R.A.P. Interview: Shawn Kelly

Shawn Kelly, Creative Services Director, Clear Channel, Communications, Albuquerque, New Mexico

by Jerry Vigil 

How many times have you rushed through the production of a commercial so you could turn around and spend two hours on a promo? For many producers, doing the imaging production is the ultimate place to be, and the commercials are more or less a pain. Sure, we all know that commercials are what pay the bills, but perhaps we don’t all know exactly what that means, especially when it comes to how we deal with clients and their commercials. Shawn Kelly knows exactly what the commercials mean, both to the client and the radio station. Recently, Shawn has packed some of his knowledge into a book, “Are Your Words Just Words Or Are They Magic,” and a seminar, “The Good, The Ad, and The Ugly,” which is slated for December 15. This month’s RAP Interview gets a look at how Shawn handles the production at the 5-station Clear Channel cluster in Albuquerque, market #72, and we get a sneak peak at his upcoming seminar. This is information that could very well make you invaluable to your station(s). Read and reap.

JV: Tell us about your beginnings in radio.
Shawn: I got into radio in 1980 when I was really young. I started out doing some part-time work when I was fourteen years old at a boy’s club, and I won an award for something. I can’t even remember what it was. Part of the award was to go on a news/talk station in Dallas.  So I went on the air and did the little interview, and that’s when I really got interested in radio.  I interned at that radio station in Dallas for two years until I became sixteen, until they could legally pay me.  Then I started going all over the place. I was on KNON in Dallas at sixteen, which was a public radio station. When I turned eighteen, I started working in small markets throughout Texas like Greenville and Paris. My main work has always been in Texas and here in New Mexico. I came back to Dallas and did some work for KLUV when I was twenty years old and also did a stint at Q102 in Dallas. I worked at this little station in McKinney for a while, KWPL, which is a little bit north of Dallas. I really credit the program manager there, Jim Patrick, for giving me the big start in radio. When nobody else would believe in me, he did. Even though it was a small station, he really pushed me toward the production end. I had always been interested in production more than the air work.

JV: When did you move to Albuquerque?
Shawn: I came out here to Albuquerque after leaving Paris, Texas where I programmed a country station, KOYN 94. I was in Paris from 1987 through the end of ’89. I was the ops manager, basically. I was doing the programming, doing the promotions, doing the production, and doing the morning show. Then I got an offer at KOLT here in Albuquerque at the end of ’89. I took it and moved out here in 1990. I was morning show host and Production Director there for a couple of years, and then they went bankrupt, which shows how much I can do for a morning show. I did mornings for eight years straight, but my forte was really in the creative and production ends.

Then I did some part-time jobs for different stations around the Albuquerque area for about six months until something full-time came open with KMGA here in Albuquerque. At the time, a company called SpaceCom owned them. Then KMGA was bought by Citadel Communications, Larry Wilson and his group, and I became the Production Manager for KOB-FM here in Albuquerque along with KMGA and a few other stations in the group. David Benard and I did the load for all eight stations at Citadel ourselves, which was a tough job. We put in a lot of late nights. We dreaded Thanksgiving. Most everybody else loved Thanksgiving, but we just couldn’t stand the day before Thanksgiving because we would arrive to work at five o’clock in the morning the day before Thanksgiving, Wednesday, of course, and go home like two or three the next morning because we had so many things to do. And sometimes we would go home, sleep, get up, watch the Dallas game, then come back to work. And then we’d work that Friday and possibly that Saturday. So for us, Thanksgivings were not holidays. I put in five years with them.

Then I got a call two years ago, in ’97, from Frank Jackson at Trumper Communications here in Albuquerque, what was then Trumper Communications. They were looking for a Creative Services Director, and I thought “Well, that’s me.” So I did the interview and got the job. We’ve just recently been purchased by Clear Channel Communications, which is possibly the biggest radio group in the world now. They took over on October 1st.

Eagle-104-LogoJV: What are the stations in the group now?
Shawn: The Clear Channel stations in Albuquerque are KPEK, the Peak at 100.3; KZRR, 94 Rock; KTEG, the Edge; KLSK, the Eagle; and KSYU, which is Sunny 95. Five FMs, and all of them have heavy commercial loads.

JV: In medium and small markets, there’s generally a lot more direct advertising to deal with, which means a lot more production. Would you agree?
Shawn: Yeah. We have a lot of direct clients, a lot of them. We also have a lot of agency work that comes through, too. We have a tremendous amount of national buys coming through because our General Manager, Milt McConnell, is constantly traveling. He’s not the kind of GM that just sits on the phone and talks to these people; he goes to them. He’s going to New York, LA, Boston, you name it, and he’s getting that business. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re so successful with our on-air sound; we have lots of national spots running. We also strive to make all our in-house commercials sound national. We don’t like to take things and just throw them together, although we can’t avoid it a lot of times. But we really strive to make things sound great because when your ratings go up, it’s not always just because of the jocks and the music. If you keep the listeners through the stop sets, your TSL goes up. And the way to keep them through the stop sets, besides the guy on the air talking about what’s coming up next, is to have great stop sets that are structured well and have the commercials that are appealing and entertaining. There are plenty of stations in town that can give a client a commercial. We try not to give them just another commercial. We give them something that works for them, something that the listeners like to hear, and that’s one of the reasons why our ratings are up.

KZRR-94-Rock-LogoJV: How are the stations doing? Any number one stations in that group?
Shawn: Oh, yeah. Got a few…in a few areas.

JV: What help do you have with the production?
Shawn: Just the other people on air, but that’s about to change. And I do have one part-time guy helping me out. His name is Mike Chavez, and he’s been doing a real good job. But we’re trying to hire a full-time production person so I can get back to doing what a Creative Services Director is supposed to do, and that’s getting out and meeting with the clients, designing their campaigns, making sure that they get a return for their money, doing all these different “leave behinds” for them to show that radio is tangible—that’s a Creative Services Director’s number one job, to make radio tangible.

We have five stations and there are over twenty people who get production, and every day there’s a lot. Of course, Fridays are our busiest days. Mike Chavez assigns a lot of the production, and he’s starting to write some of the commercials, too. He’s getting really good at it.

The-Edge-1079JV: Is it just the two of you writing commercials?
Shawn: Yes. Our salespeople will write their own to some extent. We can’t say, “No, you’re never allowed to write commercials.” But the way we look at it, and the way I propose it is, to let me do it. “You go out. You have more important things to do than sit here and try to figure out something to write. You have clients you have to take of. You have new clients you have to get. You don’t have time for this. Let me take the burden off your shoulders. That’s what I’m here for.”

So they’ll write some things, and then they’ll bring it back to me to look over, to make sure it’s appealing, to make sure it’s going to work. Some do and some don’t, and I’ll change them if needed. I’ll get with the client if necessary. But a lot of my time is spent producing and writing.

JV: Do you have any idea how many spots you’re writing and producing in the course of a week?
Shawn: If I were just to throw out a number real quick, I would say in a week we produce about thirty. And including specs, we write about the same number. It keeps us busy. I’ll get to the point sometimes where I won’t write and produce spec spots when the salespeople ask for them. I haven’t been able to do a lot of that within the past year like I should. Right now, it’s more like three or four a month because of the workload and not having the help that I need. But it will get back to where I can do five or six of these extras a week soon, and that really helps out a lot. It helps the production person grow, and it helps the station grow.

JV: Earlier, you mentioned doing “leave behinds” as one of the tasks of a Creative Services Director. What are these?
Shawn: Leave behinds are things like calendars, something a salesperson takes to the client on maybe their first, second or third visit and “leaves behind.” It’s sort of a push for the client to see that yes, radio can work for him when he hasn’t believed in it before. The calendars we do have become popular with the clients. I have a printing program in my laptop, and I take a digital camera and go out to the client and snap pictures—the front of the store, his product, people buying his product, people walking in the store, walking out of the store, just stuff that’s interesting. Then I’ll bring it back and make a twelve-month calendar for the client. If he’s run before, I’ll have his schedule printed out on the calendar—which days he ran in which months and how many times a day. It’s a normal sized twelve-month calendar, the kind you hang on the wall. And on the top part of the calendar are pictures of his store with a theme for that month or whatever. And on the bottom part of the calendar, where the client has to look at the dates, we have one of our station logos. So every time he flips a month, he sees our station in there someplace, and that’s how we make radio more tangible.

That’s one “leave behind” that we do. And obviously we can’t do them for every client. It takes a good hour or hour and a half to put together one of these calendars, and if we did them for every client, I would do nothing but calendars. There are other ways that we do “leave behinds.” Instead of giving the client just a cassette with a label on it, we customize our labels with not only our station logo on the label but with the client’s logo as well. And that makes radio more tangible because it’s something he can actually see. It makes them feel like they’re a part of everything that’s going on, which they should be. And Clear Channel has really helped in making radio more tangible. They’ve given us more tools to use to help us service our clients better.

The-Peak-1003-LogoJV: What kinds of tools?
Shawn: We have a great sales resource center on the Clear Channel website. It helps us out promotionally because you’re in contact with other promotional people in the company, and everyone shares ideas that are posted. For commercial production, they have a site where there are over fifteen hundred scripts that you can get ideas from if you’re stuck. It’s sort of like the RAB website but better, in my opinion, and not just because I’m working for Clear Channel. With the RAB site it seems you get salespeople who are not the best copywriters in the world sending copy to the site. Maybe they just don’t know how to write or they don’t have time to concentrate on it. With the Clear Channel site, you’re getting copywriters sending copy. You’re getting Production Directors sending copy. You’re getting Creative Services Directors and some salespeople sending good copy. And so it really helps us out overall. There are sales tips all over the place. There are jock tips all over this website. It’s just makes it easier for you to do your job. If you’re stuck, you just go to the website, and nine times out of ten, you’re going to dig yourself out of the hole you were in.

JV: Tell us about the production studios.
Shawn: At the moment, we have three production rooms. We have our main production room, which is where we have the client sessions and such because it’s the cleanest and the sharpest one. In that room we use ProTools 4.1.3. We also have a Scott Studios system in there to upload to our other stations. We also upload to a DCS unit. We’ve got the DGS unit in there as well. We’ve got some type of mike processor—I don’t know which one; I just know how to use it. And we’ve got a Yamaha SPX 900 in there, which we don’t use any more because of the effects in ProTools. So if anyone wants to buy it, I’m sure we could sell it to somebody.

Then we have the Orban room, which has an Orban Audicy. That’s where a lot of the work is done for the KTEG imaging. And the imaging guy we have on The Edge/KTEG is just awesome. His name is Scottie Papek—and I thought my life was busy; it seems like he’s there twenty-four hours a day doing imaging. He doesn’t do a lot of commercial production because of the imaging load that he has, but he does do some.

In the SAW room we have SAWplus 32, and a lot of imaging work is done in there for 94 Rock/KZRR, and for KLSK. We have two people who really take care of the 94 Rock imaging. One of them is Jason Rainey. We call him Rainman, and he works on the morning show for 94 Rock. He does a lot of the promos for the morning show and a lot of their bits, and he’s just awesome. Charlie Foxx does the imaging for 94 Rock, and he’s in the same boat with Scottie Papek. His work is just phenomenal as well. Those two guys don’t do a lot of production for me, but they help out in a pinch. Each station has its own imaging guy, which is great because each station has to have that different sound. If I had to do the imaging, too, I wouldn’t have any hair left.

JV: Do you cut different versions of spots for the same client to run on the various formats?
Shawn: Yes, Each of our stations is so very different that you just can’t have one commercial run on each station. It just wouldn’t fit. So you have to tailor each commercial to fit the audience because if you don’t, the client is just wasting money. It’s very important to do this. Still, there are spots we get from agencies or whatever that we run on all the stations, and sometimes those spots stick out like a sore thumb. They just don’t fit. You have to do commercials that fit the audience. You don’t want to run a Tim McGraw concert spot on an acid rock station. It just doesn’t work. And clients will say, “Well, it’s different from the others, so it stands out.” But nobody pays attention to it. It doesn’t fit their lifestyle. They’re listening to the station because they like the hard rock or what have you, and if you throw in an easy-listening commercial, they’re going to tune it out. That hurts the station’s ratings, and it hurts the client. So whenever time allows, we tailor the spots for each station. If time doesn’t allow, we do something in the middle of the road for them.

JV: Does tailoring a spot involve simply changing the music underneath?
Shawn: No, no. Take The Peak. It’s predominantly for women in their thirties. They need a totally different spot than a rock station whose primary target is young males. And I don’t want to run down the stations in our area or any other radio stations, but that’s where most stations fail to service their clients, and that’s why a lot of clients say, “Well, you know, I tried radio, but it didn’t work.” And they’re right because we didn’t allow it to work.

You have to tailor each individual spot for the listener. If you don’t, you’ve failed yourself, you’ve failed the client, and the client’s not coming back because his spots didn’t work. And that’s not the only reason why commercials don’t work on the air, but tailoring is so important. I know it produces extra work, but the rewards you get really outweigh the extra work because the client comes back. And when a client returns and says, “Man, I’ve had the best month ever because we’re advertising with you guys,” that’s better than winning an Addy, a Marconi, or even a Radio and Production award. That’s your true reward right there.

JV: When did you decide to start doing seminars on radio advertising?
Shawn: I actually had the plan about four years ago. I was just too busy to put it into effect. And I’m really too busy now. But if I didn’t do it, it was never going to happen. There’s a lot of knowledge that people need to know but don’t—things like how to deal with clients and how to unleash the creativity that they all have. I have twenty years experience and want to share this knowledge with them. And I’m offering it at a very, very reasonable price, basically just $55 per person.

I started thinking about seriously doing the seminars when I went to another seminar myself, and I won’t mention the gentleman’s name because I respect him so much, but this person just charges way too much in my opinion for the middle and small market people who can’t get to the seminars because they can’t afford it. I wanted to do something for the little guys who couldn’t afford to go to the seminars like the big guys could because, honestly, the medium and small markets really, really need this advice to pump up their sales, to have confidence. Many of these guys in the medium and small markets want to get to a major market some day. They need this advice and this information to get there.

JV: Who is the seminar targeted to?
Shawn: It’s targeted to, of course, radio production people and salespeople. It’s targeted to agencies, which are in many cases, depending on the size of the market and the agency, worse at writing copy and doing commercials than anybody. It’s also targeted to clients. I invite clients to come, and I’ve had clients show up in the past, especially clients who insisted that they have a part in writing and creating and producing the commercial. For the most part, clients don’t know what it takes to get the listener interested in their product when it comes to advertising. That’s why they go hire an agency. That’s why they go hire a newspaper. That’s why they have a salesperson at the radio station. So, it’s targeted to anyone in marketing, anyone in advertising whatsoever.

JV: What do you cover in a seminar?
Shawn: Well, it covers a lot. I have this thing called “The Nine Keys That Will Lock Pandora’s Box” instead of “unlock” because, you know, Pandora’s box is full of mayhem, and that’s what the typical radio-produced commercial is full of, mayhem. So I’ve got the nine keys plus three extra magical keys that will keep it locked.

The number one key is to tell a story, and you’ve heard this before. If you listen to all of the nationally produced commercials, they don’t have facts in them. They all tell stories, and we all love stories. How many times did your grandfather tell you the same story over and over and over again, but you still listen to it? You listen because in some ways it’s different than it was before, and you’re hooked into it, no matter what. It keeps your attention. Another key is to trim the facts; take all the facts out. Another is to have an emotional connection with the listener, the consumer. There are a lot of keys, and they are all covered in my book, too, “Are Your Words Just Words Or Are They Magic.”

JV: Tell us more about your book.
Shawn: It’s a small one, more of a guide, actually. I just finished it about four months ago, and it’s only ten bucks. Part of what I cover in the seminar is in the book, but not everything. In this coming seminar, the one that’s on December 15th, I’ll cover Marketing for the Year 2000, which discusses how the Internet is going to become a huge part of radio. I’ll be covering the new generation, Generation Y—I wish we’d find a different name for generations, though, like Generation Gabby-Pants or something. We’ll talk about clients and their egos. There’s a lot of stuff, and I’ll be adding more once the seminar here in Albuquerque, gets closer.

JV: What’s one of the most common mistakes you see stations in medium and small markets make when it comes to taking care of their clients?
Shawn: There are a lot. In general, I think stations are just taking the money to fill the hole. Not that they’re completely ignoring the client, but I think they have so many clients to deal with that they forget each individual client. For instance, I had a salesperson that no longer works for us give me this script to produce. I told him it was a good effort but it was not going to work for his client. He said, “Well, I don’t care. I just want his money.” I said, “Well, what about returning? That’s where you make your money, returning clients.” “It doesn’t matter. I just need the money.” A lot of places think like that, and that could possibly be the biggest mistake—not getting the client closer to the consumer through the radio commercials.

We’re lucky enough, and I stress the words “lucky enough,” where we have a group of Account Executives who take the time to explain to their clients, “Yes, we can get you on tomorrow, but the quality of the commercial will not be as effective as it would be if we waited a day. And that’s really important. Yes, radio is a medium of immediacy. We can get you on right now, but your business may suffer because of it.” And we really care for the client, a lot. We should. They pay our salaries.

JV: Who trains these salespeople to be so wise?
Shawn: Milt McConnell, our General Manager, who is really good at that, and our Sales Manager, Tony Fitch. Tony was in programming for many years. Then he spent ten years on the sales side. So that helps out a lot because he understands how frustrating it can be for the programming side to hear, “This starts in an hour.” For the most part, we don’t have that situation where the spot starts in an hour. We have to control that in some way in order for our client’s commercial to be effective.

We have another local Sales Manager, Chuck Hammond, who as a matter of fact, hired me to come to Albuquerque from Paris, Texas. He also understands what it takes to service the client. You see, we treat clients like we do listeners. The listeners are the most important part of a radio station. If you don’t have listeners, you don’t have ratings, you don’t have a station. And we treat clients the same way. If we don’t have clients, we don’t have a station either. So there’s not a line where it’s, “He’s the client and we have to take care of him; who cares about the listeners?” We’re very careful about what we put on the air.

JV: What’s a formula for a good commercial?
Shawn: The most important thing to me about radio commercials is that they have to become tangible. The listener has to be able to see himself using the product, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go into sound effects and things like that. You sell the results of the product, not the product itself, and not the client itself. A lot of our problems are that we are too busy selling the client, and when that happens, it doesn’t make the consumer interested in what the client has to offer. We bury what the client has to offer somewhere in the copy.

There are listener-focused commercials, and there are client-focused commercials. Listener-focused com-mercials are the ones that work. Client-focused commercials are there for only one reason, to stroke the client’s ego. And the best tip that you have a spot that is client-focused is when the commercial starts off with the client’s name. Not saying that you can’t mention the client at all, because you have to tell them where to get the product, but if you focus on the results of the product, then name the product, and then tell them where they can get the product, that’s a good formula for an outstanding radio commercial.

Just because you win an award, just because the client likes it, doesn’t mean you have a good commercial. There’s only one way to show that you have a good commercial, and that’s if it works for the client, if he gets people in his store. And what clients fail to understand is that we can’t make people buy their product. What we do is get people to remember them when they need the product, and then it’s up to the client to sell it. That’s why top of mind awareness is so important, and top of mind awareness is not that you have to say the client’s name twenty times in the commercial. If your commercial is done correctly, all they have to do is remember the story to remember the client’s product and where they can get it. And that’s really a hard thing to get the clients to understand because they’ve been taught the wrong way for so many years. They’ll get a salesperson who walks in and says, “Here, let’s just take your newspaper ad and turn it into a radio commercial.” You can’t do that. But that’s what they believe in. They believe in print turning into a radio commercial.

I’m trying to get them to understand that no, that’s not the correct way. When you listen to the national commercials, they all tell a story. They wouldn’t be that successful and be national ads if they weren’t working. If you took one regular radio-station-produced client-focused commercial and compared it to something that a national agency has done for the same client, you’ll hear a huge difference. And it’s not just because you have a different creative person working on it. It’s because the nationals don’t focus directly on the client; they focus on that number one important thing, and that’s the consumer. If you don’t focus on the consumer, the client has wasted his money, and he’ll never come back because his spot didn’t work.

But that’s not the only reason why a commercial doesn’t work. The schedule has a big part to do with it. If they’re running a crappy schedule, then no matter what commercial you have out there, it’s not going to work for them, and they won’t come back.

JV: Why do you suppose it is that some production people are eager to turn out a great promo if only given a couple of hours to do it, but they don’t like having to turn out a great commercial that "starts this afternoon"?
Shawn: Because they’re more interested in doing that promo. Because they have freedom to do what’s right for the station in the promo. And when it comes to commercials, “oh, this starts in three hours,” they just throw something together because they’re not as interested in the commercial as they are in the promo. And that’s partially the fault of the station, the salesperson, the client, and the production person himself. Everyone has a blame to put in the pot for that because we have gotten to where "it’s just a commercial. If we miss a spot, so what? We’ll make it good." We’ve gotten into the habit of saying, “Well, this client’s really not cooperative; I’ll just throw something together because I really don’t want to deal with him.”

Again, what people don’t understand is that we don’t get paid because we run promos. We don’t get the concert tickets and the perks, and we don’t get the trade for dinner, and we don’t get our electricity, and we don’t get our free coffee because of promos. We get all that stuff because of commercials. And when we have good commercials that come through and work for the client, guess what? We’ve had a great year. We get bonuses. We get raises because we have the money to do so. People need to realize that the bottom line is that you have to have a great commercial for that client, for that listener to hear. You’re getting some return for that, and that’s what a lot of people in the smaller markets just don’t realize. And that’s why they have no choice but to put out mediocre commercials, because they just don’t understand how important that commercial is.

JV: Any parting tips for radio production and salespeople?
Shawn: Well, the main thing for people to understand about making a successful radio commercial is to make the commercial successful so the clients will return. You make more money off a returning client than you do a new client because it takes five to six times the work to get a new client than it does to get a returning client. If you have great commercials on your radio station, clients will be begging to get on rather than salespeople begging clients to be on. And when you have good commercials that get results for the client, that’s going to happen, and your revenue goes up. But you have to learn how to do these things that are in my seminars in order for that to happen. And it’s all common sense stuff, but it’s stuff a lot of people don’t know. It took me nearly twenty years to find out, and everyone doesn’t have that time. Things need to be done now because it’s our own fault when radio’s not successful.

And one final thought: you can’t be successful at what you’re doing unless you have the support at home because it does take many hours out of your day to be successful. As most production people know, they spend countless hours away from home, and if you have great support at home, then there’s nothing that you can’t do. And I’d just like to thank my wife of eight years, Vickie, for sticking through the lonely nights, as she still does. I’ll call and say I’ll be home in an hour, and four hours later I’m leaving. But you have to have someone who understands that. You can get lots of ideas from those people, too.

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