Readers Respond: Article by Salesman Fires up Production Directors

by Jerry Vigil

Imagine a prison wherein the inmates publish a prison newspaper, a paper by prisoners for prisoners. Now imagine the editor of this paper, also a prisoner, deciding to let the warden write a front page article about how prisoners are viewed by wardens in general, and about how the lives of wardens and prison guards, compared to those of the prisoners, aren't so easy either. You might expect some otherwise quiet prisoners to come forth with some opinions of their own. That is exactly what happened last month as a result of publishing Doug Ferber's article: "Production: A Salesman's Point of View." Of the handful of responses we received, we chose the following three to share with you:

Doug Ferber, Account Executive at KSCS-FM, Dallas, gave a salesperson's perspective on being a salesperson. If I may, I'd like to respond with a Production Director's perspective on being a Production Director.

Just as Mr. Ferber doesn't speak for all Account Executives, neither do I profess to speak for all Production Directors; but, just as surely as AE's identified with certain items in Mr. Ferber's article, so should many Production Directors find a familiar scenario contained herein.

First, let's deal with the perception. Most Production Directors are surely not perfectionists who think every spot has to sound like something from an Indiana Jones movie in "sensurround" and should take as long to finish as Spielberg takes on his films. Nor do most Production Directors possess an inborn hatred of AE's who dare desecrate their "sanctuary."

So, okay. Maybe there is a grain of truth to that portrait, but what makes Production Directors that way? No, it's not generations of inbreeding. Basically, Mr. Ferber, it's the same things that make your job a challenge (or is that 10+ hours a day of hell?).

Let's take a look at a fairly typical Production Director's day. Each weekday by 8 a.m., the Production Director has fought through the same rush hour traffic as you, drank from the same coffee pot as you, then set up the first of eighteen network feeds that have to be caught this week. Then he sits down at his desk (which is in a much larger area than the AE's since the Production Director doesn't get the luxury of walls), checks through his desk to see if the night shift did any damage because this desk is also shared with them, and then begins to organize the day. (Are you beginning to feel better about your job yet? No? You might later...)

Oops, here's our first emergency of the day. A spot disappeared overnight. It goes on in fifteen minutes. Can I dub it? Well, sure. That's what my job is for...

Now it's back to the paper shuffling. File these P.O.'s for tape and supplies, answer some correspondence...

Oops, got a problem in AM with a cart that just died. It's a straight voicer. Can I do it before I start my board shift? Sure. That's what my job is...

Then, it's on to the board for a 2½ hour stint. During every other break, take time to answer someone's production questions: Can client "A" come in to record at two today? No, I don't know why that jock left the tags off the spot. Yes, I can make those dubs as soon as I'm finished here.

It's 11:30 and the board shift is over. File these spots and clean up the studio, then check the "IN" basket to see which ASAP/Needed Now/Urgent/Rush job gets top priority.

Now to the production studio by noon for a couple of quick voicers. Next one shouldn't be too tough either, but it'll wait until after I set up more reels for network feeds. Then it's back to finish up the third spot, then start on the spot for mega-client with three voicers, two music beds, and ten sound effects in this thirty second spot. The creative juices start to flow. The technical wizardry will get to shine, the...

"'scuse me, how's that spot for Podunk Auto coming?"... "Can you make me a dub of this cassette?"... "The tag on this spot is wrong, and it airs again in ten minutes"... "Any closer on Podunk?"... "Remind Joe I need that network feed as soon as it clears"... "I need to listen to this reel. Could you set it up for me?"... "The client loved the music on this spec, but wants to change the copy and use a different voice before he signs. Could he hear it by 3:30?"... "I need to call up Podunk before my next appointment and, hey, could we add some effects?"... "Your client assist is here"....

All too often, the first project begun in the day is the last finished due to all the interruptions, none of which was for lunch.

That's Monday through Friday, then, ahhh, Friday afternoon. The weekend looms. The end of the week in sight. It's 4 o'clock. Suddenly, there's an AE with an order that came in an hour after deadline. "If we don't get him on the air by tomorrow, he'll buy everyone else but us."

The Production Director already has his forty hours in for the week, is scheduled for a weekend board shift, and the Program Director is over budget for overtime; but the spot gets done anyway, because after all, we've got to be team players. And after the team wins the sale, does the Production Director get a sincere "thanks" and a pat on the back or an AE buying the beers after work? Too seldom.

So, why do we do it? It sure ain't for "money, money, and more money." I'd bet my paycheck against any AE's that the Production Director makes about half that of the AE whose spot he's producing. Disagree? Check page 7 of the March 1990 RAP to get an idea of what your Production Director may be making.

So, what's the reward? It's probably a bit different for each Production Director you would ask. While I can't answer for others, for me, it's hearing the final mix of a spot or promo on the air and thinking, "Yeah, that sounds good." Even better, is an honest compliment from the client, AE, PD, GM, or any other member of the alphabet.

The immediacy of radio is one of the things that sets this medium above the others. Try to change your newspaper or TV ad on a one hour notice. It can't be done. But with radio, it can be done.

However, the time taken to get that last minute, grid one spot produced and on the air takes time away from everything else that has to be produced. And when AE's, Traffic or Program Directors, or anyone else interrupts to ask for the small favors such as extra cassettes or help patching in the phone to call out a spot, that, too, takes away time from the actual production of commercials. Commercials that need to get on the air so they can be billed.

To paraphrase an article I read previously in ., "Time = Quality (multiplied by) Quantity." In other words, the more items that have to be produced in a limited amount of time, the more quickly they each have to be done, which usually and unfortunately compromises quality.

AE's, help your client get the most effective advertisement your Production Director can create. Give him all the instructions he needs on inflections, pronunciations, music, pacing, and whatever else, then stand out of the way and let him do the job.

Think twice before entering the "sanctuary." Do you need that cassette right now? Wouldn't a note in the "IN" basket be just as effective as personal instructions from you? The Production Director may not look busy, leaning back in his studio chair while he flips through CD's, but he may be looking for the right music bed for your biggest client.

The bottom line also applies to life in general: Treat others as you would like to be treated. Production Directors, do a little extra for an AE. AE's, don't let that extra bit of work go unnoticed. AE's, let your Production Director do his job and you're likely to be rewarded with better sounding spots that will keep clients happy and buying.

That's how an entire station wins -- by building not individual teams of sales, programming, engineering, etc., but by building one team with everyone doing their part and helping everyone else to do theirs.

Craig Rogers
Production Director
WHO-AM/FM, Des Moines, Iowa

First off, you have a marvelous publication. I never miss a word. And I found myself reading even closer as I perused the whining nonsense of the Account Executive, Doug Ferber, whose "poor, pitiful, underpaid me" article appeared in the March 1990 issue.

I hope aspiring Production Directors don't take this guy as the rule instead of the exception! I've been a Production Director for six or seven years now, and I remember him -- maybe not him, but guys just like him. He was the guy who screwed up the relationships between the departments for everybody else!

Don't get me wrong. We got past him, but not until we made our case clear to him!

So Mr. Ferber's gonna give us a little lesson on what the Account Executive goes through on a regular day, eh? So we need to read up on how the advertising process works? So we need to understand that he has to get up at six while copy writers and producers the world over roll out with a hangover sometime between Donahue and Green Acres?

Perhaps Mr. Doug Ferber should talk with his Production Director. At least in the Detroit market, understanding the advertising process is a prerequisite to getting the job in the first place. He may find his guy knows more than he's giving him credit for.

If Mr. Ferber asked him how he enjoyed his "sanctuary called a studio," he'd learn that it probably would be a sanctuary, as intended, if it weren't for whining Account Executives hanging around all afternoon trying to duck the Sales Manager.

In my situation, I know full well how boring sales calls can be because my Account Executives treat me with enough respect to take me on a few calls to get to know the clients better. But can you Production Directors imagine spending a half hour in the car with Doug Ferber?!

Mr. Ferber is right about one thing, though. Production is becoming a larger part of the presentation, and it's mostly because the really good Account Executives have left radio for something else. What we're left with are a lot of men and women who don't know how to sell radio; and, as a result, they need a flashy spec to get the client's attention.

Production Directors make our own contacts. We get up early. We spend hours in meetings when deadlines are sizzling away in our "in-baskets." We love our audiences because most of us started out as air talent, and we do it for about half the annual salary that the Ferbers of America get.

Fortunately for me, I am surrounded by a talented group of Sales People who back off when it gets tense. They try to bring me free-lance work to boost my esteem, and they understand that you can't just turn true talent off and on like a tap. It takes understanding the product and having a little..."sanctuary"...to go to if we're going to get it all on tape.

I had to dodge Ferbers for six or seven years before I got here, but there is hope, Production Directors! In a few years, atypical guys like Ferber will be strapped down under an oxygen tent, crying for an extension on their deadline; and we'll still be doing what we always do: Writing great spots, coming off with some fabulous production, blowing competition out of the water, and getting up mighty early the next day...to do it again!

Ahh, I feel better now...

Mark Blackwell
Production Director
WCSX-FM, Detroit, MI

Finally, we received this lengthy response from Karl Gruber, Production Director at K95-FM, Columbus, Ohio:

Dear Radioheads,

Regarding the article "A Salesperson's Point of View" by Doug Ferber in your March 1990 issue...WHAT A CRY BABY! WHAT A HOSER!!!

We'd like to thank the authors of the three letters above for taking the time to reclaim the front page of this publication. (We were afraid you might not!) We'd also like to thank Doug for playing the warden last month and submitting his article on behalf of our beloved salespeople. Doug has received copies of each letter responding to his article and has been given the option to respond in a future issue. (He knew what he was in for, and he's welcome to go up against you folks again if he wants to.)

We are not trying to start a sales versus production war, nor do we want this little exchange of views to turn into a mudslinging contest. Those of you who have read Doug's article and these letters with more than entertainment purposes in mind can probably read between the lines and see what is happening here. There is nothing new about these views or those of Doug's. What is new is that, with this publication, we are able to take these views and present them to everyone. We are able to put the cards on the table for everyone to see, then stand back at look at them. In this light, it is possible to receive the opinions of others, including salespeople, without personal attachment. These views are not being expressed in a hallway between co-workers who are constantly battling each other. These views are being expressed in written form instead of a heated conversation. Without this emotional aspect attached to us as we read these views, it becomes possible to analyze the obvious "differences" between salespeople and production people in a more objective manner. In this light, there is an ever so slightly better chance that we, as Production Directors, might be able to find a way to better our relationships with the sales staff (if improvement is needed) and arrive at a mutually beneficial method of conducting the business of radio. THAT is what we are trying to do.

As always, Radio And Production is a forum, as has been illustrated in these past two issues. Your comments on the letters above are, of course, welcome and encouraged.

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