R.A.P. Interview: Eric Stephens

Eric Stephens, Co-owner, Red Monkey Ads & Ideas, Portland, Oregon

eric-stephens-jul98by Jerry Vigil

If you've ever thought about starting your own advertising agency, this interview is a must read. Eric Stephens went the route of most radio production people, doing the airshifts and working his way into a decent Production Director's position in a major market. But like many who spend the days and nights in the production room, creative boundaries started appearing, and the urge to create without limitations became stronger than the comfort of that paycheck coming in regularly. So Eric left a good Production Director's job, found a partner, and started Red Monkey Ads & Ideas. It's only a half-year old, but it's off to a good start. With ten years in the business behind him and still in his twenties, Eric has plenty of time to make it work. And there's no question about whether he has the talent to make it work. His collection of awards is growing fast. Most recently, he won Best Commercial--Large Markets in the 1997 Radio And Production Awards, and he pocketed $25,000 for first and second place in the Radio Mercury Awards. Check out this month's RAP Cassette to hear the award winning commercials, and read on to find out what makes this success story possible.

JV: Tell us a bit about your background in the business.
Eric: I got into the business when I was eighteen. I called around to all of the different stations around town trying to talk to all of the Program Directors, and the only Program Director who called me back after all those calls was a guy by the name of Bill Bradley who worked for KUPL. At the time, the station was number one in the 25-54 and 12+ demos. He spent forty-five minutes with me on the phone. My question to him was, “Do I go to college for a couple of years and then get into broadcasting, or do I go do a broadcasting school?” I don’t remember the answer, but I ended up going to broadcasting school and got a job about six months later at an AM in Vancouver. Then I just traveled throughout the Northwest doing work in cities like Yakima, Eugene, and then some part-time work for Z100 in Portland. I was the fill-in guy there for a few months and did mornings in Eugene. I left Eugene when there was a production opening at KUPL. They were owned by BayCom at the time, and I went to work for them and spent four years there.

JV: Was KUPL your first Production Director gig?
Eric: Yes. But, when I was doing mornings in Eugene, I did all the station promos down there, voiced a lot of stuff, and did mornings as well. There were twelve-hour days there, and that’s where I started liking the production end of it. When I was in Eugene and trying to get the job in Portland, I did everything I could to make an impression. I was like a record weasel. I sent up a watermelon at one time. I brought breakfast to those guys. It’s about an hour and a half drive, but I did everything and anything possible to get that job. There were a lot of other guys that Bill could have hired, and it really showed the value of staying in touch with somebody. That’s what this business is all about. It’s about the contacts you’ve made.

JV: When you arrived at KUPL, was it just the one station at that facility?
Eric: No. BayCom had the first duopoly in Portland. They owned KUPL-FM, KUPL-AM, and KKJX. Then American Radio Systems took over and later bought KUFO and The Beat. Then, as I was leaving, they were bringing KINK on board.

JV: So, right before you left, how many stations were you dealing with?
Eric: My primary duties were with KUPL AM and FM and KKJZ. I was the Production Director for all three stations doing all the commercials and all the imaging. My assistant was Mark Evans. He was copywriter and a producer as well.

The unique thing with our situation was that we wanted the work to be of the utmost quality, and we didn’t want to put anything on the air that was poor quality. So we spent a lot of late nights making sure that happened. But, you can only go at that pace for so long with the volume that came through those stations.

JV: Did you enjoy the work?
Eric: Yes, BayCom was a great company to work for. When they owned KUPL and KKJZ, it was a small company out of San Francisco, and then they sold to American Radio Systems. I have nothing but great things to say about them.

JV: What signal told you it was time to leave?
Eric: It’s an interesting story; it’s kind of like Seinfeld in a way because you want to go out as “on top” as you possibly can if you were going to leave. Fortunately, it worked that way for us. I’m talking about my assistant Mark and me. I left and then Mark left shortly thereafter. He didn’t come with me, but he left and started working for an agency.

Anyway, six months before we left, we wanted to show that a radio station’s production department could work as well as the creative team at any agency could, not only for commercial clients, but for any project that the radio stations could bring on. And we had two really good test cases right in a row. The first one was for a company called Clutch Doctors that allowed us to actually do things that radio stations don’t do a lot of, which is cast union talent and have them come in and voice the ads. We wrote outstanding commercials for them and were able to produce them the right way using the right talent. Many times, you don’t have the time to do that stuff. You have to just turn and burn and get it on the air. I think when radio realizes that is not the way to go, they’ll have more success by actually turning it over to their creative department. You know the standard line. When you ask, “Have you ever tried radio?” the response is often, “Well, yes we have. It didn’t work.” Well, we wanted to prove that wrong. We wanted to give them commercials that would work. We wanted to show that if we had the time and the resources that we could do it on par with any advertising agency around.

In the test case for Clutch Doctors, we did two ads for them that ended up winning a Rosy Award here in Portland. The Rosy is for radio and television, and our award won Best of Show for the Radio category, and that category is open to agencies. Other radio stations don’t participate in it normally. Advertising agencies like Weiden & Kennedy were up against us with some Nike spots, and we ended up coming out on top.

The second test case was when KUPL went through a frequency change, and everybody knows that is one of the scariest things you can do. We needed to take roughly two hundred and eighty thousand people and tell them there was a new address on the radio station. It was only two tenths up, but at the same time, with digital tuners, it really doesn’t matter any more. It could have been halfway across the dial. This is where my current partner comes in, Steve Flood, who was a free-lancer at the time. We brought him in on that project and did the complete frequency change project in a week. They only gave us a week to put it together, and we designed an outdoor billboard, a direct mail piece, and we put together a comprehensive plan for putting it all together on the air. With some good writing and some really good production elements, there was no way that anyone could touch the radio station and not realize three things: Number one, what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and where the station was moving to.

Those were the two big test cases where we proved we could do it on a commercial level as good as anyone, and the Rosy Award pretty much backed that up. It showed that we were on par with any other agency when we had the time to do it right. The idea was to do things internally instead of spending fifteen or twenty thousand dollars with an ad agency.

After those two cases, we really started opening our eyes to what radio’s really like on the corporate side. It’s a great industry to work in, and I loved every minute of it. But at the same time, it never seemed that those dreams would become a reality. If they had, I don’t think I ever would have left. I loved the people I worked for, and I loved the industry. But I thought it was unjust to do that to any client that didn’t have the budget for it, to give them less than a good commercial. I thought it was a mistake to sit there and watch Program Directors write things at the last minute, things that were just low quality. Why do you do that? I mean, you’re talking about the differentiation between your station and another station two-tenths of a point away from you. Well, that has a lot to do with the writing and the creation of the promos and IDs and acting more like an in-house agency, and not just for profit, but for the sound of the station. What comes out of the speakers is number one, and it just seemed like that message, as much as I tried to hammer that home to corporate and to anybody else I could talk to about it, never came through. And they would not allow budget for help. We were still doing a lot of dubbing and things that, really, we should have been able to get somebody else in there to do. We should have been tackling big projects like frequency changes and campaigns for big clients, for all clients. When you have ratings fluctuations on the down side, and every station has them, that’s a great way to keep direct clients. If you’re doing their ads, and they are happy with them, they’re going to stay with your radio station through some fluctuations.

My suggestion to management was that you hire this guy as the point guy. He is the Creative Director, but we all have input. You give us an office that is salesperson proof, and I don’t say that in a negative way because we had a great relationship with our sales staff. Give us a creative office where we could go in and create dynamite campaigns. This office would have every resource that you could possibly need to do creative in a radio station atmosphere. You have the Creative Director, and you have two good producers, which would be my assistant, Mark and myself. The three of us would have been a great team. I had a great General Manager in Stan Mak who really knows radio and believes in creative, but I think his hands were tied budget-wise. I don’t know if it was that, or that radio in many cases just doesn’t see the value in creative. “Just turn and burn and get them on the air. We don’t care what it sounds like.”

JV: That sounds familiar. And you bring up a good point about applying this type of creative to the station’s promos as well.
Eric: I know there’s a ton of great promo guys out there, and there are some big stations around the world that are read and heard in this magazine. But at the same time, that’s unique because a lot of times it’s just a Program Director writing the promos. Or in my case, I got to write them, but the information came down so late that you didn’t have enough time to make them sound their best. Writing is key, and when you don’t have time to write it out, it can make your station sound very generic. I often use this example for a Monday Night Football promotion. You’ve seen the ads that were on television last year for Nike about peewee football with the guy with the ESPN voice saying, “Joey was an outspoken young man…,” that real deep, distinct voice. “It was a cold, windy afternoon on the playground….” I don’t know his name, but you know who I’m talking about. My idea was to put that on the radio. That concept could have been written by three guys at a radio station about a Monday Night Football promotion, and you could have gone out and hired that guy’s voice and had him on your air. Why not? Why not put it in the budget to have those kinds of things? Those are the things that, when they’re done on a consistent basis, will set you apart from your competition, and that’s what it is about. It is about winning.

JV: Did the station ever give you the budget to hire some talent to do spots and promos?
Eric: It was never through the radio station. When we talked to the client initially, we always got a feel from them whether they had the budget to hire talent. Then my assistant, Mark, and I would go forward, look for the talent, and get it taken care of.

JV: So you were able to do this to some degree for a little while.
Eric: In certain cases, yeah. But it was too tough, because the workload we had didn’t enable us to do stellar creative for every client, and this was wrong.

JV: Maybe there weren’t enough results from those few attempts for management to say, “Yeah, this sounds great. Let’s hire Steve” or somebody else.
Eric: Well, the amazing part of it is that the results were there, in the way the client acted every time we were able to do something. They got jacked about the product. They got jacked about the radio stations. They were very impressed that we took time to go out there, that the creative guys went out and pitched. They pitched the scripts they wrote and supported them with strategy just like an advertising agency would do.

I think the results were there, but I think radio has a hard time seeing it. And it’s not straight money. It’s not like hiring ten new salespeople to go out and hit the streets. You’ll see the results in money, and if you don’t, they’re gone. But in the production end of it, it isn’t like that. And my idea was not to make a profit center out of it, but it would create profit indirectly because those clients would continue to come back.

JV: Well, it sounded like you had a few things working against you, the biggest of which is probably that this in-house agency approach is seldom employed at the radio station level.
Eric: Well, it isn’t done in radio, and my whole deal was, why not? I don’t wish radio stations any ill will, but it bodes better for me being at an agency now, because those clients do need that. They need a message that works for them.

I know Mel Karmazin from CBS is talking about it, and I’ve seen articles about him hiring Creative Directors from LA agencies to be a part of the corporate structure at CBS. I think that’s a great way to go and something they should talk about. If they’re going to make all this money back that they spent, they’re going to have to do it by some means other than hiring a zillion salespeople to beat every bush in town. That’s not going to make it happen. It’s not going to make radio less of a bastard child than it already is in the eyes of advertisers who do a lot of print or a lot of television. Radio is a great medium. It works well for the clients that we have at this agency, and I know it works well for radio station clients when it’s done right.

There has to be a whole change in attitude. There are tons of great producers at great stations all over the country, and they just don’t have time to do their jobs right. And they should. They need to. You have to give them the time and the resources. But the radio stations cannot see the direct result of it, and that’s the problem. That’s where it’s flawed.

JV: Is that why you left?
Eric:  It was a combination of things, and it was a really tough decision to make, but basically, it boiled down to being able to do the kind of work I wanted to do, really creative work, without having to siphon it through a bunch of stuff. We had a great relationship with our sales staff, but I wanted to be able to do the work without having to siphon it through a salesperson saying, “No, they’re not going to go for that.” You don’t have the time to fight them. You have deadlines, and the spots have to be on the air. And what’s nice now is that we can walk away from people and say, “You know what? You want a retail message, and our shop is about creative. We’re not a good match, but when you decide you really want some cut-through creative based on strategy, let us know.” And that’s a freedom we didn’t have at the radio station.

JV: Can you really afford that freedom now?
Eric: Thankfully, we can because we didn’t leverage ourselves too much. We have that room to be able to walk away from people, and it’s a nice feeling. And it’s not just an artistic deal; it’s a nice feeling because we believe in it. We believe that you have to have something special. You’re inundated with thousands of advertising messages every day, and people had better take notice of what you’re creating, or else, it’s no good. They’d better feel emotion behind it. If they don’t, it’s not going to work for you. Our feeling at our agency is that we can take people who have a sixty thousand dollar budget and make it sound like a hundred and twenty because customers will actually come in and recite your ad to you. They take ownership in it, and they get a good feeling about your company.

JV: Many people talk about the fear of leaving a radio station to go out on their own. Was it scary for you?
Eric: It was the scariest thing in the world because you don’t get a paycheck anymore. It’s gone. Two weeks from now I won’t be getting that regular check that comes in, and in my case, I loved what I was doing. I loved the radio station, and they made me a nice offer to move up with the company. I think a lot of Production Directors don’t get the same opportunities I did, which was to be a part of the corporate structure, to be in on strategic meetings about how the station was going to be put to use and where the station was going in the next year. I was in on all that stuff, and it was all because people saw something in me or wanted me to be a part of that.

JV: You’re roughly six months into your own business now. Is the fear gone?
Eric: Not necessarily. We started as a two-man shop, as more of a creative boutique. We had a decision to make. How big do we want this thing to be? And our decision was that we want it to be as big as we can make it. To do that puts us on par with the Weiden & Kennedys and McCann-Ericksons of the world. That’s the scary part now. Those shops are based on creative. We could stop right where we are with two people and have a creative boutique, have a lot of fun, and probably make in the next few years seventy, eighty, or a hundred thousand dollars a year apiece. It’s mapped out that way. But the scary part now is growth, being able to hire someone and the little mini-economy you create all on your own. All of a sudden, you’re writing checks to companies that are supplying you with voice talent, and people are relying on you for things. It’s not being in business and surviving on our own that’s scary so much. We’ve been fortunate there, and we’ve done okay. I think now it’s the growth. We just hired two new people, and to be able to be responsible for these people and offer them something is a big responsibility. They’re part-time right now. We have an account executive and a media buyer. We’ve had some tremendous successes, and we’ve been very fortunate so far.

JV: It sounds like you definitely have the business off the ground. Were there clients that you brought with you from the station to get you off the ground or are your present clients new?
Eric: Well, there was a client that we had before, The Clutch Doctors, which was that first initial case. That client was very interested in keeping his creative with the guys who got him some success. So, they stayed with us, and their company is exploding. They’re great guys to work for because they say, “Here’s a blank pad. Create.” And those are the kinds of clients that you don’t find very often.

JV: You’ve obviously been able to gather some other clients over the past six months.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve got Mailboxes, Etc. here locally in the Portland-Vancouver area which is thirty-three stores, and an athletic club. And we’re doing creative work for a big car dealership in town. We just completed some television work for them.

JV: It sounds like a lot of fun. It reminds me of the old television show Thirty Something.
Eric: I don’t remember enough about that show, but we got to talking about that one day and somebody said, “Just like Thirty Something.” And my partner goes, “Yeah, I think they went bankrupt in the end.”

JV: Well, hopefully you’ll have better luck. Where did you get the name Red Monkey?
Eric: Red Monkey came from a liquid lunch at a place called The 1201 here in Portland. They had little names of drinks put up above their bar in these little wood stenciled letters, and one of them said, “Pink Monkey.” My partner goes, “Pink Monkey. That sounds like it would work.” And we’re like, “No, no, not Pink Monkey.” Then he goes, “Well, what if we change the color, you know, blue, red....” Then we started thinking about Red Monkey, the little chain monkeys, the barrel of monkeys, and so that’s where it came from. We tried to over-analyze it and finally just stopped. It’s Red Monkey. Do we like it? Yes. Then, let’s put it out there. That’s a good attitude to have. If you really have that kind of attitude, it will either get you in trouble really fast, or it will generate something that will get big.

JV: What does Red Monkey offer to clients? What’s on the menu?
Eric: We do radio, television, print, and now with the addition of the media buyer and account executive, we’re a full service agency. I think the biggest thing we offer any of our clients is that the creative comes first. You can have a strategic media buy placed out, but if what you’re putting out there for people to listen to is not entertaining, or they don’t take any kind of ownership in it, it’s not going to work, no matter how big the media buy is. At least they’re going to get a lot more bang for their buck, and I think that’s the biggest thing we have to offer, our ideas. That’s why the company is called Red Monkey Ads & Ideas, because it’s our ideas that will propel it, and I think it’s our ideas that are our unique selling point.

JV: Why a full service agency? It seems the natural progression for someone from radio production is to do a radio-only agency.
Eric: That was the idea in the beginning, to do radio only. We even investigated and got some prices as low as about thirty thousand dollars to create a studio to go with it. Then we started thinking about where to go from there. We weren’t scared of being radio-niched because we have a lot of fun with that, and I don’t think there are a lot of really good talented radio writers out there. It’s a hard medium to write for, very hard. The thing was, we got to thinking about it and thought, “If we get the studio, what are we going to make our money on?” That’s basically just like a computer, like a tool for us to do spec work on and to control some prices so we don’t have to pay a hundred bucks an hour at a studio somewhere. Well, we couldn’t supplement that unless it was a separate company with work from other agencies. And because we were also an agency, no agencies would want to come to our studios because they would be afraid that there could be a conflict there.

JV: You’re either a production house or you’re an agency.
Eric: Exactly. And that was really a bummer for me because I was looking forward to having my own studio. Every producer in the world dreams about having his own studio. I think there’s another side of the coin in that you’re either an agency or you’re a creative boutique, and right now creative boutiques are very hot because people are getting away from really large agencies and going down to really specific people. Let’s find the best radio writer. Let’s find the best television guy. And if you can do radio well, I think there’s a ton of opportunity out there.

JV: Do you think a creative boutique for radio could also have a studio?
Eric: Absolutely. I think it would be a great tool to have, just like our big printers or our Mac for our print layout. If you have the money, it’s a great tool. And it can save you a little bit in studio rental fees, and you can cut your clients a lot better deal. But then you’ve got to worry about music beds and all that kind of stuff. It takes a lot to have a full service studio up and running where you can find just the right sound effect or just the right EQ. It’s a pretty elaborate deal.

JV: You had an award-winning commercial in the RAP Awards, first place, Large Market Commercials. Tell us about how that spot came about and what encouraged you to enter it in the RAP Awards.
Eric: The client was Accessory Outfitters, and that’s something that was done when Steve was a free-lancer and I was working at the radio station. We hired him to come in and do that project. We’d entered some awards the year before. It was the first time we’d entered the RAP Awards, and we tied ourselves for second runner-up. We always had goals out there to win a Rosy, win a Mercury, and win a RAP Award because your peers are voting on this all around the world. We didn’t want to stop. So the next year, Steve came in on some projects, and we started really wanting to prove to the organization that we could do things on par with the best people in the business.

We had a client, Accessory Outfitters, who had done some radio but wasn’t real happy with the guy reading over music. So we talked about strategy with him for a long time, had a couple of different meetings about where he was going, and we came up with the fact that he needed to mine where there was gold. His gold was in men on our rock station, KUFO. His whole business, Accessory Outfitters, is accessories for trucks and cars, brush guards, and very manly things. So we narrowed down the creative to a pitch for guys, and the spot, “General,” that won that award, was one of a two-part series. There was also a spot called “Mr. Mom.”

“General” was focused on the idea of how you’ve put up with your wife or significant other. Now it’s pay-back time. You’ll hear it on The Cassette, but one of the key lines in that thing is, “You didn’t mess up on the do I look fat question. You watched Little Women twice. You were there when she tried on the whole fall collection…. Now, it’s pay-back time, and you’re going to take her and your truck to Accessory Outfitters.” And this is the line I love the most, “…where she’ll sit in a hard plastic chair and watch while you talk to guys like Chuck and Joe about manly things, things like brush guards.” Guys can really relate. They’ve been through all that.

The client at first was very leery. They want to be all things to all people, especially clients that are smaller. And they don’t want to shove anybody away. “But, strategically, you’ve got to mine where there’s gold, and there’s not a lot of women who are coming into your store. So, put it on a rock station. Work with our account executive. This is the right demo out of the five stations that ARS has in this market, and this is the right creative.” The tag line for the spot was “stuff for men,” and we convinced the client to change up his lobby. Make sure he has Sportscenter on. Make sure he has Sports Illustrated on the counter. Make it very guy friendly in the way they approach their customers. And when females or women want to get gifts for men, they come to where there are gifts for men, and that was basically the campaign. We got those spots done and liked the way they turned out and decided to enter them along with a few other things. We were happy with the results and really appreciated everybody who voted for them and liked them. It was a big honor because, like I said, it’s everybody around the world that gets the magazine and votes.    

JV: How did the spots work for the client?
Eric: Outstanding. It wasn’t really people with souped up cars who came in, but it was people for brush guards and running boards. And they actually got a lot of calls from women who said, “Hey I’m a woman, and I’ll come in there anytime I want to.” And they’d come marching in getting stuff for their trucks and for their boyfriends. It was remarkable. I couldn’t give you a specific result in increased sales, but every time they were on the radio, their sales increased a good percentage. It wasn’t any big shot through the roof, but it was a gradual climb, which is what creative advertising does. You have to run it and run it. And as they did, they saw increases every quarter.

JV: That’s a great success story. Maybe a copy of this page of the interview will be slipped under some GMs’ doors.
Eric: Absolutely. Again, it’s working with the client one on one and not funneling your creative through an AE. And I don’t say this to talk badly about salespeople, but advertising agencies don’t go out and just have one person pitch the creative. It’s the creative team that goes out and does it. These are the guys that are out there asking the client the questions. We get a strategy statement down on paper. Even at the radio station we did this. We get the client to sign off on strategy. That way when the salesperson says, “I just don’t like it. That’s not going to work for my client,” you say, “Well you know what, it’s based on strategy, and the client signed off on this strategy. So you’re going to have to work harder than that.” This statement really saves your butt, and it works a lot better on the agency level when you can walk away from the client like we talked about earlier. But it worked at the station level, too. The clients respect that, and you can call them on it.

JV: What’s Steve’s background?
Eric: He is from Seattle. He went to the School of Visual Concepts up there and was at McCann-Erickson. He worked for INS Advertising here in Portland, and is just an outstanding copywriter and very good at layout. He’s an idea guy.

JV: So he has more of a traditional agency background whereas yours is a radio background. Obviously, Steve’s background is going to be beneficial in your agency, but what does your radio background bring to Red Monkey?
Eric: Well, the group I was with really let me be a part of planning meetings and strategy meetings, and I just urge any Program Director or General Manager to let your Production Director be a part of that. That kind of thing  was really important when we started the agency because we talked about overall campaigns, and I had the insight on how radio is effective. I know now how much The Oregonian, which is the big newspaper in Portland, spends and how much they’re going to make versus radio. I can talk that kind of language with clients that we have who do a lot of print and maybe want to try radio. I can show them the benefits of radio.

The other part of my radio background is the producer’s aspect, which is just invaluable every time we go out. When we walk into a studio or when we’re writing something, I can go, “You know what? That’s going to sound fake,” or, “We’re going to have to rework that because I know how that’s going to sound in the studio.” After years of producing and being on the air, you can walk into a studio and do that. I was in a studio the other day, and I was explaining to the producer, “…in order to make that sound this way, you can double it up and split it left and right….” I was basically talking to the producer in his terms, and they’re going, “Oh, wow!” It just helps us get results a lot faster.

JV: Well, you’ve got one more great success story to tell, picking up $25,000 in award money for the 1st and 2nd place winners in the recent Radio Mercury Awards. Tell us about that.
Eric: Going to the Radio Mercury Awards was an amazing deal, and it was with those ads that won the Rosy for the Clutch Doctor. We entered them in the Radio Station Produced category. In short, they had eleven hundred entries for the Radio Mercury Awards, the best radio in the country, and it was really nice to be recognized because they narrow it down to forty-one in about five different categories. We had three out of the forty-one, and two of them were winners. One was a gold twenty thousand dollar winner and one was a five thousand dollar winner.

Our whole goal when we entered was, “Let’s enter and see if we can get one on the CD,” because that’s the real big thing. Let’s see Red Monkey’s name on the Radio Mercury Awards CD. And really, it’s the bar that radio people are judged by. It’s the best radio you can do in the country, and we were just amazed when they came back and told us. The Rosys don’t have a radio produced category, so you’re competing against Weiden & Kennedy, who are using Michael Jordan’s voice and all that, and it’s a lot tougher. But that’s the one thing that’s really cool about the Mercury Awards, their Radio Produced category. They give twenty-five thousand dollars away in that category. It was nice, and I would say to anybody else, enter the Mercury Awards with your best stuff.

JV: Was Steve in on these commercials?
Eric: No. It was Mark Evans, my assistant at the station. These spots, for Clutch Doctors, were that test case I mentioned earlier. I told Mark, this is a test case for us. Let’s prove that we can do it as good as an agency can, and lo and behold, that’s what happened. They won the best radio commercials in Portland up against Weiden, and then they won both Radio Mercury Awards. It was just an incredible deal. It was the most exciting thing ever.

JV: I’m sure after reading this interview, a lot of radio production people are going to give some consideration to doing their own thing, especially in this day of doing more work for more stations, too often for the same pay. What advice would you offer these people?
Eric: I would suggest you do your research. My partner and I got together like every Monday, and we got the books that we needed and talked about business plans and how we were going to make it successful and what our difference was and who we were going to attack and what clients we had. Go through it thoroughly. And if you really want to do it, go out and do it because there is enough sand in the sandbox for everybody. And it’s a lot of fun. The scariest thing will be when you don’t have that check there any more.

JV: What would you say to those stations that have a talented person in their production department right now?
Eric: To all these corporate companies, the Jaycors, the CBSs, the ABCs, and the American Radio Systems of the world, if you want to make that money back—and this is just a lowly guy who was a Production Director at a radio station that has a small agency in Portland, Oregon talking—but if you want to make the money back that you guys spent on all these radio stations at twenty times cash flow or whatever it was, then you really have to think about the creative, because you can have a great sales staff that will get the clients at first, and then the clients will go away. I really think it’s proven, and not only by the stuff that we did, that if you do this, you won’t see instant profits rising like you will if you hire a salesperson, but long term, you’ll have a better sounding radio station, and you’ll have happier clients that will stay with you.