Q It Up: Production Deadlines - Part 1

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Copy deadlines…myth or mandate? Just a few short years ago, when owners were limited to two stations in a market, it was a dogfight for the ad dollars, and money was seldom turned away because “the copy came in after deadline.” Today, with owners having more power in a market, and things much busier in the Traffic, Continuity, and Production Departments, things might be a little different. That’s what this month’s Q It Up hopes to shed some light on.

Once again, we had several informative responses to our Q It Up question and will split the responses between this issue and the upcoming April issue.

Q It Up:How many stations does your production department work for? Are there deadlines for scripts and agency tapes? What are they? Are deadlines strictly enforced or are they only guidelines? Do the salespeople follow these guidelines or meet these deadlines? What happens if they don’t? Please add any further comments you might have.

Greg Mills/Pete Jensen <GREGMI[at]kxly.com>: We handle production for five stations in-house and help with two more we own near by. Some sort of copy deadlines have always been in place, but never enforced to the degree that we didn’t have to produce the “last minute” piece of copy. We are now in the process of developing some hard deadlines for all orders. Basically, if no contact has been made with our traffic manager as to why there is no copy, tape, order, or revision by noon the day prior to the schedule, the spot(s) are pulled for the following day. We are sold out on at least two of the five days regularly, so finding a replacement is not too difficult. Of course, there will be exceptions, and I’m sure we will be producing three voice/two gender spots the “day of” for the rest of our professional lives. We’ll call it a hard guideline for now and see how it shakes out. Oh, I think I hear the pagers and cell phones beeping now. Probably need to add another address or phone number to the ever-growing list of facts they like to call a radio spot. By the by, our ops manager had a wonderful idea that has helped greatly around the holidays. All sales types who get their copy in by noon the day before are free to go at noon the day before. Works wonders.

Dennis Coleman, Production Director <denman[at]swbell.net>: Here at CBS-Austin, we have four stations with one Production Director (me) and one full-time assistant (the indispensable Angel Sonnier). We have deadlines of three o’clock for copy Monday-Thursday, and 2 o’clock on Fridays. Usually this works out well because we have a full-time copywriter as well. (She works from her house.) Dubs have no deadline other than regular office hours because we can get one of the jocks to do it if necessary.

Our deadlines are pretty well adhered to, but there are the occasional late-comers. These are usually not turned away, because even though companies are bigger, the stations are now competing for stiffer budget mandates from corporate. This means you’re not only competing with the guys across town; Sales Managers are competing against each other for every dollar that enters the building.

Usually the sales folks are pretty good about getting things to us on time. So, usually we’re pretty good about staying till it’s done. BUT...if I hear “I couldn’t get it here because I was having my hair done” or “We were just having ONE margarita and the time just FLEW,” I won’t do the spot. I’ll even go so far as to have it bumped from the log. (It pays to have traffic on your side!) Laziness and/or stupidity are no excuse.

Don Elliot <voiceovers[at]earth link.net>, KFI/KOST, Los Angeles, CA: The deadline situation is something like this: We have an absolute 11th hour cutoff for dubs of 3 p.m. the day before air. Voiceage must be past continuity and traffic and in production’s capable hands by 12 noon the second day prior to air. Weekends do not exist in the count; common sense is why.... no one is here! So a Monday start spot HAS to be in by noon Thursday. There is no other physical way in hell that assignments/”casting” can be accommodated for proper rotation of voices, conflicts of voice/product situations, and the like. At KFI, after the airstaff voices, there are two unusual ducks: Mark Denis, the “signature” voice for promos, and myself, the “house” voice, who take up the slack in these emergencies, besides voicing promos. Sales realizes if they throw too much in the hopper at the 11th hour, that they will get triple-spotted voiceage resulting in “The Don Elliot Show” followed by my voice also on a promo, which, then, just WON’T stand out as God (David G. Hall) intended. Trust me, I haven’t done a morning show since I was called into the office for my segue out of a Coke spot into Barry White, asking Barry, “So tell me guy, exactly where do you keep YOUR Coke bottle...to which Barry predictably replied in an oversexed tone: ‘lying right here beside me’.…” You get the idea. Come to think of it, these days, I might get reassigned and not get in trouble at all.

But this is a true real-world example of the passionate conflict between the short-term-gain of the fast buck, over the hopefully triumphant building block of successful promotion of the product in the quest of owning more of the coveted TSL. Incidentally, this situation is NOT a page you can hang on the back of the door like hotel room rates. You have to remind the staff WEEKLY! Fortunately, we have a unique situation with an off-air non-talent Operations Manager who is our executive “Production Director,” above the PDs, answering only to the GM. Since he is G&A, any late copy arrival incurs overtime and therefore affects the bottom line. A late situation that thinks it is important will be evaluated against what it will bring in and the effect on the overall picture—time of year, sweeps, involvement of talent, reasonableness of the request, etc.. Nothing is inflexible, but the gauntlet that must be run through is discouraging to all but the biggest asshole, and they don’t get good service anyway. The more organized the staff, the greater the synergy and the more time, as a result, for creativity!

In other situations, stations might stagger the shifts or hire a dubber to work at night. We have found that the team spirit, the accuracy approaching zero-errors, and the synergy that results from having the team together on the same shift has been a creative advantage. We are one of the few departments that works together so well that we know each other’s idiosyncrasies, habits, and our communication is good enough that we finish each other’s sentences. There is a lot of non-verbal that goes on in the room at deadline time, and a lot of pitching in to “help the other guy’s workload.” Typically, we are all OUT OF THERE by 5 or 5:30, even on a FRIDAY. During sweeps, it is rare that anyone is there after 6 or 6:30. And we rotate the contingent short-straw on the come—the unlucky one hangs on for the late DGS feed when they don’t have it together, and if everything’s in, he can go. The next day, the next guy might get stuck, but it averages out and everybody thinks it’s fair. That’s what counts. The weird thing is, often the other guys hang out with the “late” guy, just so he won’t feel bad. THAT’S real camaraderie! The “other guys,” by the way, are Ray Avila and Gil Perez.

The entire department went to the sales meetings for each of our stations in the cluster, and played them examples of the spots we did on short notice. Then we played them some spot we won awards with. Can you guess the response when we explained how to get something for nothing? By the way, we learned how to get another 5% on a lot of spots: RE: “Agencies,” you know who they are, who turn in copy and have the station do all the work and then ask for 15% commission. Would you kindly explain to me the difference between them and a BUYER, who only gets a 10% break? If you are an agency, you must do the work of an agency or you only get a f#*%ing 10% discount. This is my concept of reverse-engineering the overly-difficult task of charging for production. It’s more effective to the bottom-line and sales understands it. It also makes the production folks more appreciated!

Darrell Paul <darrell.paul [at]cjay92.com>, Creative/Production Director, CJAY/CKMX, Calgary, Alberta, Canada: Here’s the low down on what goes on here in the “Valley of the Abused!” First off, I have two and a half producers in charge of two stations. The half producer is literally that, a midget we got cheap from the Traveling Shriner circus that came through 8 years ago...actually he ‘s a normal guy that does dubs. Secondly…deadlines? What the hell is a deadline! I don’t know about you, but we sell the immediacy of radio. Bring it in and we can get an award winning piece of creative out in 3 and a half minutes! (Note my forked tongue sarcasm.) On a serious side, we try to shoot for a 72 hour deadline for scripts. As for national deadlines, since they are usually supplied, we can usually get them on the next day. Every situation is different and we try to help out as much as possible. Thirdly, sales reps feed off our souls. They have been known to rip our still beating creative hearts out of our chests and feed on them at Monday Morning sales meetings. Actually, the reps here are pretty good at meeting deadlines. They realize how busy we can get and understand what we have to go through. We’ve trained them to recognize our needs and to also fetch when a roll of money is thrown. Problem is, they never bring it back! And lastly, I think it’s great that you have asked creative for input. I manage this department as a team. We all work together to ensure the best creative hits the air. We always talk about new concepts to make the creative stand out. Yes, some days a rip and read is all that is needed, but when we click with a kick ass creative concept, we rock!

Dean Tyler <Deansvoice [at]aol.com>: I am a Production Director for two Clear Channel stations, plus we have 3 more in the market. Yes, we have written policies pertaining to deadlines for everything from straight dubs to full written and produced copy. HOWEVER, the bottom line is “the bottom line.” If I am the one thing that is in between the spot getting done and us getting paid, bet on the spot somehow getting done! I have found out that the time it takes to get the spot completed is far less than it would be for me to go through the large number of low, middle and upper management folks it would take to remedy late copy, sloppy paperwork, and less-than-understanding “I have to get this on to meet my monthly sales goal” salespeople. The written policies are a basic guideline, but we always find a way to get it done. Much of the fault and frustration is of my own making, due to not wanting to be a “hard case” with sales, but I’ve grown tired of attempting to get management to back me up on previous guidelines and failing. After all, the majority of them want their piece of the money that comes with getting the spot on, no matter what the “cost” is from the production end.

Kathy Morgan <StudioKat [at]compuserve.com>, KOSP/KKLH/The Sound Factory, Springfield, MO: With just one production room for two stations, and the majority of our commercials done in-house, things get pretty hectic around here. Fortunately, we’ve been able to develop a good system among traffic, production, and sales, and the rules are usually followed closely. Everyone building-wide has a copy of our complete production manual (the “policies & procedures bible”) that spells out every guideline for every situation. All incoming salespeople go through at least one hour of production orientation to walk them through every step of the system.

Since there’s only one prod room, and it’s also used for a lot of outside agency production, we keep to a tight time schedule. And with evening and overnight automation, traffic needs to clear everything early in the day for the following day’s schedule. So we’ve developed these deadlines: For in-house production, no later than 2 p.m. the day before it airs Tue-Fri; by 12noon Fri if it starts Sat-Mon. For simple dubs and tags, no later than 4 p.m. M-F. Demo/spec spots require a minimum 48-hour turnaround time; so do requests for copy to be written completely by the production team. (Usually sales writes first, and we’ll revise and edit the copy.) If production hasn’t been submitted in time, it can be pulled from the next day’s log.

There are, of course, exceptions to the rules, but they’re usually just that, exceptions. Our sales team is a good crew; they’re very conscientious about what they need to do to ensure a good product for our clients and listeners. They don’t try to abuse or circumvent the system. Management is very supportive, and the overall result is more efficiency and less stress. Kinda fun when it all comes together!

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