Tales of the Tape - September 1990

by Dennis Daniel

Dennis-Daniel sep90Free-lancing. It's a wonderful thing. Last year I made more money free-lancing than I did at my regular day job. Not only that, I didn't have to leave my day job to do it! All of the production was done at the radio station. Now, I'm not telling you all this to brag. It took me ten years to get to this point with my free-lance work. I'm telling you this because, lucky person that you are, I'm going to show you how to do it!

STEP #1: DO YOUR BEST WORK. If you're the Production Director of a radio station, you have a tremendous amount of power! Yes, I said POWER! Think about it! Every single day, the ideas you create are put on the radio and heard by hundreds, thousands, millions of people (wanted to make sure I covered every market size). Very often, we lose sight of this fact. The daily grind and headaches associated with the job tend to numb the sense of wonder that got us there to begin with. DON'T LOSE YOUR SENSE OF WONDER! Radio is magic! Theatre of the mind is a glorious thing! We can place images into people's minds without visuals. That's incredible! What a gift! Use it. Every time you have an opportunity to create a fun spot that you can be proud of, do it. Put in the extra effort. Don't you just love to hear a spot you've produced that makes you feel, "Hey, I know what the hell I'm doing." Example: Have you ever walked through a mall, ended up in a store where they're playing your station, heard your spot come on, and watched people react to it? It's wild! When I see people smile, laugh or comment on something I did (by the way, I don't mind negative comments like "I hate this commercial"), it makes me feel like I've influenced their lives in some way. Why am I going on and on about this? Because, if you produce the best work you can, it will be noticed; not just by the casual listener, but also by someone who may be willing to pay you to do it for them.

STEP #2: MAKE A DEAL WITH YOUR STATION. If you're well respected and considered a team player, it shouldn't be too difficult to come up with some kind of studio deal with your station. Let's say you've helped them keep a very successful account with your excellent production; this could be the basis for a bargaining chip! (If not that example, then anything that proves to them that you have been doing a superb job.) Ask if it would be okay to use their studios for some outside work. Assure them (and stick by this assurance) that your outside work will never come in conflict with what you're doing for them. In most cases, this kind of logic is enough for them to allow you to use the studios. Getting use of the studios you occupy is essential because it leads right into...

STEP #3: LET CLIENTS KNOW YOU HAVE A STUDIO AVAILABLE. As a Production Director, you come in contact with many ad agencies, both local and national. Most local ad agencies have their work produced by local production houses who charge for studio time. Call them and make them aware that you can produce commercials without a studio fee. (Hey, the studio doesn't cost you anything. Why not pass on the savings?) All you would have to charge is the production/board operation fee. This can be quite appealing to agencies (who are always trying to save a buck). While you've got them on the phone, offer your voice over and copy-writing services. Tell them you have your own "in-house" agency at the radio station. Send them examples of your best work. Ask them if they listen to the station to see if they're familiar with your work. If so, and the response is positive, tell them you'd love the chance to work with them. If they're not familiar with what you do, ask for the chance to show them. Tell them you'll do a spec. Just get your foot in the door! All you need is one agency spot of yours running on several stations to set the wheels in motion for further work.

STEP #4: GETTING STATION CLIENTS TO PAY FOR MONDO PRODUCTIONS. If you find yourself spending hours a week for one or two particular clients (more than you usually spend for others), and you've been doing amazing things for them that get results, try to work out a deal with them. Chances are, they realize you're putting in the extra effort and appreciate it. (If they don't, why are you killing yourself for them?) Say to them, "Look Biff, I can't keep this up forever. I need a little incentive. After all, I'm not an ad agency. If you could shoot me a few bucks a spot ($25, $50, $100), I can justify the extra hours I put into them and can assure you that, even if I have to put in overtime, your spots will always be great." This has worked for me in a big way. To this day, I have clients that throw me a few extra bucks to really kick butt for them, and I do. It's good business for them to treat the creative force that's helping them succeed like a part of their team. (If they balk at the idea of paying you, screw it. Don't invest as much time. It's just not fair. Period.)

STEP #5: GET THE SALESPEOPLE TO HELP YOU! If you have a decent relationship with your sales staff, see if they'd be willing to go to bat for you when approaching potential clients that look like they can afford to pay for "mondo" productions. Give them a piece of your action when they do. Have some business cards made and give them to the sales staff to pass around to prospective clients. In the end, you'll both end up winning! They'll get the buy and you'll get some extra cash.

Space doesn't allow for me to really get into this subject in full detail. The bottom line is: There are many ways for you to earn outside money doing free-lance work. The most important thing to remember is: ALWAYS DO THE BEST YOU CAN, WHENEVER YOU CAN. Not every spot is going to be a killer, but if you have the chance to go all the way, do it! People will hear it, notice your special talents, and will pay you for them. That's the magic of radio; you can be heard.

In the future, I'll tell you about the many avenues open to you for selling comedy to syndication networks.

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