R.A.P. Interview: Maureen Bulley

R.A.P.: What can people who attend the workshop expect?
Maureen: Great writers and producers are really the most valuable asset that any radio station has, and oftentimes they're the most overlooked and under-trained people in the station. They're charged with providing that service to the client which actually turns the wheels in the radio station, and, unfortunately, they're not always put on the pedestal where they belong. So, the workshop is designed to motivate and revitalize the writers and producers and remind them how important they are and to give them some skills to improve the quality of work they are doing, tips on how to overcome writer's block and so on. We consulted Sales Managers and Program Directors at the stations where the workshop was being marketed, and we determined their objectives to be to gain something that was results-oriented, that was measurable, something that would give them the things they needed from their writers and producers.

The workshop is a three-day process which actually begins a few weeks before the actual workshop. Any two week period prior to the workshop taking place, I have the writers and producers undertake detailed tracking of the workload they have, to indicate how many commercials they are writing and producing, whether they're involved in writing promos, and what other responsibilities they have. Often they may be charged with carting music or whatever. There might be a lot of additional things that come into their arena of responsibility. So we try to measure those, and it's pretty easy to gauge whether there are too few people there to do the job or whether there are too many people who maybe aren't doing it properly. But it's really insightful to do that kind of tracking, and that's what we do prior to coming in.

On the first day, I'll actually visit the radio stations that are involved in the workshop and have a look at their creative and production systems--what actually happens between the time the air time is sold and those commercials actually are played by the announcer. I take a look at that and see if there are any ways to streamline that process and improve it. At that time, I also will have meetings with the sales and programming people to discuss their relationship with creative and production staff. What are their needs that, perhaps, are not being addressed? Do they need more spec tapes? I determine just whatever happens to be the situation at that particular station.

On the second day, I take the writers and producers out of the station setting, and we all gather in a neutral area like a meeting room. We spend eight hours in a workshop talking about a lot of different things. We spend a little bit of time talking about the rules and regulations governing radio advertising. I assess their knowledge of those areas and then spend the appropriate amount of time just reviewing what the laws are that they need to be aware of. We spend time talking about the tools of the trade, examining production music libraries, reference books, and other things like that--simple things like, "Do you have a stop watch?" You'd be surprised what you find. Some stations are very well equipped and others certainly are not.

We spend a lot of time talking about the creative process. I feel it's very important for people who rely on their brain to earn their living to understand how it actually works. Why did they get that great idea in the shower or while they were driving in the car? Then how do we actually manipulate the brain to give us those ideas when we need them on the spot? You oftentimes have a deadline and five or ten or twenty commercials to write. How do you actually turn on the creativity? That is very important. We also review some brainstorming techniques that can be used in a group situation or with just one writer brainstorming on one's own, techniques that will be useful, perhaps, in developing pitches for new clients or maybe a series of promos for the next ratings period. Then we actually talk about effective radio writing and go through some techniques and styles of scripts and discuss some ways to write better scripts.

The really important thing for people to remember, and what I try to reinforce, is that the responsibility of writers and producers is to make sure that the entertainment value continues into the stopset. Their commercials and promos should be just as entertaining, or even more entertaining, than the programming of the radio station. And if they approach it with that attitude, then they appreciate the responsibility that they have and really take charge of the situation.

It's also important for them to know their limitations. I mean, it would be very unrealistic for me to go in and say, "Okay, you all need digital studios, and you all need brand new production music and sound effects libraries, and you all need much nicer offices with Jacuzzis and cappuccino machines." That's obviously not realistic in the radio climate of today. So we help them work with the tools they have, and it's really important for them to know the limitations of the facilities they have available to them--the limitations of the production music, the limitations of the talent. We work with them to maximize their resources instead of trying to do things they don't have the facilities or the talent to do.

Then, on the final day, I go back into the radio stations and meet again with the programmers and the salespeople and basically tell them what kinds of things I've learned, what the concerns are of their writers and producers. I give them some suggestions on how to make sure that the benefits of the workshop are appreciated long after I've left so they can enjoy continued results from the creative writers and producers. And I let them know some of the things those people need in order to do their job effectively.

We also have the Radio Rewards Program which awards the Hanna Barbera or Warner Brothers sound effects library to the creative or production team that generates the most new business as a result of the workshop. There are a couple of reasons why that became part of it. First of all, as I had mentioned, Sales Managers and Program Directors wanted measurable results from the workshop. They obviously wanted to see an influx of new business, whether it's a new client or an existing client who finds they are happy with their commercials and therefore books more radio time. But I also wanted to reward the writers and producers with the right kind of thing. I mean, I could have sent everybody on a gambling junket to Vegas, but I really wanted to give them something that would help them to do their job in a more effective way. They can make use of these libraries, and they're fun. You know, when you prioritize the list of things you're going to buy as a radio station, buying things for fun is probably way at the bottom of the list.

R.A.P.: So, rather than having a workshop and inviting people from everywhere to attend, you take the workshop to the market and try to get as many stations as you can to participate. This certainly enables you to be more effective because you are able to visit with everyone at the station involved and see the facility as well.
Maureen: There are other variations that we're working on based on the demand. Some people want a one-day thing in their particular city, and we're working on developing that now. When this particular workshop in London was developed in response to the needs of the Radio Marketing Bureau and the CAB, I felt it was important to involve all the people who are part of the process from making the sale to actually getting it on the air because if those people work in opposition to each other, it makes it very difficult. It's obviously a much easier task if they understand the objective is to write entertaining and effective radio commercials. Then everyone works toward the common goal, and that's very important.

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