Q It Up: Advertising agencies that bring you multi-voice scripts loaded with sound effects and expect it all for free

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Q It Up: Do you ever deal with advertising agencies that bring you 4-voice scripts loaded with sound effects and expect it all for free? These are typically the smaller agencies who do not use an independent production house for their work, but instead believe the radio station’s production department and voice talent is there for their use, at no charge, because “they’re bringing the buy” to the radio station. Sometimes they just deliver a script and coach you from a distance; other times, they lock up hours of your studio time “directing” the production themselves. How do you deal with these agencies? Is this a service radio should provide for free? Do you have any policies or guidelines in effect for these situations?

Cooper Fox [fox893@yahoo.com], Magic 104, North Conway, New Hampshire: We have several radio station groups in our region who charge fees for production use if, and only if, the spot is being shipped elsewhere. Our company charges no production fee as long as a buy is being place with us. This is actually a benefit. It allows us to control the copy and guarantee a future buy (if they want the same voice talent and producers).

Andrew Frame [andrew@bafsoundworks.com], BAFSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: It wasn’t often, but it happened. And I was expected to extend the agency every courtesy and resource the station had to provide a finished product, and send dubs to other stations if necessary. This was all part of the “value-added” (free) services that came with the ad buy.

The only control I had over the situation was to require an advance appointment be made.

Should it be provided for free? In a competitively balanced world, no. It completely discounts the time and skill of the producer to develop the product. It is no more different than going in to the client and requiring a significant amount of material or labor to be “value added” to the purchase of their widget.

I’m not saying we have to charge egregiously for it either. A modest fee to help the client understand that what we do has a value is all that would be needed.

Blaine Parker [bp@slowburnmarketing.com], Slow Burn Marketing: Back in my radio station days, any time a client (including ad agencies) expected an unreasonable amount of production for free, we would politely explain that we are not a production house. What we provide is a value-added service. And when there’s an excessive amount of production requested, we would (a) suggest an outside producer capable of doing the work at a reasonable price, or (b) offer to create more appropriate commercials. And frankly, whenever this kind of thing happened, the scripts were typically awful anyway. It was never hard to do better. And you’d be surprised how often an agency was happy to have us do the creative. It was the direct clients (without agencies) who were typically married to their brilliant ideas.

Travis McGinnis [travis@aimstudios.net], AIM Studios, www.aimstudios.net: This is a tough question. All of the station groups here in town offer free production as long as they’re making a buy with that group. Plus, our production departments all “play nice” when it comes to sharing production with each other for mutual clients.

That said, Agencies are not another station group. Though we do free production for them anyways... so long as they are making a buy with our station group. On a personal level, I believe that every station should charge for production and voice talent. Not because I want to get paid for my spots, but because it adds value to our service. This should be true especially with agencies.

A few years back, one of our sales reps got a call from her client regarding an invoice they had received from their ad agency. The client was being charged for “Script, Voice Talent and Audio Production.” However, our creative department had written, voiced and produced the spot for that client... for free. The only reason the client asked about it was because the script was sent to him on our station’s script template, and he recognized the voice as one of our jocks. When the rep explained that we had done all the work on that spot, the client was livid. He ended up firing the agency, and we have since been doing all of their creative (for free) much to the client’s delight.

That’s an example of a horrible experience we’ve had with an agency. It’s not to say that every agency takes advantage of our free production, or that they charge their clients for our free services. However, I would say that overall, our experience in dealing with agencies is more negative than positive. Many agencies tend to come across as know-it-alls and give the impression that we’re just the “stupid radio people who don’t know anything about advertising.” Because if we did... we would be working for an agency by now, right?

At the end of the day, the decision to not charge for production, albeit for an agency or a regular client, has come from the top. Since everyone else in our market does free production, the concern is that if we start charging, then our clients (and agencies) will take their business where they’ll get it for free. The station who does the production tends to get more of the ad budget. So it’s really all about dollars. If doing free production means the client will spend more money with us, then we’ll do it for free.

I can’t say I’m entirely in agreement with that sentiment though. At the very least, I think we should charge agencies for production costs. Most of them are probably passing those costs onto the client anyways, so why can’t we get a piece of that pie? I’ve heard from friends in the industry whose stations do charge for production, agency or not. And they had the same concerns that we do: will the client spend less if we charge them for production? And the definitive answer from them is no. Clients do not spend less money when they’re being charged for production. In fact, many spend more money. When production has a cost to it, it has a value in it. With value, comes a sense of “quality” (I hate that word, but it works).

Our clients are business people too. They understand value. Anything that’s free has no value. When you’re paying for something, there is value there, even if it’s a perceived value. So the clients who care about getting a great spot, will come to the station that can offer some value in the creative. Is it worth investing a couple hundred bucks to get a spot written and produce by broadcast professionals who know what they’re doing? I think so.

Jeff Berlin [jberlin@jberlin.com], Former Production Director, Kiss 108, Boston, Massachusettes: Oh this is a good one ! Yes, we’ve had agencies lay these on us. The response was case by case. If the station is sold out for the next 3 months, and I have 25 other spots to produce every day, I’d explain to the AE that I didn’t have the time or resources to do the script justice – the agency should either simplify the copy, or outsource production somewhere else. But usually, I did find the time, did produce, and often it was rewarding for a couple of reasons: if the spot sounds great, the agency and client are blown away by your work – you’ve just made yourself indispensable, and made your station the “go to” station in your market in the eyes of this agency. The rewards are: cultivating a relationship that might lead to freelance work over the long term. AND helping secure buys on your station when you meet the clients’ needs in ways other stations can’t (or won’t).

These kinds of scripts often got produced by many stations in the market – turning it into a contest between stations when the agency chose one spot to run market-wide – paying for the production (nothing went out unless we got paid. The good old days.) I’m proud to say at Kiss108, the deciding factor on where to place the buy was often the perception that we had the best commercial production department – small agencies knew we’d make them look good to their clients. (Of course this was many years ago, before CC chose to cannibalize its radio stations by cutting to the bone.)

Mitch Todd [Mitch.Todd@siriusxm.com], Sirius XM, New York, NY: In my years as a Production Director & Creative Services Director for station clusters, I always championed making the Production Department an actual revenue source. I only fully succeeded a few times (when the Sales Managers/GMs could see beyond the 1st check in front of their nose)!

Generally we would act as an in-house agency, crafting a campaign that had an end goal in sight vs. just a single ad buy. This worked with direct clients or with small local “agencies.” In the 1980’s in San Antonio, I created a “free jingle” program for customers that committed to $12,000 or more in a year. This was before every bloke with a Casio could create “jingles”! My out of pocket for a catchy jingle was $1,000 to $3,000 which we’d build into the ad buy.

Producers & talent were happy with their extra beer money, the Sales Manager got a good buy and usually a lifelong client. I still think many local or regional clusters could build an in-house Creative Services team to deliver higher caliber creative, and re-coup there costs for it (if not actually have positive cash flow).

There’s also one more thing to keep in mind: Most radio spots that are produced for “free,” sound like it! You could use that as a positioning tool as you seek to develop campaigns that produce results for the client. After all, that’s what you should be selling… not just “time”.

Chuck Matthews [cmatthews@rcrg.net], Rubber City Radio, Akron, Ohio: We often have to deal with this scenario given our market size. Some of those involved even want to stand by and “help” pick music and sfx, eating up the studio time. Our corporate policy for clients who are “bringing the buy” is one hour of studio time. Beyond that they pay a set rate. Non-schedule buying clients of course pay per hour for the studio, producer, etc. If spots go out of house, the VO talent are paid a set corporate rate, billed by Sales. We recently had a client agency bring in a 30 and 60 radio, but had no clue that they’d overwritten the 30 and underwritten the 60. I explained the average word count for both and they thought it ridiculous. We had to edit and edit and edit to get the 30 to comply (most of the issue was a disclaimer that had to be included). I was amazed that an “agency” had no idea the word count on a 30 or 60. I could go on... so many stories.

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