Tales of the Tape - July 1990

Spec Spot Rules

Dennis Daniel jul90Does the word "spec" put the fear of God into your heart? Do you often think, "Spec! What, are you kidding? I've got enough to do that's already confirmed! Who has time to mess around with specs?!" Well, my production brethren, we can complain all we want; but it won't change the fact that specs are a necessary evil. Do not despair! They need not be so hellish. In fact, you can make specs work to your advantage.

The essential problem with producing specs is the fear of the unknown (that unknown being the client's response to the spec). Your AE comes to you with a spec request, gives you the client information, and scurries off on his merry way hoping to return to you and be handed a masterpiece that will blow his client away.

Wrong!

SPEC RULE #1: Teamwork is of the essence! When you're presented with a spec production order, there are some important questions you need to ask of the AE to make sure you're not wasting your time, or his:

1. What kind of guy is this prospective client? Is he young, old, middle aged? Does he have a sense of humor? Is he open to new ideas? Do you think he'll like a funny spot? A straight read? A combination of both?

2. How much money do you think he'll spend? Most production people never concern themselves with the potential of the buy. That's because in most cases, the client is already sold and has a schedule. The spec situation is different. If the guy is just some local yocal Joe Blow who's going to buy two or three spots a week, what's the sense in killing yourself? He'll only turn out to be a real pain in the end. As we all know, the ones that spend the least, want the most! If you do a brilliant funny spot for him, he'll want a new one every week! In the end, it's best to do a serviceable job (I'm not saying do a crappy job. I'm saying do a professional, clean piece). If it looks like this client will be spending lots o' cash, then blow him away! Which leads to...

SPEC RULE #2: Get to know the client before he hears the spec! After you've asked the first two questions, get a phone number and name from the AE. Give the guy or gal a call. Tell him you're the creative dynamo that will be working on his prospective commercial (with specs, never make the client feel like he has bought anything yet. It's also a good idea to ask him if he listens to your station. Maybe he's heard one of your spots, one that you're proud of. You can use that to your advantage! "Yeah, that was one of my spots! And now, I'm going to write yours, you lucky human being, you!") If the AE said he's a young, hip guy, suggest a few funny concepts. Let him pick one. Make him feel like he's part of the production. This phone time will also give you an opportunity to see what kind of guy he is. If he's a middle aged straight shooter type, suggest a solid read with a moving bed. Tell him to stress product. Compare his prospective spot to others on the air. Let him know why his will stick out more, why his is different. (Of course, these are just hypothetical situations I'm creating. You have to be the one who feels these people out.) The key word here is "Schmooze." If the person feels like he's a part of the creative process, the odds that you'll end up creating something he'll like are drastically increased. Believe me, it's worth the time to get the client on your side.

SPEC RULE #3: Write the spot and call the client with it first! Before you rack up a reel, give the client a call again. "Hi, it's your old buddy Dennis, the production wiz! Remember that concept we talked about? Well, this is what I've written. I'm just calling to make sure all the info is right and that I'm pronouncing the brand names properly (or whatever)." Then, give him a performance. Act it out. Dazzle the crap out of him. Do it in character. Give it all you've got, no matter what kind of spot you've written. (Often, I receive funny looks from people in the office as I sit on the phone, reading a spec spot in full voice and full character. I know why. I look like a dick. Try reading to them in your studio instead.) Once you've read the spot to him, proceed to...

SPEC RULE #4: Get the written copy approved. If the client has a fax machine, send it to him immediately after you've read it. If not, give the copy to the AE to get approval. This gives the client one last chance to make any changes. (In some instances, you may have become so friendly with the client, he may just say, "Cut it. I trust you.")

Now, the spot has come full circle. You can produce it and know that it has a 90% chance of making it on the air. (The other 10% left covers all the bizarre circumstances that can occur, i.e. the client changed his mind again, decided he didn't have the money, turns out to be a total jerk, etc., etc..)

This is my sure fire system for specs. But, like all great systems, it doesn't always go as planned. For example, the AE may insist that this guy is unapproachable and must be sold on a pre-recorded spec. You may call the client and find that he has no time to talk with you; he's too busy. You may even be pitted against other radio stations! Sometimes, an AE will tell me that the buy is based on which station produces the best spec. In instances like these, you're on your own, booby. But, for me, these instances don't occur that often. Basically, the system works like a charm.

Look at it this way, no idea is ever wasted. If, after all this, the schmuck decides not to use the spot, no problem. Use the idea for someone else! There's no greater satisfaction than having a great spot rejected, using if for someone else, and having that someone else meet with success!

(Phone ring)

"Hello, production."

"Yes. This is Joe Blow. That spec you created for me that I refused, I just heard it for one of my competitors. I thought it would never be used."

"Well, after all, you had first choice. If you didn't want it, I couldn't let the idea go to waste. Heh, heh, heh." ♦

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