to do that consistently is the subject of another column. I'll write that one as soon as I finish the perfect production order.