by Jerry Vigil
If your station's format is of the contemporary genre, you most likely do your fair share of club spots. Probably the most common club spots heard on the airwaves are the long laundry lists of daily specials -- the familiar audio menu of ladies' nights, happy hours, and drink specials. This is the spot you re-cut too often because "just one line" in the copy needs to be changed. You know the revision: The dollar beers on Thursdays are now fifty-cent beers. (This is when the AE calls and says, "Can't you just change that one line without re-cutting the whole spot?" And you say, "Sure. No problem. I can change just that one line... ON THE PAPER THE COPY IS WRITTEN ON!!!") Even more of a cranial discomfort is the club that wants a different spot for each day of the week: one spot for Friday, one for Saturday, another for Sunday, and on and on. (This is an approach to night club advertising developed back in 1975 by three disco owners over a bottle of Wild Turkey.) For many producers, club accounts often seem more trouble than they're worth. Unfortunately, for us, these accounts spend money like any other client, and our salespeople are trained to "get the money" and not worry about the terror a night club can bring to a station's Continuity, Traffic and Production Departments (not to mention the hassles for other departments caused by clubs with bad credit, checks that bounce, and clubs that simply don't pay their bills). Therefore, our hard-working Herb takes the order and submits the schedule and production order as requested by the client. Back in the trenches, man-hours are consumed for a week long schedule no larger than the one day schedule a car dealer might place for a "midnight madness" sale. But, let's face it: These accounts do spend money and they're doing so consistently. Club spots will always be there, just as the AE's who sell them, but there are some ways to make life with the clubs a little more tolerant back in production.
The problem to be addressed is not how to get the AE to change the way he sells club spots, but how to change the way the club owner sells his club. If he thinks he needs a new spot for each day of the week and nobody tells him differently, that's the way he'll believe is best. If he thinks he needs a spot like the Miller Beer spots on TV and nobody tells him he doesn't, that's the way he'll believe his club should be marketed. If nobody other than the salesperson is talking to this client, the client is going to make his own decisions on how to promote his club. The salesperson is simply going to help him decide how many spots to buy. Sure, the AE might nod his head in agreement with the clients "great idea" for a spot, but creating the commercial or even a campaign is not the AE's job. That's your job. Intervention by you (Production Directors and/or Continuity Directors) is the first step towards changing the way the client thinks about his creative approach to radio advertising.
The first and most obvious way to avoid cutting a new spot for each day of the week or revising a laundry list spot because one line needs changing is to cut one, very good "generic" spot and leave a five to twenty second bed at the end for a tag. The tag information includes whatever "exciting" stuff the client wants to push that day. After a week or two, maybe three or four, it'll be time for a new generic spot. Contact the AE for the account and present your proposal to him. Set up a meeting with the club owner or at least get the AE to allow you to call the client and speak with him over the phone. (Always keep the AE abreast of your contact with HIS client.) Tell the client about the great idea you have for his spot, but tell him the spot is going to take time to write and produce, and it is one that can't be redone every other day! The body of the spot will contain only general information about the club, while the tags will push the specifics. Use your imagination. This method of dealing with club spots is probably the easiest to pull off, but you'll have to make contact with the client to get things rolling.
On a more creative level, you can blow off the "laundry list" method to club advertising altogether and just create sixty seconds of "fun" with the club's name in the spot. Maybe here and there you'll hear an address or hours of business and a phone number. If it's a dance club, the spot might consist of a "super mix" of dance tunes, a production masterpiece garnished with only the most basic information about the club. (You've heard many spots like this on The Cassette.)
What if the club isn't a dance club? Let's say the club wants to push a businessman's happy hour with more of a social, conversational atmosphere. Your spot might consist of four or five bites from conversations between businessmen and women discussing the stock market, real estate, Japanese Yen or whatever. In the background is your standard cocktail party sound effects with maybe some light jazz further in the background. A few times through the spot, the club's name appears. At the end of the spot is an image tag with the address. Spots of this nature endure much longer than the laundry list type or any hard sell approach, but the task at hand is to get the client to agree that this approach is better for him than his laundry list.
To do this, you must confront the client with your idea or the produced spot itself. Relate to the client that the fact his club has a happy hour from four to seven is about as rare as the fact that he serves beer. Then tell him there are other ways to get people in his club. Explain that a spot that sells an image or an atmosphere will be more effective for him. Explain to him that McDonald's doesn't sell billions and billions (as Carl Sagan would say) of hamburgers because they tell everybody what is on their entire menu; they either sell one item or an image. Tell him that you produce more commercials in a week than he'll have produced in a year and that you know what you're doing. Let the client know that you respect him for his ability to run a club and you only want him to respect you for what you do. The fact is, you do know more about producing radio spots than the club owner. Convince him of that, gently, and you'll stand a good chance of changing his way of thinking. If he gives you the chance to do it your way, give him one hell of a spot. If daily specials are still important to him, leave a few seconds at the end for a tag to push specifics.
On the other hand, if you are overwhelmed with club spots and simply too short on time and creative fluids to put forth "masterpieces" for these clients, semi-good, generic spots with tags will be your most efficient approach. If the client is changing copy every day, try writing several generic spots with beds for tags, one spot for each day of the schedule. The spots can be good for four to six weeks of air time (depending upon the size of the schedule) and tags can be added to change things such as personality appearances, happy hour times, drink specials, and any other items that might change from week to week.
While on the phone recently with RAP columnist Dennis Daniel (WBAB), we asked how he handles club accounts that want a spot for each day of the week. Dennis offered this approach: "Explain to the client that as the Production Director of the radio station, you have to produce commercials for many, many different people, and you have only so many hours in a day to get your job done. Let the client know that if he wants a different spot every day, enough time is not going to be put into them, and the quality of the spots is not going to be as good as it could be if he'd just produce two or three spots a week. For instance, one spot for Monday and Tuesday, another spot for Wednesday and Thursday, and a third spot for the Great Weekend or whatever."
Here's another angle: If the client insists that his spot needs to be changed often, explain to him that the nature of radio advertising is such that frequency is the key to results. He has heard this enough from the salesperson who is trying to sell him twelve spots a day, but the client doesn't hear the "frequency" speech from you. Tell the client the spot is going to get old with him faster only because it is HIS spot and he is listening for it everyday! The listener doesn't have a list of the times the spot is going to air, and the listener is not going to tune in for each of these spots like the client will. Explain to the client that because of the many THOUSANDS of listeners your station has, each of them listening only for a couple of hours a day, that the SAME spot MUST air for a long time before ALL your listeners can be reached. FREQUENCY! "Let me explain, sir. If you want to REALLY get this message across, you need to let it play for more than a day or two."
To add to the grief, clubs are notorious for waiting until the last hour to decide they want to advertise. This means fast turnaround is in order. If you can't sell the client on generic spots with tags or some other more efficient and effective way of advertising, try convincing the client that he should use the same music under all his commercials. This eliminates you having to search for a new piece of music each time you need to cut a spot. Using the same music will, in effect, make the spot sound like the same old spot every time it runs, but if the client thinks it is fresh simply because the copy is new, he is happy and you have saved some time. Explain to the client that by using the same music, he establishes that music as "his," and every time the listener hears that music, the listener will automatically think "Joe Blow's Night Club." If the client disagrees, ask him why Coca Cola, Chevrolet, and Pepsi use the same music for YEARS at a time. Most club owners will buy this if the music you have selected as "theirs" is a good piece. Dennis also offered the suggestion of doing a semi-produced bed with some special effects at the front and maybe the back end too, using the club's name. Then, keep this music or semi-produced bed on cart or on your multi-track, ready for "instant" production that involves only filling in the blanks.
It is sad, but no matter how creative you might be and how hard you try to get a club owner to change his advertising methods, you may still end up with your laundry list. There will be clubs that just won't change their approach, no matter what you say or do. Quoting Dennis once more: "If a guy's a pain in the ass, he's a pain in the ass all across the board. He's a pain in the ass about paying, he's a pain in the ass about what times he's on, he's a pain in the ass when a tag is missed, and he'll demand those makegoods. There are certain clients that I know are going to be a pain in the ass, so I don't let it bother me. I just deal with it, always trying to make it seem like I'm the good guy, the one trying to do what's best for them. I try to speak to the client as a human being and say, 'Listen Biff, this is the way I think I can do the best job for you, but if you decide you don't want this, and you want me to do it your way, I will still do the best I can, but I can guarantee that it will not be as great as if I could do it this way. I think you'll see the same result in the end anyway, so why settle for less?'"
Don't exclude the possibility that the AE for the club might work with you. The AE might be just as anxious to not have to worry about picking up copy facts every day from this club. Discuss your ideas with the AE first and make suggestions. The two of you together might be able to sway a client to your way of thinking. As long as the AE gets the schedule and the client is happy, there is no reason for the AE to not want to work with you. Keep in mind also that the AE might NOT be so willing to change the way his client is being dealt with. If the current method of dealing with a particular club has been working just fine in the past -- as far as the AE is concerned -- the AE may be hesitant to make any changes. In this case, you must first convince the AE that the way the club is being handled back in the trenches is NOT going smoothly and something needs to change.
Still another angle: Consider setting up some policies regarding club accounts. For example, get your Sales Manager to consider a policy that states that no club can get a spot cut than runs for just one day unless "X" number of spots are bought for that day. Otherwise, it must be done live. This helps weed out small schedules that require an excessive amount of production and, at the same time, encourages clients to buy more spots per day, something the AE will like to use as a tool to get more out of the client.
On a related subject, some club accounts are now providing yet another source for early ulcers in the tummies of production people. Beware of clubs with live DJ's. Yes, many of them can do a great mix of music, and they have their bosses convinced that they have talent; but many of these guys are frustrated disk jockeys who dream of being on the radio, and they'll convince their boss that THEY need to be doing the spots for the club... AT YOUR STUDIO! If you've ever worked with an amateur announcer/producer, you know what a time consuming task this can be (let alone how bad the spot can wind up sounding). Consider having the salesperson add an additional charge to the schedule for studio time. This will discourage the club owner from sending his DJ out to your station. Limit session days and times. Make it difficult for the client to get his DJ to your station anytime he wants to. Put it in writing and give it to your sales staff: Club DJ's can only cut spots on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am to 12 noon. This forces PREPARATION on the part of the club owner (and the AE) and will give you time to prepare for the session as well. Plus, if you set session times for the morning, you'll be getting a club jock out of bed much earlier than he's used to. He may decide he doesn't need to be on the spot after all. On the other hand, the club jock might actually have some announcing talent and could actually help produce a good spot. Checking this situation out EARLY is the best defense against a bad situation down the road.
Getting back to the laundry lists, realize that you must first make contact with the client before you can have any hopes of changing the way he thinks. It is the client who is ultimately calling the shots -- it is his money. If the club accounts at your station are driving you nuts, let the salesperson know. Let the Sales Manager know. Let your PD know so you'll get his or her support with the problem. If you don't let anyone know a problem exists, in their minds it won't. Understand at all times that these "problem" accounts are still accounts that spend money on your station. In a major market, it's not unusual to have a club that dumps over $100,000 a year on your station. So, before you bad mouth a club account, find out if the club spends more money on the station than the station spends on you. Find out how much your problem club accounts buy on your station, then compare their schedules with the schedules of other clubs. Then determine which clubs are more trouble than their worth. Who knows? You might be cutting a spot every day for a club that is only buying one spot a day! Now that's a problem account!
Finally, consider yet one more option. If the club wants mega-commercials cut every week, and you just don't have the time in your regular work day to give him great spots, explore the possibility of working after hours for this client in exchange for monetary compensation from client. Let him hear what you can do after hours with his daily spots and offer to give him this super production for a fee. If he doesn't want to pay, and the club is one you don't mind patronizing yourself, consider trading your services for food and beverage.
This article is only a thought starter for dealing with club spots. If you have some methods of dealing with club spots that work well for you and your station, please share them with us. Our thanks to Dennis Daniel for his input on this subject.