The Last Hurrah

The Last Hurrahby Todd Beezley

There IS a judgement day. The  big boss invites you to a private meeting with the bigger boss. Your PD glumly mumbles something about “reorganization.” He can’t look you in the eye.

The palms get sweaty. Your heart hits overdrive.

They offer you a Coke.

The rest of the meeting is a fog. When you walk out, the radio equivalent of Novocain numbed, you remember something about “Thanks for the 19 1/2 years,” “We may have some part-time hours for you,” “Your position will not be filled.”

You’ve just been downsized.

Two weeks into your 4-week, on-site notice, the new GM asks you to host a radio writing seminar for the “real” victims...the sales staff you leave behind. Finances dictate they will now create their own copy.

How do you respond? Hopefully, with class. These are, after all, your friends and co-workers. They’re still in the fiery furnace. People who have it hard enough hitting the streets, handling the phones, handing in paperwork and dealing daily with select clients who project a strong resemblance to a well-known, orange-haired, red-nosed, now deceased clown (and his circus).

They’re sorry to see you go. What words of wisdom can you leave them with? Try this. Todd Beezley’s free-to-steal, totally non-copyrighted, post-exit interview outline for ex-Production Directors on their way to greener Eastern pastures. (In my case, Virginia...and not, necessarily, in radio.)

The Don’t Let the Screen Door Hit You on the Butt/I’m Outta Here/Best of Luck to You All/Radio Writing Seminar for Tom Clancy-Type Salespeople in the Rough

Grab attention early, or you’ll lose your listener.

1. Avoid hackneyed phrases: “You’ve tried the rest; now buy the best” may have been original once...at the turn of the century. But if they make bad fillers, they make terrible leads.

2. Make your lead PERSONAL. Draw your listener into your message early. Paint mind pictures with your copy. Then, pick sound effects and the right music to set the mood. This is key to setting a tone for the successful final call to action.

3. Whenever possible, limit your commercial to one or two thoughts. More than that is a smorgasbord, not a radio ad. Shotgun approaches may cover a lot more ground while introducing a new advertiser to your audience, but targeted ads are easier to follow and produce better results. Establish well-defined goals and well-developed themes. One possible exception to this rule MIGHT be an everything must go “sale” spot...i.e.

“Golf Store X has everything on sale. Clubs up to 60 percent off. Balls, $12.99 a 5-pack” etc. The rationale? If a golfer hears a shotgun ad for a golf store, the category of the store (golf) might be enough to catch his attention, and he might listen specifically to hear an item from the list that he needs. In the real world, you’ll have to compromise much to meet sponsor’s whims. But do your best to educate him/her. Grocery store list ads are boring to write and boring to read, so how will they be accepted by the listener?

Vary your approaches.

1. Multi-voice spots, one-voice spots, humorous spots, straight spots, jingles, voice over music ads—they all have their place and purpose. And they keep the station sound fresh.

2. Write dialect spots ONLY if you know your announcer can pull it off! Nothing sounds hokier than a poorly done accent, except poorly read (rather than spoken) dialogue, which leads us to....

3. Dialogue spots MUST sound natural. Key point! Write the way you talk. And if you’re not sure if you’d actually say it that way, “try it before you buy it” (clever line, eh?)! Before anyone records word one, sit at your keyboard with a stopwatch or glance up at the sweep hand on your clock (all copy must be timed) and rehearse the words out loud. They may look good on paper but do they please the ear? Is there the natural flow of conversation? If not, it’s time to get out the blue-pencil (more on that to come).

4. Have you entertained sufficiently (through various means) to lead the listener to your desired conclusion?

Your boarding pass, please? Where’s your commercial going?

1. Can you reach your motivation destination in :30 or do you need a :60?

2. Do you have your client’s key copy points in logical listening order?

3. Will you have to go back to your client and suggest that some of his desired content would be better expressed in a second ad, or a third ad, or in as many ads as it takes to present each major theme in an easily absorbable audible theme? If you’re too short-handed to do multiple spots, PRIORITIZE. Which of the copy point/ads is of paramount importance. Go for spot number two next month.

4. When you reach your destination, is your listener there with you? Is he/she ready to say yes? If not, how must your ad be changed to produce results, which brings in repeat customers? Your call to action is the key to success. Make sure it lines up with the intentions of your advertiser and the thrust of your developed copy points.

The editing process: painful/necessary

1. Good enough is NOT good enough. An announcer with pride in his work will recut his commercial as often as he must to deliver the message clearly, concisely and convincingly. A commercial writer must do no less.

2. Reasons to edit: length of spot, wordiness, tedium, not reaching the sponsor’s goal. You must write for the listener AND for the sponsor. Where the two audiences are in conflict, consult the sponsor. Listen, first. Discover his rationale. He knows his business better than you do. Then, share your opinions, tactfully. You know your audience better than he does. There should be a meeting of the minds that puts both of you on the same page.

3. Details, details. Without the luxury of a full-time copy/production person, your announcing staff will have much more work to do. If you want to keep them on your team, make their job easier. Check and double check copy points, run dates, keyboard errors. When in doubt, include phonetic pronunciations IN the copy. And, if possible, get copy pre-approval before asking your voices to record, re-record and possibly re-re-record your work. You’ll have a much happier staff.

4. Strive for longer lead time. If you know an order starts in three weeks, do yourself a favor. You’re writing the copy now, and you’ll be burning much midnight oil unless you discipline yourself to avoid the last minute rush job, as often as you can. And if you can find a willing secretary or sales assistant to pound out a piece of copy for you from time to time, be sure to highlight the key items on your order that get hit first, best and hardest.

Discover your own hidden talents...and polish them.

1. Not everyONE can do everyTHING well. But you may surprise yourself (and others) by how well you can write. And you’ll have one advantage over your ex-full-time production pro. You have first-person contact with your client. You know where he’s coming from, what might please him, and what needs to be in his ad better than anyone else, no matter how well you try to communicate this information to your creative source.

2. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, even if it’s an idea starter for a new ad. Bounce concepts around the office with your co-workers, and be prepared to offer them the same courtesy for those times when THEY may be stumped. We all hit dry spots. Don’t be discouraged. Put your fingers to the keyboard and type, anything, no matter how outrageous or off the wall. You may find a tie-in.

3. You might have a winning spot on the way…or a loser. But if you don’t start writing, you have a “Big Zero,” and that’s a “Fer Sure!”

4. Take copy home with you (very infrequently) and ask family members in target demographics for their opinions, especially if you’re unsure of your approach. Does your copy hit home, at home? When you don’t ask, they can’t tell you. Don’t try this too often if you want to keep the frying pan away from your head. But every now and then should be fine.

5. Keep copies of your work. You can learn from your own experience what did and did not work. Don’t doom yourself to repeating the same mistakes. You’re like a baby learning to walk. As you grow, the writing will start to flow. And before you know it, you’ll be running!

6. Attend writing seminars when possible. Seek guidance from the pros, if you plan on taking this work seriously. Dick Orkin has an annual creative seminar in LA. Friends who’ve been there tell me it’s well worth the time and the money.

Summary: The blank page is your palette. Your mind is the raw color. Your keyboard is the brush. Go write some works of art. And above all...have fun. I did.

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