Q It Up: How Do You Handle Late Copy?

q-it-up-logo2Q It Up: How do you handle late copy? Does late-to-production copy reduce the quality of the commercial you turn out, or do you have contingency plans in place? Do the spots get bumped from the log to give you time to turn out a decent spot, or do you stay late and round up voice talent however you can to get the spot cranked out? How much of a problem is late copy for you, and how do you try and reduce the frequency of late copy to your department?

In my experience with late copy over the years, I’ve found that if you can get management behind you and get some authority to bump spots, you not only get the attention of sales and better efforts to meet deadlines, but the whole system functions more smoothly with less error and frustration. And the product is better. And I would always find out what kind of contract we were looking at before I’d bump spots. Are these spots running several times in morning drive and bringing top dollar? Best to try and get those on. But if they’re like the 3-voice spot that was dropped on me one Friday afternoon at 4:30pm, the one that was going to run just 3 times in the overnight show on our AM station, no way. Other times, we’d find the spots didn’t start until late the next day anyway, often allowing us the time we needed to produce the spot. Or we’d move one spot out of morning or midday to give us time. Check the schedule and the dollar figure; they both can provide helpful direction.


So what’s your experience?

Craig Jackman [Craig.Jackman[at]ottawaradio.rogers.com], Rogers Media, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada: This used to be a much bigger problem than it is now. We switched to Wide Orbit traffic last year which ties Creative, Sales, and Traffic much tighter together. Deadlines are now hard. If Creative isn’t in, spots get bumped. The Sales Reps and Sales Managers have all been trained on it, so they know. There is no more weaseling in to bully people to get something on the air. No more running around to find a voice, or pulling a jock off the air in the middle of a drive shift. After the first “What do you mean… no?” conversation to remind them that it can’t be done, things have run much smoother as well.

Andrew Frame [andrew[at]bafsoundworks.com], bafSoundWorks, Lehigh Acres, Florida: It’s no different in the agency/freelance world as it is in the sales/radio world. We get late copy, and we just do it.

Often, the late copy is the result of advertisers meddling, and not the reps, so our customers (stations) are prepared to bump spots if necessary.

We do try to get them the audio so they don’t have to. It keeps them from potentially losing revenue and reinforces our stand as the “go to guys.” This is important to stations, and really important to agencies, who have to in turn get the audio to stations.

That said, if it’s a single-voice read, nothing fancy and I can do it myself, I’ll work “late” and get it done. But if we get sent a multiple-voice script, or something with some serious production value, or needs a specific voice, then they’re going to have to wait for it.

We don’t cut corners on any job, ever. Our product is our reputation.

Dennis Mattern [production.pa[at]verstandig.com]: How do we handle late copy? Daily.

Don Elliot [voiceovers[at]charter.net]: I can’t WAIT to see the responses to this one because REASON and “business ethics,” work flow and manners go right out the window on this subject if you are working for an organization which has a nut in power, if you know what I mean.

The best way I dealt with it was to throw the whole subject back into the arms of the ENTIRE sales force, in front of everyone, with a Kindergarten analysis: You are waiting in line for Ice Cream and suddenly, the class bully bellies up to the front of the line where everyone else had been playing by the rules. They WAIT ON HIM and what happens? Naturally? The whole CLASS gets down on the offender.

And that’s what needs to happen in the line of workflow in Production. What’s that, you say? The bully will pay double to get in front of the line?

Now you’re talkin’! THEN, you can justify the overtime to your boss, and the talent, and the missed spots that could happen with OTHERS because “this clown” took the time away from them.

If you can’t handle saying “no,” then the stress you are causing yourself will eventually cause your life to shorten. Meanwhile, the “idiot” gets his spots on and is rewarded for bad behavior. It becomes self-perpetuating if you don’t get the problem fixed. And don’t tell me you are afraid to stand up for yourself because of the job market. That’s exactly what they WANT you to think. When I was a #2 manager, I was directed by my “middle-manager” above ME to always keep two cardboard cartons overflowing at the brim with audition tapes in the corner of my office. When anyone came in to ask for a raise, I was to point to that stack when responding, “Why should I have to give you a raise when any of these guys will come in for half your salary or even minimum wage?” It made me sick to my stomach. That’s when I became an AFTRA organizer.

You have to risk that kind of confrontation when you say “no,” that’s true. But let that idea be your motivator to get the system at your station organized with some rules for deadlines, or seriously consider a more fun way to make money with your talents. You’ll live longer. Trust me on that one! I have stats on the mortality rate of our profession and yes, there IS a higher incidence of heart attacks with guys under 45 who worked for a certain chain.

I rest my case.

Alan White [alan.white[at]citcomm.com], Citadel Broadcasting, Colorado Springs, Colorado: Wait a minute, maybe I should turn this answer in at midnight on January 14th... would that be ok? You wouldn’t mind staying a few extra hours to get it in the RAP issue? Oh, I just forgot that I had a DEADLINE! Seriously, late copy in radio is a way of life... after all, money talks, or as my GM says, “Cash is King.”

If the logs are already printed, no big deal, just chop down another tree. Do I yell? Yes. Does it do any good? No.

The best thing we can hope for is to have a sales staff that understands that in order to produce great spots for their clients, time is of the essence. For the most part my AE’s and managers get it. A great new tool for accountability is vCreative’s PPO system that we adopted about 6 months ago. It time stamps everything and allows me to be able to see orders as soon as they are submitted to traffic so I can get a head start. Not to sound like a commercial, but I really like it a lot... that and a beer after work.

Shaun Whynacht [shaun[at]bluecowcreative.ca], Blue Cow Creative, Bridgewater Nova Scotia, Canada: Late copy is always an issue when dealing with new clients not prone to the industry standards. For our company, being an independent production facility, we start the process early in consultation. With setting the standards and expectations with our clients we not only give them a clear picture of how late copy affects the outcome of their product, but also increases production time and cost for them. Set deadlines for your clients before your deadline and send them a reminder. Most clients are very busy and most don’t intend to have late copy; the need to send it by a certain time may have slipped their mind. Develop a copy policy early in your process. If all copy is to be in by X date at Y time, to allow for production, failure to send copy within these guidelines will result in your production being moved to the next production date.

Bill Jackson [bjackson[at]jrfm.com], 93.7 JRfm/100.5 The PEAK, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada: Well, we usually handle ‘late’ copy requests by cussing somebody out first. Then, once we calm down, we determine how much time we have to work on it. Thankfully, our creative department is pretty good, and does try to divert any last minute requests with a big ol’ “NO.” They’ve even been known to send the sales rep down to the studio to ask the question, “Do you have time to produce this?” If something does “have to be done,” more often than not we make time for it. Also, they’re usually single voice spots, that may require a background, so pretty simple. Do we ever compromise the quality of these ads? Of course not. No, no, no, no!

Oh wait a minute... I zoned out for a second there. A last minute spot has been known to end up in the capable hands of a junior producer now and then. Yes, we do bump spots to get the best product on the air. Yep, like any prod department on the planet, we’ve hung out late to get a good spot on the air. Are last minute copy changes a huge problem for us? Not really. We’re very fortunate. Many of our clients have been with us for a long time, and have a great relationship with the writers. So the guys are usually working 1 - 2 weeks ahead.

Now, if we’ve made a mistake in the copy, i.e. wrong info, then it gets fixed right away. If the client happened to miss something, or wants to make a change on copy they’ve signed off... well... we will get to it as soon as we can.

Andy Safnauer [andy[at]longtrainproductions.com], Longtrain Productions, Charlotte, North Carolina: Late copy was one of the main reasons I left my radio gig in 2005. We had no deadlines, so it was a free-for-all every day. As a department we just had to be fluid and do stuff as it came in. There was a lot of same day copy. (A sales person came in with a piece of copy at 11am; they would have the traffic department write it on the logs to start after 2pm that day.) I had the staff staggered thru the day to make sure we had someone there all the time. I came in at 7:30, the next guy would come in around 10, the next around 2 and finally a part timer around 5 to handle dubs. Usually that had me out of there by 6 or so. There were a lot of VO/music spots. Not a lot of creativity unless you could come up with something on the fly. Mainly because we didn’t have a dedicated copywriter, and the sales people brought in most spots as bullet points. When we were given some time we cranked out pretty good stuff. The sales staff didn’t really care about a quality spot, and no matter how many times we tried to address the issue with the gm, it was always about the bottom line so it was ‘get the spot on, no excuses’. We likened spot production to a factory - I’d bolt the seats in, one of my assistants would bolt the wheels on, and we’d send it down the line… next!!

It was ridiculous. Oh and did I mention this was a radio group in a major market?

Stewart Herrera [stewart.herrera[at]citcomm.com], 95.5 KLOS-FM, Citadel Broadcasting, Los Angeles, California: Practically ALL copy around here is late copy, it seems. But one thing I try to keep in mind when plans get thwarted because of late afternoon/early evening production surprises, is that radio is by its nature, a ‘last minute’ medium. It’s one of radio’s selling points -- that you CAN turn around last minute copy and production changes. We’re nimble, unlike print or TV. So when things come at you late, you can only bitch so much. That’s just part of the deal with radio. That said, one hopes the production folks are respected, treated well, and acknowledged regularly, especially by sales. It can get lonely back here.

Vanessa Levenstein [VanessaLe[at]primedia.co.za], Primedia Broadcasting, Cape Town, South Africa:

When in a flap
The brief is late
And copy’s written past the date
It was meant to be on air
Never fear do not despair
A live read can do the trick
Manually loaded, it is quick
And tomorrow we can record the spot
Making sure it sounds pretty hot

Blaine Parker [bp[at]slowburnmarketing.com] Slow Burn Marketing, Park City, Utah: One of my favorite things to do with reps who routinely wanted copy in a second was to reach across my desk, grab the phonebook-sized stack of production orders, and say, “OK. We have five stations here. All of these POs were in on time. Which one of them would you like to bump out of the way to make room for yours? Tell you what, you take this stack of production orders, go through it, pick the account rep who gets the shaft, and go tell him or her why you’re more important.”

Late copy doesn’t affect me like it used to, now that I’m an agency. Certainly, there are times when we suddenly have to scramble because something fell through the cracks (like the account rep at the station didn’t inform us of a deadline and oh, by the way, we need your new spot in 15 minutes).

That said, when I was in the station, we did have a policy about late copy & spot requests. It was typically this: forget it. Unless you have a good reason. And the production coordinator was one hell of an enforcer—so much so that I would tell the typically responsible reps who needed a rush job to come to me first. It saved them a lot of headaches. I’d just do it and save them the battle.

And let’s face it: this is just radio. If an advertiser misses a day’s worth of spots, guess what: the world continues to spin on its axis, babies continue being born, and everything tomorrow will be the same as it was today. It’s only a radio spot.

With that attitude in mind, things become much easier.

It also makes room for truly deserving last-minute jobs. In LA, once I had a phone call from an account rep in Sacramento who said, “I have situation. I’ve got a group home that’s about to be shut down if they don’t raise $8,000 for a new fire sprinkler system by tomorrow. It means half a dozen kids who’ve been through all kinds of emotional upheaval are about to go through even more upheaval.”

We dropped everything else we were working on in Los Angeles, and in two hours Sacramento had their spot on the air. In two days, the money was raised and the kids in the group home didn’t have to go back into the system.

That’s a last-minute spot worth taking on.

Buzz Calhoun [buzzcalhoun[at]clearchannel.com], Clear Channel, Bryan, Texas: Being a Production Director is akin to being a blind goalkeeper in a soccer match. Daily we endure late copy, last minute changes, orders submitted long after logs have been generated, and countless times I have had to go through a log on multiple stations to move spots, add spots, delete spots, etc. Since I can’t read any of the other submissions while composing this, I can’t really equate this condition to be isolated to our market size or location, and I don’t think it is a reflection of management either. We have a fantastic management team. It may be a symptom of fear of revenue loss, which irks me more than anything. If Client A would be willing to pay X and they decide to go elsewhere, Client B will be willing to pay Y if you are doing the job right as far as your content goes. I’ve been an Account Executive before, and it is much easier to sell a good sounding fun radio station than one who is the result of no focus on Programming excellence and making it all about the dollars. The moral in my mind is late copy and last minute orders, changes after the fact and “need it now” moments of chaos, are just a part of the job. Impose all the timelines and cutoff rules and regulations you want, but at the end of the day if the suit wants it done, you have to make it happen.

Ric Gonzalez [Ric.Gonzalez[at]coxmg.com], Cox Media Group, San Antonio, Texas: Great topic. We handle them case by case. Sure we have deadlines (there it is out there… the dreaded “D” word). But we can bend deadlines. Agencies tend to be biggest offender… both national and local. Digital technology has made it easier to slide it in late. Unlike the days of tape and snail mail, the audio can be emailed at 11:30pm for next day start. Agencies just expect you to deal with it. Just like some agencies expect you to produce, voice, sometimes even write their copy. Wait… am I going off on a tangent? Back to late copy. If it isn’t in by the time I leave, it gets assigned to a night jock or overnighter. We make sure that unit number in the on air system is blank incase the spot never arrives.

Where scripts are concerned, it is just plain simple. We need the time to get the voices for the spot. If it is a straight read and the script just got approved or sent today for tomorrow start, then the client/rep is made to understand that they may not hear it until the next day. This is because it may get produced after hours. If they wanted to approve it today then we needed it yesterday or sooner.

Late copy has always been a part of radio. I found out years ago, that coming in earlier never helped me leave earlier. All the real stuff happens later -- revisions, late client approval of the script we wrote 2 days ago, spots that don’t match the isci on the PO, etc. You can’t put out fires that haven’t happened yet. Our office closes at 5:30. I don’t plan on leaving before 6. No frustrations that way. On the days we do finish at 5:30… sweet.

I can also VPN and upload to all our stations from home. So if I need to be somewhere with the family tonight, I can. I can just VPN in later that night and finish up. Be flexible and they’ll never break you.

Gary Michaels [michaels[at]wkoa.com], Wask, Wkoa, Wkhy, Wxxb, Espn Radio, Lafayette, Indiana: In 30 years I’ve never found a ‘deadline’ policy that’s workable and enforceable. We’ve tried them but shortly you find every client has become an exception or special case. Our managers do implement a system of ‘reasonable expectations’, meaning they’ve said ‘no’ before. I have a passionate production staff with a ‘can do’ mentality, and we will move heaven and earth to get spots done and on, but our biggest tool is great traffic department. They’re awesome at moving spots to later in the day so we have extra time/days to work on the production. We also don’t sell nearly as many daypart specific spots as we did, say, ten years ago, so moving inventory has become much easier. Plus, a few stern looks from my assistant or I are usually good for at least an apology and a free lunch the next day.