Q It Up: Who Writes Commercial Copy at Your Station?

Q-It-Up-Logo-sep95Q It Up: Who handles the commercial copywriting duties at your station(s)? Do you have a full-time or part-time staff copywriter? Are salespeople writing their own copy? Are you writing copy? How well would you say your current setup is working, and what do you think could be done to improve it? Please include any other comments you might have on the subject.

Mike W. Bass [Mike.W.Bass[at]abc .com]: Writers? You can’t swing a dead rat without hitting a writer at Radio Disney! We have two full-time writers for network promos and features, and two-full time writers who handle the commercials and promos for over 20 Radio Disney O&Os (we call those “locals”). The network and local Production Managers also do their share of writing, as well as the Production Director and some of the seven geniuses (ahem!) who make up the network and local production teams.

Seems like a lot of folks, doesn’t it? Well, it has to be! In 2001 we cranked out over 4,500 pieces of copy for the local production department alone!

Our biggest challenge is maintaining quality. A writer with 20 commercials on his plate in a given day doesn’t have the luxury of devoting hours of creative thought to a single spot, so we’ve learned to use a lot of tricks. If a particular commercial worked well for, say, Atlanta, the writer might “recycle” the spot for a similar business in Seattle. This helps out the writer, but for the producer it can be a case of deja vu all over again. “Didn’t I produce this spot last week?”

Rewriting is also key. The producers recast, edit or shorten copy in the production process - hopefully without incurring the wrath of the client (or the writer - creative types can be so touchy!). Since we use kid VO heavily in all our production, we also have a great resource for keeping it real. “Would a kid say this?” is a question we ask our RD kids at almost every voice session. And we’ll always let a kid voice a line the way he/she thinks it should be read. Believe me - nobody writes for kids better than kids.

Client copy? Yeah, we get that, too. Hoo boy. We’ll try to punch it up, but if they insist on our voicing their laundry lists word-for-word.... well, hey. As long as it doesn’t violate BS&P, it’s their dime.

All in all, we manage to pull it off without losing too much hair. Except on Fridays, of course, when all seven of my stations seem to have regularly scheduled emergencies.

The more things change...

Roland J. Norio [rnorio[at]insight bb.com], WFMS/ WGLD/ WGRL, Indianapolis, IN: Although there are many creative individuals within the company, we don’t have a “copywriter” at our stations. This is a duty that falls within my job description as Production Director. I am also fortunate to have a production assistant that enjoys brain-storming commercial ideas with me. When asked to put a script together, given just the bullet points, we’ll usually sit down and scratch something out, give it to the AE, who in turn forwards it to the client and then wait for a response. Once I get the green light on the draft, we’ll proceed with the production. In most instances, the salespeople will give me the copy points, and in some cases, even a quality script. Few of the sales associates seem to like to take a crack at the creative writing while others just want to leave it in our capable hands. This system seems to work well with our three stations, provided we’re given enough time to write record and produce each order. I personally enjoy brainstorming with others for good ideas. A great idea can come from anyone and sometimes a different perspective may even yield a gem of a spot.

When starting any copy-writing assignment, the sales rep is your direct contact for getting the right information you need to put a spot together - as long as it’s not in epic form. Often, copy points will contain “laundry lists” and the phone number and website for the bar (to be mentioned four times). A good salesperson should help to create the theme for the spot when meeting with the client. He or she should also dissuade them from wanting to add too many ideas thus confusing the message of the commercial. Give me the who, what, where, and when and let me go to work.

Sean Bell[at]nypd [seanbell[at]yahoo .com]: Around 8 years ago, I used to work as a “floating” writer only, moving around various stations across the UK as required, for one of the big radio groups. I remember one commercial that I wrote for Leicester Sound and was really pleased with. Then when I heard it on-air it was nothing like what I had in mind. It wasn’t really the producer’s fault; he’d done a good job. It just wasn’t what I wanted and I was quite miffed.

Now, running my own production company, NYPD, I still work with a number of stations (probably around 32) that retain my services for writing alone, but because of the geographical locations, I rarely get to hear them, and I’ve now learned to switch off once the script has left the building. But I do try to include clear direction. If I’ve written with a particular voice artist in mind, I’ll certainly suggest their name on the script.

I write and produce 99% of the work that comes out of the NYPD studios, and I know that I’m always going to get the very same commercial spot that was floating around in my head as my fingers tapped the keyboard. The other one percent?  Occasionally, I might get a script supplied from an ad agency (usually written by someone who’s more used to writing corporate brochures, and is therefore so over-written and lacking in any creativity), and I also have a client - an established production company in their own right - who sub a lot of their work onto me. So I’m producing other people’s scripts. I just hope I can do them justice!

Bumper Morgan [bump[at]bumper morgan.com], WCOD/WXTK/WTWV, Cape Cod, MA: Out here, the salespeople have jurisdiction over their copy, but welcome input from the production department when needed. Many clients write their own copy too. I make sure their spot is positioned correctly, in the third person, etc.

As Production Director, I have a chance to work with many local merchants in the studio. I love it, gives me a real sense of community. Over a period of time a trust builds up and suggestions are well taken when it comes to scripts and production.

Recently, an interior designer came to the station, self-written script in hand. It was terrible. I told her she was setting herself up for ridicule since it was so self-centered. Spent 1.5 hours with her and turned the copy around to emphasize the customers needs. Sounded great, and she even wrote us a thank you note.

As long as we meet our monthly goals I’m happy. Everyone wins!

Donnie Marion [Donnie58M[at]aol .com]: The copywriting around here is all over the place. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of the time copy comes to me already written, and I don’t ask questions. I’m going on a hunch that the AE for the account is the writer. That’s if the AE feels comfortable writing a spot. Some of our AE’s don’t feel comfortable writing. Then the copy points come to me, and I spend as much time as I have available to write the spot.

Sometimes the scripts from the AE’s are pretty good, and fun to produce. Sometimes the scripts are bad, and I’ll kind of improvise to improve. But occasionally someone writes a really bad spot, and is adamant that the spot remain bad. I used to scream at people about that kind of stuff, but I’ve given up. We also get scripts supplied from the client’s agency. And they pretty much fall into the same category as scripts the AE’s write.

Our system works well. I think the only improvement could come if we returned to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when we had a copywriter in house.

One other way around writing copy that we’ve used is an outside writer. The name of the company escapes me, but I think they’re based in Colorado and they’ve appeared in the pages of RAP both as interview subjects and advertisers. [BENMARadio?] But using an outside writer adds time to the turnaround. Not a luxury we have.

And we’re not swamped with spots to write. It seems most of our clients have agency produced spots.

Michael McGurk [mmcgurk[at]earth link.net], KRTY/KLIV: Right now, some of our salespeople write their own commercials and much, much more. They are there to handle all their client’s copywriting needs...and more. They write Monday thru Thursday 9am until 5pm, Friday 9am until 7pm, Saturday 10am until 5pm, and Sunday noon until 5pm. They usually write from their convenient location at 10347 Story Road. If you want them to write for you, you can call them at (408) 555-1212, that’s (408) 555-1212 or toll free at (800) 532-9578, that’s (800) 532-9578. Do it today.

The smarter salespeople use the services of our production assistant. He does a pretty good job and usually avoids all 27 of the errors in the first paragraph.

I write some commercials, but not many, because I demand more information than the salespeople are usually willing to dig for. Like: Why should I shop at ABC Store when there are half a dozen stores that sell the same thing? What makes them special? What are they going to do for me that their competitors won’t or can’t?

I have a sheet I picked up at a seminar put on by Dan O’Day and Dick Orkin that really gets to the meat of the message of a store/service, that gets beyond all the clichés of “we service what we sell,” “our people make the difference,” etc. It’s not rocket science, but it does take some time.

I try to tell the salespeople that if all they give me is a newspaper ad, or worse, a tear-out from the yellow pages, they have done little more than add to the “air pollution” in the Bay area. Slowly we have been able to turn things around, especially with the newer salespeople. We have them meet with me for an hour or two where I try to teach them how to ask their customers the right questions. Every now and then, it actually works. And it’s a beautiful thing.

Chris Adams Ackerman [ChrisAdams [at]ClearChannel.com], Clear Channel Boise, Idaho: We are fortunate to have 2 fulltime Production Managers...AND a copywriter! Actually, the copywriter is the “stunt boy” for our Hot A.C morning show and then writes copy until about 3pm. The 2 Production Managers also write copy when needed. We do our very best to dissuade salespeople from writing copy, although we welcome their creative input UP TO A POINT!

Our system seems to work quite well. We’re doing production for 6 radio stations in addition to about 80% of the agency work in town...AND voice tracking, too. It keeps us hoppin’, and we’re all working 50 plus hours a week. But then, isn’t everyone these days?

Craig Jackman [craigj[at]canada.com]: Who handles copywriting? All of the above. We have 3 full-time and 3 part-time writers. Sales writes scripts, clients write scripts, and I end up writing some scripts. As it stands now it’s working well in the setup that has been asked of us—that is be efficient and competent. In the argument of do you want it good (fancy steak dinner) or fast (McDonalds), we’re currently the radio equivalent of a drive through Happy Meal. The problem comes when someone decides they don’t want fries with that; could you take a little extra time and make a nice gravy? We’re not mentally set - or given the time for that matter - to stop, consider, experiment, and play to get something really nice. Not that there is anything wrong with McDonalds as you know exactly what you’re going to get, but we’re finding it difficult to suddenly switch gears and be that 5 star gourmet establishment.

What do we need? Well some of the junior writers have to stop writing 10 lines of verbiage with the clients name in it 3 times and step up to write something that gets the listener to sit up and notice. We have to be given the time to go into the kitchen rather than just sweating over the grill. We have to have Sales Reps who what to be an integral part of the Creative process rather than just a bunch of order takers racing to the bank to cash the cheque. Lastly, we need Management willing to invest in the right ingredients to make it happen.

Zach Martin [zachmartin[at]gomail .net]: Most of our copy is provided by the client. There have been a few occasions when a salesperson has had to write copy. I have also helped out in this process with newer AE’s. I have also written copy over the years. It is a good idea to practice the art of writing basic copy. The trick to good copy is to keep hitting the company and the product. I also find web addresses the most effective in getting the consumer to respond. Dot com is easier to remember than a phone number.

Joey Cummings [joey[at]deltaradio. net], Delta Radio, Inc.: Our set-up here is pretty basic. The advertising executives sell the spots and collect the information. They find out if the client wants a straight announcer read. If this is the case, then the ad exec writes the copy. If the client is new, or brave enough, or wants something really different, then the ad exec gives me the copy points and I write it. These spots inevitably turn out better because more time goes into studying their business, studying their unique selling points, and thinking of a more creative method of delivering the message. I handle work for seven stations and this seems to work fairly well. It would be ideal to have a staff copywriter, but for now we just use our on-line resources (rab.com, hotcopyusa.com) and our brains.

Side note: I never intended to write copy for spots. I just wanted to use the fun equipment and produce spots. However, the really involved spots with multiple voices and SFX were too far and few in between. So, I volunteered to write spots—spots that were challenging to produce. I ended up winning the Copywriter of the Year award for my regional Addy competition. Funny!

I’ve attached is the spot that won the award. It is for The Bow Shop, our local hunting supply store. Perhaps, if you think it is worthy, you could put it on the RAP CD. [Done. Check it out!]

Jeff Wine [jwine[at]damebroadcasting. net], Dame Broadcasting: I was hired as Copywriter for our cluster of two (which, ten years later, has increased to five) radio stations, then became Copywriter/Production Director/Dub-boy/Assistant Traffic Director. Unfortunately, with all the extra responsibilities, the “copywriting” portion of the job title is no longer the main focus, due to the simple fact that my schedule requires me to place more emphasis on the Production Director/Dub-boy portion (not necessarily by choice). We are, however, in the middle of making some moves and changes, so I’m hoping an assistant isn’t too far down the road. I would then use him/her to take care of the dubs and agency spots, allowing me to spend more time writing effective copy.

Steve Shippanoski [ship[at]TheQ.fm]: Here at 100.3 The Q! and The Zone at 91-3, we have 3 full-time copywriters. Together with the clients, sales staff and myself in Production, they conceive everything from commercials to promos to IDs. All comments from all people in the building are welcome, as quite often that one different interpretation is what makes a campaign great. I wouldn’t change a thing in the way our creative is born. Thanks.

Glenn Nobel [glenn[at]nobelnoise.com], NobelNoise Audio Imaging: It seems copywriting is the weak point of production at most stations. Jocks hate to write copy, usually because they get a few sentences about the client and are told “do your thing — and can I have it by tomorrow morning?” Salespeople are even worse. They may know their clients but have to hurry through the copywriting process so they can actually SELL. I only had the luxury of a full-time copywriter at a couple of stations, but it was great! Even then, because of time and sheer volume of work, most scripts lacked creativity and were full of typical radio commercial clichés and useless information — “Hurry now for best selection, open Monday through Friday 10 to 6, Saturday 11 to 5, closed Sunday.” Finding people who love to write and use language to its fullest potential are hard to find, and finding them is a very low priority at most stations.

Ron Harper [ronharper[at]fuse.net], The New 96.5 / ESPN 1160 BOB: I do it. And I feel the same way about it that stunt performers do: “This is dangerous, boys and girls. Don’t try it unless you are a trained professional.”

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