by Dave Oliwa
Darkness everywhere. Giant clock faces flying all around you. Faces without form screaming, "I need this in five minutes!" Production orders fall from the center of the abyss by the thousands, all emblazoned with large letters proclaiming, "REASON FOR REVISION" and "CLIENT APPROVAL NEEDED." Relax. You're just having a Production Director's nightmare.
Many Production Directors, including myself, have to talk with clients to get spot approval. If I'm not careful, I find myself calling for spot approval more than once. After thousands of "second approvals" over the years, I realized that perception is reality.
Let's look at the big picture. The radio station AE, or "suit" as I like to call them, has told the client you're "the best production man in town" (even better than the production guy at the number one station in town). But, in the same breath, the suit also says, "we can recut the commercial as many times as it takes until you're satisfied." Are they nuts? Ummm, we'll discuss that later. For now, consider the first thing the AE has said: "The best production man (or woman) in town."
CONGRATULATIONS! You're an expert!
Now, your image as an expert has to become reality in the way you are perceived by the client. He or she is expecting an "expert" -- level headed, confident, concerned, open to suggestion, ready to respond to questions and comments with facts and figures. Your purpose, as an "expert Production Director," is to make a great commercial to help their business and make them sound good on your radio station.
When writing a commercial for the first time, you don't expect to make changes. You put everything you've got into the copy the first time, don't you? You've got a reason for everything in that script. So what do you tell the client when he starts changing things around? At that point, you've got to say, "Certainly. I can do that for you."
Even though you're the "expert," the client wants to be a crucial part of the creative process. That's human nature. After all, all of their business associates and friends will hear their spot, and comment on it. If you realize this early on, you must also realize you can have this input before you sit down at the typewriter or word processor. So, call the client that requires approval before you start to write. Go over copy needs, phraseology, tempo, pacing, delivery, intensity, sound effects, and music. Start the process of copy approval before the copy is written.
Also, despite how good the suit is in getting you the information you need, some transposing may have taken place on the fact sheet. Something may be off center in the suit's instructions that could affect the creative process and send you scrambling back to your typewriter for a redraft on a Friday afternoon.
Talking with the client on the phone before you write also shows the client the teamwork of the radio station. If you're extremely nice to the client during this process, you
can further the radio station's goals in getting that advertising dollar -- and the suit will love you for it. It's also what a client would expect from "an expert."
On a one-to-one basis you discover what they want as no piece of paper with instructions can do. You'll know what they need, what they expect, what they want, and most importantly, what they don't want. Once you know these little tidbits, it's easy to write copy confidently, like "an expert," and to remember specific reasons why you wrote the copy that way, should you need to explain it to the client the next time you call with the written copy.
As with the copy, talk with the client before the spot is produced. It is step two towards a good rapport with the client and accomplishes two things. The client gets a sense of being involved, which is what you both want before the commercial is produced, and you get a final chance to get questions answered. By the time you call the client back with the completed spot, confidently dubbed to cart and labeled, ready to air, you're bosom buddies and the chances that he'll change anything are slim to none. Oh yes, they are.
Best of all, on the client's next run, you will know what he wants and what he likes. You'll spend less time working on his next spot while building a good relationship between him and the radio station. I will even take bets on whether or not a client would let you air the spot without letting him hear it first. Impossible? No. You're an expert. "The best production man in town."
Now, sometimes, this doesn't work. You're going to hit those clients that want to hear their spot and make changes, and more changes. If smacking the client in the face isn't allowed at your station, there is an alternative.
If it's a pressure situation where the spot has to air tomorrow in morning drive, you may not have the time to do the job again later in the day. In this case, you may have to convince the client of your belief that the spot sounds good the way it is. You know radio advertising, and he knows his business. Tactfully relate this to the client, and ask him to trust your judgment. He very well may.
If he still insists on cutting the spot again, consider suggesting to the client that it might be best if he comes to the station for the session. To begin with, he'll probably be too busy to get there that afternoon, but he might be able to make it in the morning. If so, set the appointment up. The bonus here is that now, tomorrow's spots will have to be moved to later in the day, or the next day, and you've bought some more time to give the client exactly what he wants. Also, there is the possibility the client might just say, "Oh, go ahead and run it like it is." Double amazing!
Should the client actually come to the studio, have the suit present, if at all possible. When in the studio with the client, always give him a choice of what to do, but give him only two choices to pick from. Impress him if you can because it only takes a second or two to do a little extra something that wasn't in the planned commercial copy. You'll get a better spot for your airwaves, and when the client leaves, he'll think you're "an expert." Congratulations! Another satisfied customer.
Now, are salesmen nuts? Who knows? Are clients? Who knows? Are we? Who knows?