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How to Inspire Commercial Love

Engage creative thinking and motivate listener purchases with promos

Radio Mercury Awards Promotion of the Year winners John Sykes and Tom Poleman, center, of Clear Channel Media + Entertainment are flanked by presenters Kim Berk and Jim Douglas of the “Jim & Kim” morning show of CBS station WWFS(FM) New York.
Credit: Radio Mercury Awards
A commercial came on the radio and my friend in the passenger seat changed the station. What did I do? I yelled at him!

Yep, I love commercials. It’s not just that they have helped pay my mortgage or that I personally know a lot of the local voiceover talent. It’s also that, when done well, commercials engage my creative thinking and sometimes give me good reason to purchase a product or service that I need.

With our collective attention span getting shorter every year, it is more challenging than ever to create great commercials and promotional announcements (which listeners interpret as commercials). More and more people with whom I speak question the wisdom of radio stations continuing to sell 60-second units in the name of tradition.

When listeners had limited choices and clients had only print as an alternative, it made sense for TV and radio to deliver messaging in 60-second audio spots. But now that a minute feels like a year, can we keep even a small audience engaged?

Only if the creative of the commercial is incredible.

For clients who demand 60-second spots, perhaps it’s possible to create two :30s and use them as bookends in the same stop-set — much like television has done for years. This has the added benefit of beefing up frequency, a huge factor in getting radio commercials to activate.

A reality at many clusters is that one person often is charged with commercial production, and even if that person is a creative genius, he may have only limited access to copy writing and voiceovers.

So come on, people! Open the checkbook a little and partner with one of the hundreds of production companies out there.

Here’s why you should: With so many radio personalities and actors out of work, the ease and low expense of a home studio means there are many more excellent independent producers than ever in the history of our business. Supply and demand has driven the cost of the production services to the most reasonable levels we’ve ever witnessed. Turnaround time is also no longer an issue for most production companies. Plus, there are so many voices to choose from on the open market, it’s almost overwhelming.

Okay, so the boss is a cheapskate, and the ultimate reality is that all in-house creative must be produced entirely by employees. So what’s a production director to do? Create a sharing system with other markets, if only for voiceovers.

Writing commercials is another story. Try as we might, there is no shortcut to airing genius spots, other than to hire a creative genius.

Is it possible for you to build the cost of a writer into your rate structure for certain clients? I can already hear your sales manager screaming, “Are you crazy?” Please remind him that client retention is mighty difficult when commercials don’t deliver results.

How do you know when you’ve got an effective commercial? Many people — including salespeople — don’t take the time to find out.

Anyone who cares about this dynamic can at the very least read copy or play finished commercials to a few non-biased people. After reading or playing the spots at least twice, ask them to explain the offer in the advertisement. If these few randomly selected people can’t describe the basics of the selling proposition, you have not clearly communicated the offer.

Another issue affecting the outcome of the spot in generating action could be a nonexistent offer or poor call to action from the client.

This is perhaps the most challenging part of delivering advertising that works. It takes a special relationship between a salesperson and a client to discuss such a sensitive subject, and I’ve seen this get dropped like the unfortunate hot potato.

But I’ve also watched superior salespeople have frank discussions with merchants about the paltry 10-percent-off sales or free desserts with certain expensive entrees. Instead, they urge the client to offer especially memorable perks to their customers that really drive them to come on in.

Here are a few of the tried and true:

• Selected specially tagged items on sale
• Rebates with coupons
• Going out of business sale (when it’s not really out of business)
• Offer not accepted at all locations
• We’ll beat the advertised price of any competitor if you bring this ad
• Prices too low to mention on the radio

If your sales people nurture that relationship and get creative, clients will offer what they should and reap the benefits.

A few final words about promotional announcements for your own radio station:

Never forget that listeners hear these as commercials. Unlike actual commercials, you do have complete content control, so there is never any excuse for bad copy, poor production or even undesirable placement in stop-sets.

Better to avoid airing promotional announcements at all than to schedule high-profile pieces of nothingness. And if the message communicates nothing, why play it at all? Consider the risk you run in having listeners change stations or form a negative opinion of your brand when promos are bad. The best PDs I’ve worked with review every promo before it airs and exercise tight quality control.

How do you know when you have magic in a spot? My rule of thumb: When I hear it, I can actually see it. Radio becomes TV in my mind. It’s actually kinda dangerous when I’m driving!

Read other great radio promo and management ideas. Visit Promo Power under the Business tab at