More Than Words

By Craig Jackman

Okay, I’ll ‘fess up. It has taken a long time, but I am a firm believer in the fact that words matter, and words matter most in the radio production world. Cool music beds, fancy production techniques and sound effects, all blended together by the latest and greatest software in a big hairy state of the art computer are all great fun to play with, but the words move the target customer into action. The most effective way to move someone with advertising or station imaging always involves the right script, performed by the right voice, delivering the right emotional connection.

However, just because the words are important does not mean that every single word and every single syllable contains the essential ingredients to the life force sustaining the human race. Clients, particularly new clients, sometimes are hung up in the details when they should be looking at what the big picture is. I had a situation recently that brings what I am talking about into focus.

My station cluster maximizes corporate resources by providing commercial voice tracks for some of our chain’s smaller stations. Unusual to be certain, particularly since there is no extra pay involved for anyone, but it has such a small part of the day that nobody has made a big deal of it. The Creative Department at the smaller stations email in the script, our announcers read it, and we email the .mp3 voice tracks back. Clean, simple, easy. One script for a car dealer came in with apologies as a sales rep wrote it. The apology was not needed really; while it was no award winner, it was not the worst script I had seen that day. The offer was sound. To sum it up, it was essentially, buy a car and qualify for a bonus... nothing that made me want to drop what I was doing to fly across the country to buy a car, but there was nothing wrong with it either. The script revolved around an unheard character named Bob, sitting at his campsite waiting for his bonus. Nothing obscene, nothing wrong, we weren’t making fun of anyone or anything, nothing compromising in any way. So we voiced it and sent it back. The end of that I thought and went on to the next item on the pile.

Apparently, I was wrong as the spot came back for revision. The offer did not change. The voice did not change. I didn’t produce it, so the music and effects didn’t change. No, the client wanted to change the name of the unheard character from Bob to Dave.

I once had a client want to revise a spot to change a “the” to an “a”. This request ranked right down there in terms of “You have to be kidding me!” I wondered if it was a market where there was a competing station called Bob, but no, the client had a salesperson named Bob who was in a snit and wanted the spot changed thinking the spot was about him.

To the average listener, to the 99% of listeners who already own a car or didn’t like the particular make that the client was selling, the unheard from character in the spot could have been named Bob, Dave, Clyde, Woodrow, Geoffrey, Michael, Pierre, Gustav, Karl, Helmut... any one of a thousand different names from the baby name book and wouldn’t matter the slightest. The average listener, when he pops out of the shower to listen to the 7am news, his or her biggest concern is not the name of the character in the spot. They are more concerned with where the towel is. The average listener wants to know what is in it for them, how the client is going to save them one of — or a combination of — time, money, or frustration. The average listener wants to know how or what the client is going to do to make their lives better. The average listener wants to know that the product or service the client is selling is going to impress the heck out of their spouse and make the neighbors green with envy. Sure, client names are of paramount importance, but names of unheard characters are irrelevant. The client should really be paying more attention to what the average listener wants, and a whole lot less attention to the chance that one of his employees is going to have a hissy fit because he has the same name as an unheard character in the spot.

Being the team player I am, I swallowed and redid the track and sent it back out. Being that I care about this business and what I do in it, I sent of a fairly worded (I thought...) email back to the originating station about my feelings on the subject. I do not mind revisions for business reasons beyond the client’s control, or due to changing competition conditions in the marketplace. I do not mind the occasional revision for creative differences if it turns the client into a happy, long running business partner. I also do not mind the occasional creative revision if it turns out the client (or the client’s wife) was right and we wind up with a better spot in the end. A sales rep conferring with the client to ensure that everything was right before it came to me, as revisions are so much easier when they are keystrokes not time zones away, should have caught the revision I just described! Given that they’re out there, I’m over here, and voices come and go throughout the day, any changes are going to be taking 24 hours to come back to get on air. It is in their best interests to make sure that everything is right — I’s dotted, T’s crossed, and clients signed off — before it shows up in my Inbox.

Good news? A client got his spot changed. Bad news? I have not seen him come back as a regular client (though it may be that I just have not seen any scripts). Other bad news? The radio sales rep involved thought that he was being unfairly singled out for the reaction to what he thought was a simple request. Good news? It prompted a discussion at the station in question between Sales, Sales Management, and Creative that put everyone back on the same page. Best news? There has not been a revision issue on the “You have got to be kidding me!” level since.

Yes, words do matter. A great script can inspire me to do a great spot. A great script can inspire a voice talent into a moving performance. A great script can compel a listener to go far out of his way to visit a client’s place of business. A great script can lead to a great promo or image piece that turns the occasional listener into a dedicated listener. A great script is a thing of beauty that should be savored and enjoyed to the fullest. The creator of a great script deserves thanks and congratulations. You know what though? Not every single word matters.

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