Sunday, 23 August 2009

Who's best to produce your Radio Adverts ?

I spent a day with the sales team at a radio station this week. It’s something I have done for a number of stations who don’t have their own in-house radio commercial production department. Basically, I am theirs for a whole day either taking briefs, presenting concepts, advising advertisers on how they can improve their creative or imparting thoughts and guidance to members of the sales team.

Throughout one such meeting, the Sales Team told me they ‘are obliged to use selected production companies for their commercial production needs’.

Do I have a problem with that ? No actually. Providing each specially selected company has something different to offer. However, from the feedback I am getting is that the companies some stations contract their com prod to have pretty much the same offering. The only perceptible difference is the sound of their showreels !

There has always been a debate on whether radio stations who don’t have in-house commercial production should only work with one production company or a number of them.

But I’ve never been a supporter of radio stations having just one contract Commercial Production and Music provider. “You would say that wouldn’t you ?” You may say. “You’re the owner of a production company and you want some of the work !” Too right I do, but from the radio station’s and advertiser’s point of view, production companies are going to work a little bit harder when they know a gig could go to somebody else. In addition, if an advertiser knows he has lots of people working for him, then he’s likely to put more faith in the station who is recommending all these companies.

The reality is, many stations have a roster of production companies working for them. There is no doubt that having a choice of providers helps a radio station have an interesting spectrum of commercial output. This is one of the reasons why I like radio advertising so much. You never hear of a local newspaper putting one of their client’s creative out to tender. “The person who comes up with the best visual gets the gig.” In radio, pitching is alive and well and my opinion should happen (with firm rules set down) more often. Stations and advertisers get better work and it keeps Production Companies on their toes.

But how far should creative pitches go ? Demo’s have always been a bit of a grey area. In my view, no client should demand a recorded demo unless they are prepared to pay a fee set by the production company for it. The reality is that providing you explain the script and the concept clearly to a client, you generally don’t need to record a demo. If the idea is good, it will leap off the paper with little to no effort at all.

Not only that, too many good creative ideas have stopped at the first hurdle because someone has written at the bottom of the brief: “All commercials must be 30 seconds in length”. I touched on this in a recent article.

But there’s a proviso to being a roster commercial production to a radio station. If radio stations ask you to pitch on price, then you have to question in who’s best interests is ‘the best price wins’ pitch is for. So many good ideas have been ruined or never got off the ground because someone ‘wants a deal’. Perhaps if people focussed on ‘wanting radio advertising that works’, I think everyone would reap the benefits a lot more. I know of companies who make radio ads for stations for £75 each, £50 each even £40 each ! How anyone can produce a half-decent radio ad AND pay for good writing talent, voiceovers, recording kit, running costs etc for £40 really is beyond me. A station exec told me yesterday “It’s all about bulk, if they have lots of jobs then they can make it work. ” That’s fine until the station or group decides for whatever reason to not renew the contract. This kind of thing happens and it makes me think: How many companies that rely hugely on Contract Commercial Production actually have a Plan B ?

Myself and many other proddies have been in the business long enough to see that the debate on contracting out versus in-house commercial production raises it’s head every so many years. Commercial Radio is currently going through ‘one of those phases’ where things are once again being shaken up. One station exec recently told me that management are now encouraging their sales team to get radio ads written and made by the station’s Promo Producer. I have also heard stories of stations asking Jocks to make commercials when they are not on air. I also know of station MD’s making radio ads !

The above examples are by no means widespread, but never the less, still worrying. The fact is, a radio advert can make or break an advertiser’s commitment to a radio station. As one of my agency clients always says to his clients: “If you’re going to advertise on the radio...Try to advertise brilliantly !” He’s absolutely right. So if your station has in-house or contract Commercial Producers, give them the right environment to make as many of their commercials absolute crackers. Above and beyond everything else: If the advertising sounds good and works, a station will flourish.

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