What's Really Important Anyway?

By Craig Jackman

I’m sick of hearing it from Sales Reps, and I’m sick of hearing it from Program Directors and Promotion Directors. I’m sick of hearing it from clients. I’m sick of hearing it from Writers or Creative Directors acting as mouthpieces for Sales Reps, Program Directors, Promotion Directors, or clients. I’m sick of hearing, “Drop whatever you’re working on; this is important.” Or even worse, I’m sick of hearing, “This is really special; make sure you put a little extra into this.”

I’ve never been able to understand why so many seemingly intelligent people are so convinced that the strength of radio is its ability to get stuff on the air quickly. Would you expect to go to the local paper at noon and get your little print ad in the afternoon edition? If you went to the TV station and wanted an ad on tonight in prime time, but it had to be shot that afternoon at your retail location, what do you think the response would be? Why are we treated differently? It’s my belief that radio’s strength is repetition and its ability to reach and serve a specific niche target. Why is it so damn important that we get something on the air right #&$*ing now? It’s something that usually sounds like crap anyway, something that you want to go back and re-do at the first possible opportunity, when with just a teensy bit of forethought and planning, everybody would have been prepared for it. Over 15 years of this disease that we call RADIO PRODUCTION, it’s always been that way to an extent, but the farther into it I get, the worse it seems to be.

“Drop whatever you’re working on….” Don’t you trust me enough to keep me in the loop on what you’re trying to set up? Do you think I’m going to blab it all over town? Didn’t you make me sign a non-disclosure agreement when you hired me? It’s something I don’t need to know the exact details on, but keep me informed on the plans, even as they change. You never know when I’ll pitch in with something that will set off idea bulbs at the management table. Better yet, I’ll be able to write something, send it off to the big voice guy, and have something in the can when you are ready to go.

I realize that my biggest and most important client is the radio station itself. I’m not an idiot. I know where my paycheck comes from every two weeks. Still, I would expect that most retailers have a better idea of their business and be able to plan ahead when they are doing a special event. Why can’t a radio station, as a business, be able to do the same? It’s not competition; every business has the same kind of competition that we have, the same kind of economic and labor stresses placed on it.

“Drop whatever you’re working on….” Is that because you haven’t managed your time or planned ahead, and now you want me to work extra hard and/or extra hours and pull your bacon out of the fire yet again? Let me give you a tip. Crises should be managed as they come up; they should not become a way of life or your way of doing business. I’m a big motor sports nut, and it’s interesting to look back to the late ‘50s and the ‘60s. In the high stress world of Formula 1 auto racing, there is a great romanticism of working around the clock with wrenches flying, all 24 hours filled with preparation, making your teams car the best it can be. The reality is that people can’t work that way. Peak performance is what everyone wants, but peak performance suffers with time. You cannot give full attention to your given tasks around the clock without a break. You need time to regenerate. You need time for the other things in your life that interest you and make you a more interesting and whole person. A great project has momentum that feeds on itself, but what happens after the project finishes? You can see it happening in the hi-tech world every day. If it’s important, everyone pitches in to the detriment of everything else in his or her lives. When the project is finished, everyone involved has a tremendous sense of accomplishment. Then inevitably, people start to leave. It could be that they were planning on leaving anyway, but put aside those thoughts while working on this really important project. With them go the special skills that made them valuable to the project in the first place. Sure, they can be replaced, maybe at a lower salary as well, but if they were good enough to hire, and good enough to work on this “important” project, why would any station management want them to leave?

“Drop whatever you’re working on...” Don’t people realize that maybe “whatever I was working on” is important too? Maybe it’s only a $500 contract for some hole-in-the-wall Mom & Pop retailer, but you know that $500 to them is just as important as a $500,000 national campaign is to somebody like McDonalds. I don’t know about you, but I respect that importance, and purposely go out of my way not to know the value of the contracts I work on. Look at it this way: if your client is providing the right service to the right people, and is ready to expand, your radio commercial could be just the thing needed to drive enough customers and dollars to his door to make that growth happen. The opposite could be true as well, but who among us is prepared to stand up and say it? Instead, we hide behind clichés like, “Advertising is an inexact science” or the corporate stand that “the client didn’t buy enough reach.”

“...make sure you put a little extra into this.” See above. It doesn’t matter to me the size of the contract or the size of the client. The ads the little guys buy are as important to them, maybe more important, than the big national chains. I don’t give a rat’s __ if the client is the biggest furniture guy in town, who spends $300k with us every year, sponsoring this that and the other thing on the air. He gets the same effort as the little guys who are putting 2 spots a day on the air over 7 days. A client is a client is a client. There is no difference.

“...make sure you put a little extra into this.” The next person that says this to me had better be able to duck. I don’t know about you, but I really care about what I put on the air. Crap commercials and promos deserve that title, and I do all I can so that crap is a minimal part of our airwaves. I look at the script and judge what is required, and then put together the material that fits those requirements best. If you follow that way of working, you don’t have to put any “extra” into it. At that point, any “extra” is redundant and would stick out like a sore thumb. What is worse when you hear it, crap or a sore thumb? Is there a difference? I have to temper this depending on the whims and wishes of the client. If somebody really wants something on a spot, who am I to say no? I’ll tell somebody my opinion, but when Mr. Client is prepared to sign the cheque anyway, I’ll shut up.

What is really important? Only you can answer what’s really important to you. For me, what’s really important is giving my best effort on every project I work on. My family and my outside interests are important too, naturally. It’s a delicate balancing act that is my life, and the “drop what you’re working on” projects can be like pelting the guy on the high wire with beanbags. I’m willing to be a team player, but that means that everyone else has to act like a part of the team too, so I don’t have to take the swan dive to the concrete floor.

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