Q It Up: Production Deadlines - Part 2

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Copy deadlines…myth or mandate? Just a few short years ago, when owners were limited to two stations in a market, it was a dogfight for the ad dollars, and money was seldom turned away because “the copy came in after deadline.” Today, with owners having more power in a market, and things much busier in the Traffic, Continuity, and Production Departments, things might be a little different.

That’s what this month’s Q It Up hopes to shed some light on.  (We had several informative responses to our Q It Up question and split the responses between last month’s March issue and this issue.)

Q It Up:How many stations does your production department work for? Are there deadlines for scripts and agency tapes? What are they? Are deadlines strictly enforced or are they only guidelines? Do the salespeople follow these guidelines or meet these deadlines? What happens if they don’t? Please add any further comments you might have.

Neil Andrews <Neiland2[at]aol.com>, Good Spot Productions, (WGY/WHRL/WRVE), Albany, NY: Natasha Grimes and I create the production for all 3 stations with a little help from 3 jocks (an hour a day). With that workload, we established a 3 p.m. deadline for copy and tapes. Simply put, if the copy, tapes, or instructions are not in by 3 p.m., there is no guarantee it’ll be ready for start the next day. Because this is a business, we make every effort to get it done, and usually succeed, but there have been exceptions. The sales staffs of all 3 stations really work hard to make sure everything is in by 3; it’s better for them, better for us, better for the client, and better for the listeners, as that gives us more time to do it right. Of course, the sooner sales gets the copy in, the better the commercial, but that’s a universal problem.

Hal Knapp <ZCobra[at]aol.com>: As Production Director of Z-100, a New York City radio station that INCREASED its revenue by over 13 million dollars last year alone, strict commercial deadlines can pose some interesting problems. As a guideline, 3 p.m. is the cutoff time for all copy to go “on-air” by tomorrow. Over 90 percent of all my work arrives only one day prior to airing, and I have no one assisting me with any commercial production—at Z-100, the jocks are free of any production duties. As part of a team that strives to increase revenue and customer service, it is hard to impose deadlines on clients that bring their business to Z-100. Often, the Account Executives have worked along with Traffic, Continuity, and the business department, to get the client on Z-100, and I’m the only thing standing in the way of a $75,000 plus order getting on the air. When there are many radio stations in New York that a client can use to advertise, we want to make sure they bring their business here and have a positive experience. In order to accomplish all of this without living at the station, I have adjusted my hours to work the later part of the day, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Usually, the business side is closed by 5:30 p.m., so the bulk of my work gets done after these hours. If copy arrives after 3 p.m., each client is handled in a case by case basis. If a client wants elaborate production, then we usually schedule the spot to air later the next day allowing me to finish it when I come in the following morning. Sometimes we can’t bump a spot until later in the day, so, I’ll remind the Account Executive of the deadline policy, talk to the Sales Managers, and advise them to the “limited” production that I can do on the spot. Although I never like to put a spot on-air that doesn’t reach my expectations, usually the client is satisfied, and if not, I will re-produce the spot to their liking. Unfortunately, it’s all about business and satisfying a client....not trying to win the next Cleo. My later hours also help on straight dubs off of DGS or DCI as I’ve also found that often they deliver spots later in the day that need to go on-air tomorrow. As DGS and DCI have become the delivery choice, spots no longer arrive a few days before as in the “old days” of FedEx, UPS, and standard post (which I vaguely remember) which adds to the heavier work load near the end of the day. On the rare occasion, I’ll get an order late and do elaborate production. It will air in morning drive, and I will stay late. It happens and it is part of job. The Account Executive and Sales Managers are usually apologetic, but the bottom line is that we’ve made the client happy.

In addition to commercial responsibilities, we have a general production meeting every Monday that deals with promos, sweepers, and special programming. Dave Foxx, the Creative Director, along with our PD, myself, and others, go over the other aspects of the station’s production. A punch list is made up of the weekly projects, and deadlines are set. This meeting mainly deals with Foxx’s responsibilities, however, some of my “other” noncommercial responsibilities make the list, and the meeting also serves as a brainstorming session.

After over 10 years of working at Z-100, I’ve learned the careful balance to maintain a sense of deadlines without upsetting the service that our clients expect.

Jim “Jimbo” Kipping <jkipping [at]texas.net>, LBJS Broadcasting/Voice Over Austin, Austin, TX: Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the fight of the CENTURY!! (ding ding) First, our department, Sound Design, serves all of the LBJS broadcasting family in Austin, which includes KLBJ-FM, KLBJ-AM, KGSR-FM, KAJZ-FM, and KROX-FM. These are ALL, repeat ALL stations that pack a major punch in the revenue of Austin. Therefore S.D. touches each and every penny that makes it on the air. I do have 3 other full-time people who work in my department, but let’s do the math. On average, each of the 40+ sales folks have, say, 20 clients that are one the air at one time (800 on average). We get hit equally hard with dubs, local copy, and “agency copy” (again I use that loosely—see my diatribe from a few issues ago about “agencies”). So we DO have to have some deadlines.

Now, there is ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that 4 people can be held accountable for every penny of this! There has to be some AE accountability as well. This is the way I have addressed this to management. It’s easier for one person to make DARN sure that they get their 20+ clients info on correctly and on time, than one person to handle say 200. When you talk to management about dollars moving out the door because an AE “...was at the bank and I forgot to go pick up the dub” (actual excuse used on us last month!!!!), let me tell you, that didn’t fly too well with this person’s Sales Manager or General Manager.

Copy and information that tells us what to tell traffic to run, needs to be into us by 11 a.m. for the next day’s run. This is just the paperwork, not the tape. This also includes extensions or in-house spots that we have archived or dubbed for a sister station. This 11 a.m. deadline gives us time to process the paperwork for all 5 stations. Traffic needs this info, i.e. cart number and rotation, which the Account Executive is responsible for by 1 p.m.. We just key it into our report to give to traffic. Tapes need to be in by 3 p.m. for the next day’s run. If this is a fully produced piece, we ask for 2 full working days. This means 16 working hours. This does not mean dump off a “full produce” by Friday for a Monday start.

Here’s the best part. Any exceptions? Sure, but they generally are signed off by a number of the higher-ups, excluding the Sales Manager, before completion is done. This person is the General Manager or even the Vice President of the company. Interesting twist? Yes! Let me tell you; the “I was at the bank and forgot to pick up my client's tape” excuses seem to be a thing of the past. If a tape isn’t ready, a report is sent upstairs as to the reason. Suits love reports. Avail times are gold in such a competitive marketplace, including in-house! Any missed spots means missed revenue. Many times they can’t be made good. Mess with the uppers’ cash flow-widget-spread-sheet-budget-hittin-operational-whats-a-ma-hoozits long enough, and they’ll see your side! They saw mine. I love consolidation. Face it, the era of the Mom and Pop two station groups are gone, my friend. Mark my words, this is monopoly. How many Hotel’s do we have, and how much revenue can we suck out of ‘em? That’s the name of the game. If you happen to work in one of the 1-50 markets that only have one or two stations, count your self lucky, but be prepared to have a back up plan when the bomb hits. Call me a pessimist. Sure! I can take it. If all else fails, it’s good to know I can always become an, “Agency.” Keep the faith (and the damn deadlines)!

John Pellegrini <John. Pellegrini[at]abc.com>, WLS, Chicago, IL: What a coincidence! Just this past weekend, with the threat of having to work another Sunday because deadlines were blown once again, I was thinking about this very question, indeed. Each station has its own production department, but one traffic department rules all four, and they are seriously over-worked. DGS has purchased DCI, which means neither one can apparently get its act together. We’ve had spots show up from them at 11:59 p.m. for a start time of 5:00 a.m. the very next day. Sure, everyone says there are deadlines, but it’s amazing how they all seem to disappear down the hall into meetings, whenever the deadlines are blown. Unlike an airline ticket, if the spot doesn’t show up, the radio station eats the loss. (I’ve never been able to figure out who the idiot was that instituted THAT policy.) Stations that are in “transition,” (or “growth” as the latest Tony Robbins aficionados call it) are forced to forego deadlines more than established stations that have niches. The agencies know this, and exploit it for all it’s worth. Of course, most stations in this situation have weekend employees who can handle production crunches over the Friday to Monday break. We don’t. This is one of those “growing pains” that will someday be better, but as long as we’re fighting to get to number one, we have to do whatever it takes. I’m venting here; truthfully, I love my job and everyone I work with (my mom made me write that).

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