Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

Tying together poetry, parenting, and advertising in a neat little package

Archive for the tag “radio”

One busy night

I’m a day late. Sorry.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I had blog posts written a week or more in advance. But with a right knee still recuperating from a torn ACL, stay-at-home dad duties for a 4-year-old and 6-month-old, AND my voiceover business…getting a blog post done can sometimes be challenging.

I had planned on writing the post Mon. night, in advance of Tue. publication. Thing is, priorities take – well, priority. And I had a bunch of ‘em…

Business before pleasure

AC pic

A small section of the interior of American Cottage Rugs’ showroom

Once the kids were in bed, I had to get hopping. First up: radio commercial production. A good client of mine, American Cottage Rugs, needed four :30 commercials edited down from four :60s we had produced last fall. While there was no new voicework involved in these new spots, there was a BUNCH of editing, which takes time to do correctly. I figured if I could get them edited, I could fine-tune and mix them down on Tue., which is what I did.

I also needed to get a voiceover audition submitted before the end of the night, so I took care of that, as well.

And wouldn’t ya know – more auditions came in while I was working, so I had to sift through them to see if there was anything appropriate for me. Having completed my studio work for the evening, I set to work on my other pursuit.

Those manuscripts aren’t going to write themselves

As you may know, I write children’s literature. For the past week or so, I’ve been working on a rhyming picture book manuscript that I really want to see completed. Sometimes it feels like I’m flying through it – and then I get stonewalled by a rhyme or plot issue and the process draaaaags. Keep in mind, I’m used to writing poetry, so anything longer than 16 or 32 lines is a tremendous challenge for a brain like mine. I needed to work on this, because I need to get the first draft done to see if what I’ve written is worth polishing.

But…

I also had to help a fellow writer and friend edit another picture book manuscript that we co-wrote over the past year, so that came first. I think it’s gone through 17 drafts at this point (I’ve lost count, honestly) but I’m pretty sure we’ve finally nailed it. I will admit I’m afraid to check the Google Drive for fear she’s made another tweak. We seem to do that to each other. A LOT.

Speaking of poetry…

A poem of mine has been accepted for publication at the online journal, The 5-2 : Crime Poetry Weekly. In addition to the text of the poem, the editor, Gerald So, likes to include readings of each poem he publishes, so I wanted to record my audio and email it to him in time.

So guess what I did before I went to bed?

DSCF2068 (Mic - Katie)Interestingly, the fact that I was so tired at that point helped my recording. I wanted the reading of the poem to exude a tired, run-down kind of emotion to it, and that’s precisely what I got!

Funny how if you put yourself in the position of where your character is, you can often nail the read. I once had to voice the part of an aerobics attendee who was out of breath, so I jumped up & down in the studio for a few minutes; when I opened the mic, my read was spot-on.

But wait, there’s more!

Did I mention our 6-month-old woke up at least three times while I was doing all of this? She normally sleeps through the night, but the poor little thing is teething like crazy and has a hard time staying comfortable. Her first tooth came in a week ago, and there’s at least one more trying to push its way up; needless to say, she’s not pleased with that. Life is pretty rough when you’re a baby.

I couldn’t wait to fall into bed around midnight. Until, that is, I remembered I still needed to do my second set of “prehab” exercises in advance of my ACL surgery later this month. Half an hour later, I was finally sleeping. As I think about it, I don’t know if I even completed the exercises – but at least I was on the bed when unconsciousness hit me.

So my Mon. night, as you can see, was a bit…full. I managed to get some of my blog post prepped, but didn’t write it until now. I’m very happy with my responsibilities – dad, hubby, voice talent, children’s writer, poet, blogger – but cramming all of those responsibilities into a 4-hour time frame can wear a person out.

Now, then…time to get working on that picture book.

Did I just hear the baby?

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

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The importance of being earnest…enough to advertise

Most dictionaries would probably define “earnest” as “serious in effort” or “sincerely passionate.”  If someone is earnest in what he or she is doing, they put their full heart, body, and soul into it. Which is why, if you’re trying to motivate people to take a specific action, it’s important to tell them.

I felt like I needed to post a short reminder about the importance of advertising, following a conversation I had with a political candidate over the weekend.

ID-10021920 (Times Square)

Hey, wait a sec – did I just see an advertisement?

If you have a great message and no one hears it…does it make a sound?  I’ve written about the subject before, but if you missed that previous post, my main point is, if you want others to know what you’re doing – you have to let them know.

That should be obvious, but unfortunately, it’s not always so.

Political season gears up

Over the weekend, I had a wonderful opportunity to chat with a political candidate during a meet-and-greet sponsored at the business of one of my clients.  She was in the early stages of the campaign – just starting to reach out and let folks know who she is and what she stands for – but was very well-spoken, friendly, and knowledgeable.

The attendees and I talked with her about what she believed, what she thought she could accomplish, and why she was running. Each time she was asked a question, she responded with a direct answer and was unapologetic for her beliefs.

I was surprised that a person this comfortable with public speaking had not run for office before.

And then she told me…she had.

You ran for what? When??

I was shocked to learn she had run for another political office a mere three years ago.  I stay pretty well-informed about our government and political issues, so it came as quite a surprise that she had run a campaign for an election that featured at least two other candidates – and although I remembered both of their names, hers did not ring a bell at all.

I told her I apologized for not remembering her, and half-joked about the importance of advertising…but the fact is, it’s not even close to a joke.

Of course, campaign fund-raising is important, and it can be very difficult to do any kind of promotion without a significant budget these days. Campaigns have to deal with a lot of quirks that normal businesses do not, such as having to raise vast amounts of cash in a short time for the express purpose of advertising; having to pay radio, TV, and newspapers in advance, before any advertisements or commercials can run; and trying to grow as quickly as possible, rather than being able to take a longer, more measured approach.

But the fact is, you won’t get the results you’re looking for – whether it’s an increase in widget sales, customer volume, or an election win – unless you advertise.

If you’re not advertising, you’re keeping it a secret.

shutterstock_134415755 (blurred lights)

There are a million messages out there. Is yours getting lost?

How do you plan to let potential customers or constituents know what you can do for them? How do you plan to showcase services, products, benefits?

If you’re not budgeting for it, how do you expect to get the word out?

Next time you’re reading the local newspaper, try this:  search through the pages quickly and make a mental note of what types of ads you saw. Then flip through it again and pay attention to all the ads, and see if any new ones pop out at you. Finally, flip through it a third time and scan each and every page until you find an advertisement you didn’t notice the first two times.

Then ask yourself, how many people who weren’t diligently scanning the paper missed that ad?  How many people do you think actually saw it and were moved to action?  Was it money well-spent?

It’s not about money; well, ok, it is

Yes, money helps buy commercials and advertisements…but actual “advertising” is more than that. It’s word-of-mouth, it’s meet-and-greets, it’s press releases, it’s phone calls with news directors and show producers, it’s talking to everyone and anyone who’ll lend an ear.

ID-10039778 (stand out in crowd)

It’s great that you’re different. But if no one knows, does it really matter?

Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure to help businesses spread their message and grow, and I know for a fact that if they weren’t online, on the radio, or on social media, they wouldn’t be where they are now. Money will buy you the number of ads you’ll need, but the real value is in the message itself – what it says about you or your business, how it portrays you, and how your business can help the people you’re trying to reach out to.

So don’t let that message go unheard or unseen.  Advertise.

The people who hear about you today will become your customers – or, in some cases, your constituents – tomorrow.

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter FacebookPinterest, and SoundCloud!

The stand-up comedy rule that can make you be a better writer

IMG_1839

photo courtesy of Linda Baie

At the “Highlights” workshop I told you about last week, we discussed a variety of things, from how to write better poetry to how to better perform our poetry. One of the topics that came up was how to find a unique angle to write about. After all, every topic in the world has already been written about – so how does a children’s poet (or ANY writer, for that matter) figure out how to create something new and different, with a fresh perspective?

One of my ‘tricks’ which I shared is this. It’s a way to discard the worn out phrases, the clichés, the ‘also-rans’…and find something special, whether you’re writing poetry, novels, or even commercials.  This was only the fourth post I ever published on my blog (Aug. 13, 2012), long before my followers numbered in double-digits!  So I thought this might be a good time to resurrect it in case you, too, have struggled with finding your own personal spin on a subject. And please let me know your thoughts, below – I’d love to read your comments on this!

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See if you can come up with a humourous joke or ending to this line:  “Rutgers University fired their head coach for verbally abusing players…”

It’s ok, I’ll wait…

So, how long did it take you to come up with your response?  Fairly quickly?  Or did you take some time thinking about it?  If you answered with the first thing that popped into your head – congratulations!  You’re just like most people.

If, on the other hand, you took some time to think about your answer so that it would be unique, unusual, unexpected…you just discovered a stand-up comedy rule that can help you write better stories, poems, commercials, even Facebook comments and Tweets!

Before we go any further, take a look at this. Go ahead and skip to 1:09 and see what happens:

Example #1:

Now, whether or not you like Jay Leno, he and his staff know how to write comedy.  The thing is, you don’t need to be a comedy writer to follow this rule:

Never go with your first impulse!

That’s the rule, plain & simple.  Don’t go with the first thing that pops into your head!  If you’re taking the SAT, well, sure – your first impulse is probably the right answer.  But when writing creatively, your first thought is most likely the same first thought as everyone else, and for someone who’s trying to appear original…that’s not good.

ID-10048131 (basketball)In the video clip, Jay makes reference to the embattled coach and shows video footage of what happened to draw you into a certain premise – that this is all real.  However, the surprise at the end of the news clips is funny because the audience never anticipated it.  He could have said something simple, like, “It’s so bad, Rutgers is considering hiring Bobby Knight!” (For those who don’t know, he’s another controversial head coach)  Now, that line isn’t extremely funny, but I can certainly see someone posting that on a Facebook or Twitter page.

But Jay takes the idea of the coach throwing basketballs to an extreme (exagerration is another trick to writing stand-up), and gets laughs because a) the image of the ball coming from out of nowhere during a news report is funny in and of itself, and b) it was unexpected.

Look at it this way:  how many times have you come across an interesting Facebook post or news article and was going to leave a witty comment but noticed someone else had already written it first?  Or how many times have you seen a comment that you just knew someone was going to write?

Example #2:

The following is a radio commercial I wrote, voiced, and produced for a Mexican restaurant called El Jimador that had just opened in New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.  I think it’s a good example of how not to go the route everyone else might, and create a commercial that will stand out from the multitude of other restaurant commercials out there.

Backstory:  I was told the restaurant featured truly traditional Mexican food, not the Americanized fare with which most of us are familiar.  They offered all the items one would expect (tacos, burritos, etc.) but many items that might not be so familiar.  And they were just opening, so they wanted to get people’s attention, quick.  Yes, I could have started off by saying, hey, here’s a new Mexican restaurant, featuring all your favourites, blah, blah, and blah…but we’ve all heard those commercials and it really wouldn’t tell the whole story.  The story was about not just what they were, but why they were.

I grabbed a menu.

The cover featured the restaurant’s namesake, el jimador (an agave farmer), and explained who he was and why they named their establishment after him.  I loved it!  I took that information, condensed it, and used it as the basis of the commercial:

El Jimador_Image 6-7-11 (REV)

Notice I don’t even mention the name of the place until halfway through the spot.  Some advertising gurus will tell you that the client name should be mentioned in the first 5 seconds and at least 5 or 6 times throughout the commercial; that’s hogwash.  I eschew the ‘early and often’ rule of copy writing in favour of the ‘make it compelling and they’ll keep listening’ rule.  I could go on about that, but I’ll save it for a future blog post.

Also note that I didn’t spend a lot of time reading a laundry list of items; I did need to include some of the traditional items offered (at the client’s request), but overall, I’d say you probably have not heard many restaurant commercials like this one.  Most talk at the listener; I prefer speaking TO the listener.

I took a route that was unusual; I didn’t settle for the first thing I came up with.  For someone in the business of writing…

Steer clear of the trap of being predictable!

Trust your gut; it usually knows what it’s doing.  The next time you’re going to write something – anything – ask your gut if it thinks someone else would have thought of it, also.  Say, ‘Hey gut, old friend, what do you think?”   If your gut tells you it’s the same thing it would’ve said…scrap it and come up with something better.

As I said earlier, this rule applies for any kind of writing.  Whether it’s a novel, tweet, children’s literature, or blog post – use a critical eye.  Step back and look at what you’ve written objectively, and think before you hit ‘submit.’

You may be surprised at how creative you can be, when you force yourself to think just a little bit harder!

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PoetsGarage-badgeDid you like this post? Find something interesting elsewhere in this blog? I really won’t mind at all if you feel compelled to share it!  To keep abreast of all my posts, please consider subscribing via the links up there on the right!  (I usually only post twice a week – on Tues. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day)  Also feel free to visit my voiceover website HERE, and you can also follow me via Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest, and SoundCloud!

An ace up your sleeve: making clichés work

ID-100105596 (waitress)“Quality ingredients!”

“Friendly staff!”

“Just like homemade!”

I think if I hear another restaurant commercial with these phrases in it, I’m going to do something embarrassing, loud, and possibly violent.

These are advertising clichés, and you don’t need to be a commercial copy writer to recognize them when you hear them. We’ve all heard car dealer ads that promise “no-hassle sales” and “ASE-certified mechanics.” We’ve all gone to restaurants with “reasonable prices” in a “comfortable atmosphere.” We’ve all been told that “conveniently located” businesses holding “inventory clearance sales” offer “rock-bottom savings.”

And we don’t buy any of it.

Worthless words

What’s that, you say? You use quality ingredients? Oh, what a relief – your competitors down the road probably use really crappy ones.

A friendly wait staff? Wow! I had gotten so tired of dealing with the witches at all those other restaurants.

ID-100174426 (mechanic)Let me tell you something: I’ve been producing radio commercials for nearly 30 years, and I still don’t know what “ASE” stands for, what it means, or why it’s important. (You’d think if it was THAT important, someone would have told us by now, dontcha think?)

Oh, and another thing: the next time you hear about an “inventory clearance sale,” just remember…

EVERY sale is an inventory reduction sale! That’s the point of a sale – to reduce the inventory!!

Whew, glad I could get that off my chest. Moving on…

Giving meaning to the meaningless

We hear these clichés so often, they’ve lost whatever meaning they may have had – if any – when they were first used. Having written and produced so many commercials over the years, my brain has a sort of cliché-radar, and I’m always quick to try to avoid them.  But then along came this client…

It was a new Italian-American restaurant that was opening soon, and they wanted radio commercials that would get their selling point (or, Unique Selling Proposition) across without sounding like every other commercial out there. Yes, they served delicious food made with quality ingredients, had a comfortable atmosphere and reasonable prices…but we couldn’t say that because no one would believe it. And if you serve good food with nice people – how do you set yourself apart from all the other places out there?

Answer: clichés.

I decided to utilize some of those overused, meaningless phrases and turn them on their heads, to illustrate why this particular restaurant was different. The client loved the premise, so we put together 3 different commercials, each one focusing on a slightly different aspect of the restaurant. They had to be :30s – I would have preferred :60s – so word economy was very important. When I was done, here’s what they sounded like:

I think that first line of the first commercial was what sold the client on my approach. Telling the listener to “go ask mama to make you something” completely turns the tables on the “home-cooked food” cliché, and sets the tone for the rest of the spot as well as the other two. The client was happy, the radio station was happy, and so was I!

All’s well that ends well

Just remember that when it comes to clichés, every cloud has a silver lining.

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade; it’s for the best. If the cat has your tongue, take one step at a time – what’s the worst that could happen? And if you don’t succeed, try, try again.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know.

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Did you like this post? Find anything interesting somewhere in this blog? Want to keep abreast of my posts?  Then please consider subscribing via the links over here on the right! (I usually only post twice a week – on Tue. and Fri. – so you won’t be inundated with emails every day!)  You can also follow me via Twitter or on Facebook.

If you have a great message and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

As a children’s writer still searching for that first publishing deal, I know what it’s like to write and write and write and wonder if anyone knows or cares.

This blog is helpful in making known my name, abilities, and style…but still, if I only posted once every couple of weeks, it would not be as effective. I wouldn’t have the number of people, like you, visiting, reading, commenting, and sharing.  Conversely, if I was to post more than twice a week, my blog could, perhaps, gain more followers, acquire more voiceover or copy writing clients, and pique the interest of an agent or publisher.

I mention this to make a point. No matter what type of promoting you’re doing – marketing a book, promoting your blog, advertising a business – what you say is only important if other people read it. And the only way others will read it is if they know it’s been written.

I know, I know…this is all pretty self-explanatory. But let me explain where I’m going with this…

Image courtesy of ponsulak / FreeDigitalPhotos.netThe necessity of advertising

Many of the folks with whom I correspond hate the idea of advertising. They know it exists and they know I make a pseudo-living out of it, but they feel like advertising is a 4-letter word. That it’s somehow subversive, mind-altering brainwashing that I’m involved in.  They hate Facebook ads and Google ads and TV & radio commercials and billboards – and act like they’re above it all because they don’t fall for any of corporate America’s ploys.

They’re too cool to be influenced or swayed by a message provoking them to turn over their money.

They don’t realize how ubiquitous advertising is, nor how effective it is, even on people like themselves.

No matter who you are, advertising affects you. We wake up in advertised beds, brush our teeth with advertised toothpaste, drink advertised coffee or tea before we leave our house or apartment (which was advertised before you bought it), and head off to work wearing advertised clothes while driving advertised cars, advertised bicycles, or walking on advertised shoes.

Nearly everything we own in our lives has been advertised, and we choose one product over another because of the benefit(s) we perceive from that product.

(Keep in mind, also, that advertising doesn’t necessarily involve money. Jesus advertised everlasting life, and never asked for a penny.)

Psychological egoism and why we’re all looking out for #1

hobbes

English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), a proponent of psychological egoism

Psychological egoism is a richly debated theory that states that every voluntary action one undertakes is done for that individual’s self-gratification. In other words, everything that each of us does is done for our own self-interests (you can learn more about the specifics of this doctrine here).

Why do we buy a red car instead of a blue? Because we like red more. Why do we choose the steak over the haddock filet? Because we like steak more.

Why buy Colgate instead of Crest? Because of the perceived benefit of using Colgate.

Of course, some folks will argue that selfless acts of kindness or sacrifice negate this theory; however, one can argue that engaging in a selfless act of kindness is also done for one’s own gratification. For example, if I have $100, I could pay some bills, donate it to a local food shelter, or go to a strip club for a few hours.  The choice I make ultimately depends on which option brings me the most satisfaction or happiness.

And chances are, I’d be paying bills for products or services that were advertised, donating money to a food shelter that had been advertised (perhaps via a news article or Public Service Announcement), or going to a strip club that was advertised.

Now, about that message…

It’s not what you said, it’s how (often) you said it

Getting back to my initial thoughts, what if you had a great message and no one knew?  You could create the world’s greatest widget and develop a unique, effective commercial ad campaign…but if no one hears or sees it, you might as well not have bothered, right? That is where frequency comes into play.

In radio and TV, the more often you air your commercial, the better – because the more people will see or hear it. Run one commercial a day on radio and a few solid potential customers might take notice, but run it several times throughout the day – at various times in the morning, midday, afternoon, and evening – and then you’re really connecting with lots of potential customers.

But that many commercials costs a lot of money, right?  Well, let me give you a real-life example of how running on a low budget doesn’t mean you can’t attract big-budget numbers of people.

Many years ago, when I was working in Vermont as a radio producer, our sales manager met a restaurant owner who wanted to advertise but didn’t think he could afford ID-10068993 (sound mixer)4 or 5 spots (commercials) every day. So we suggested doing something unusual: we would run 10 spots one day a week – Friday. While this wouldn’t give him the weekly exposure of a more expensive schedule, he would pretty much own the airwaves that one day, with his commercial airing almost every hour all day long.

Within just a few weeks, he told our manager that customers were telling him they not only heard about his restaurant on our radio station, but they were telling him they were hearing him all the time!

“I’m always hearing your commercials!” one person told him.

“I hear you every day!” said another.

In the battle of perception versus reality…perception won, again.

Get your message out there!

Are you selling cars, furniture, or fertilizer? Are you selling yourself, your abilities, your experience? Whatever it is – whether you realize you’re selling something or not – spend some time determining the best way to promote your message. If you’re a business, a writer, a job seeker…you have to let people know you’re there!

And if you’re the type who doesn’t like promotion, advertising, or marketing…enjoy your obscurity!  You might think your message is awesome, but it’s only awesome if someone hears it.

Your product might change the world, but only if the world knows about it.

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I’m obviously happy to talk to anyone who has questions about advertising and copy writing and that sort of thing…if you have questions about creating a commercial or getting voice work (like on-hold messaging or video narration) done for your business, feel free to contact me at matt(at)mattforrest(dot)com!

Commercials: The little things are starting to pile up

Last week, I wrote about details in writing - whether it’s for commercials or creative writing. I spotlighted a couple of commercials that I thought could have been improved and one that I felt was well-done.

And because there seems to be no end to the number of TV commercials that annoy me…I present ‘Part 2.’

I hadn’t planned on doing another post on commercials today – or even on advertising in general – but soon after I had finished writing last week’s diatribe, I felt another one welling up inside me.  So please forgive me for indulging in a second little rant; heck, it’s my blog, after all!

Of course I hope, as always, that some of points I make about copy writing and production can be directly correlated to other types of writing such as poems, stories, and books.  Continuity errors, misleading untruths, and confusing messages are hardly confined to the advertising realm.

Which unravels faster: the clothes or the message?

Some things get better with time: wine, cheese, friendships. A sales message should not be one of them. In the case of the following commercial, it took repeated viewings – and an explanation from my wife – for me to understand just what’s going on. This is a perfect example of a message getting lost in creativity:

Here’s your trivia question: what’s with the yarn?? Why is this car unraveling all these clothes? If you don’t know, go ahead and watch it again and see if you can figure it out.

Now then, if you have the answer, congratulations – you did better than me.  I had seen this TV spot innumerable times and never knew what was going on.  It took my wife at least seven viewings before she suddenly announced, “I finally figured it out!”  She explained that the clothes are unraveling because winter is over and the car is bringing spring to the world. In actuality, after I paid close attention to it, the commercial is advertising a sale.

No prices, no features, no Unique Selling Proposition…just an announcement for a sale.  This commercial basically takes half a minute to say, “We’re having a sale.”  I could be way off base here, but wouldn’t it be nice to know why I should care about the sale – or why I should want an Infiniti? Is it too much to ask for a few little details? Perhaps, if one can afford to own an Infiniti, one already knows all about the features of the Infiniti and therefore one needn’t concern oneself with the price of an Infiniti.

But that negates the need for a sale now, doesn’t it?

Fun with science

Every time this commercial comes on the TV, my wife sighs. Not because of the commercial itself, but because of my reaction to a mere 1.5 seconds of it:

This isn’t a bad commercial…but it is misleading. Check out what’s happening :15 in. See those little yellowish critters, squiggling around in the sewage? Those are supposed to be enzymes, breaking down the waste.  Well, guess what?

Here’s a news flash:  enzymes are MOLECULES, folks!

They are naturally-occurring chemicals - not living creatures that scoot around inside your septic tank, chewing up your poop like Pac-Man chasing after a cherry.

This is what drives me nuts.  I know this dramatization has nothing to do with the true efficacy of Rid-X, but when I see this blatant error (or misleading animation – I’m not sure which), it makes me wonder what else I’m being misled about.  Be true to your subject! Whether you’re writing a commercial, poem, or novel…remember that suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

A good commercial, made better

This spot, by contrast, is a fine example of a clear, compelling message:

Zero Water TV spot: ‘The Waiter”

Zero Water filters are so good, they can filter out wine from tap water! I have no idea if that’s true, but it only took me one viewing of this commercial to understand that message. Like most good commercials, it’s a story: wine is poured into tap water, tap water is filtered, the Zero Water filter filters out the wine while the competition fails. And the genuinely surprised reaction by the man in the audience is a nice touch – a small detail, like we talked about last week - that makes a big impact.

But the commercial wasn’t always this good. Here’s how it first appeared:

The two biggest changes the ad agency made were the most important. First, they took the focus off the waiter; his goofy expression takes away from the straightforward, realistic style of a more-or-less-serious spot. And the reaction of the woman was, well, uhh – almost a non-reaction. She’s just sort of…there.  The gentleman in the newer spot appears to be honestly surprised and impressed, and that air of realism is important to the overall tone of the spot.

Be honest, be clear!

Don’t muddle your message with some cutesy ‘hook’ – like pulling strands of yarn off people to sell a luxury car in the spring. “Spring” is not the message, and “yarn” certainly isn’t, either.  And don’t assume your potential customers are too stupid to know what you’re telling them, such as enzymes that go chomp-chomp-chomping around your septic system.  Be honest, be clear, and make sure viewers (or listeners, if you’re in radio) know what you’re selling and why they should care.

Those two things – the product/service and the benefit of that product/service – should be first and foremost in your mind.

I’ll take “highly effective” over “highly creative” any day.

After years of hard work, it’s time to cut corners

Why is it some folks feel that advertising is simple stuff?

I subscribe to a number of blogs, news feeds, and online groups, and recently came across a question an author had posted, which made me pull the last few remaining hairs on my head completely out of ther folicles. This person had a new book coming out, so had asked a college student to produce the trailer (commercial) for it – and was wondering what the going rate was.

I’m not mentioning the author’s name, because it’s irrelevant to my point; the person is actually very good and has published numerous books already. But there were so many things wrong with the question I didn’t know how or where to begin my answer.

So many questions, so little patience…

My first thought was, why even ask a college student to do something this important? Assuming we’re talking about a traditional, 19- to 22-year-old student, what skills could they possibly possess to be able to market a book effectively?  Other than knowing how to stick video images together and add audio, what do they bring to the table? Does this person understand what a USP* is? Does he/she know the five things every commercial should create – attention, interest, connection, desire, action? Has he/she even written a commercial before?

Then I started thinking about other aspects of the question. Why would you ask an amateur to produce a commercial…then ask around to find out what a rate should be? Do college students even have standardized rates?? Why not ask some professionals what their rates are?

And why not have a professional do it, anyway?

Oh, that’s right…because anyone can write and produce a commercial.

I know, I know, everyone’s on a budget

If a professionally-produced book trailer is going to cost you a thousand dollars and you’re paying for it out of your own pocket…then I completely understand why cost is so important. Believe me, I’m a voice actor/copy writer and father of four who’s been struggling for years to get a book of children’s poetry published; I’m constantly living on a tight budget. Money is always a concern of mine.

I get it.

But think about this:  if your book was written by a professional, edited by a professional, proofed by a professional, illustrated by a professional, agented by a professional, and published by professionals – why entrust the advertising and marketing of it to the lowest bidder? We’re talking about the final step in the long, arduous process of publication…and you’re going to cut corners now?

That’s like an NBA team putting their third string in during the last two minutes of a championship game because heck, they put so much time and effort into the first 46 minutes, the last two minutes really don’t matter.

The ‘Instantaneous Expert’ phenomenon

I’ve worked with numerous businesses over the years, from car dealers to restaurants to mortgage brokers to strip clubs.  Some actually trusted me to write and produce an effective spot for them. (Spots are commercials, in radio jargon) They would tell me to go ahead and do my job because I was the professional. I loved those clients.

Others, unfortunately, would suddenly and mysteriously become radio advertising gurus, even though they had never advertised on radio before. Upon signing a contract to run their very first basic 13-week schedule ever, these business owners miraculously understood all the nuances of copy writing. They would tell me how to start the commercial, they would tell me how to write the commercial, they would tell me the ten million different pieces of information that just had to be included in the commercial.

And, given enough time to write, re-write, re-write, and re-write…I would present them with a highly ineffective commercial. Because the customer is always right, even when they’re wrong.

I hate admitting that, to be honest; I’m a perfectionist with a disdain for mediocrity, let alone outright failure. But working as a production director for a large company, I was in no position to excuse myself and walk away from the deal. These days, working for myself, I have the latitude to be able to do that, if I feel it’s necessary.

“Make it wildly creative!  Then again, don’t!”

I recall one commercial in particular that was supposed to be fresh and unique, a bold departure from what the client had been running for years. They wanted something that would immediately stand out from the pack. Something funny, ear-catching, different. A campaign of two or three different spots that all worked together, that they could create some buzz with.

It took awhile, but I came up with three different scripts. Because they utilized multiple voices and sound effects, I went ahead and produced all three so the client would be able to hear – and hopefully better understand – the commercials instead of just reading the scripts. I was quite proud of them.

The client, however, thought they were too creative; could I edit them down and include this, that, and this other thing in the script?

Uhh…ok.

So I rewrote the scripts. They were still too ‘confusing,’ according to the client. Oh, and could I add this and this to the script, as well?

After four rewrites, we were left with a bland, over-stuffed, one-voice commercial – very similar to many of the forgettable spots you hear on the radio and nothing at all like what had been initially requested. And it was approved.  Ironically, the client kept the catch phrase I had created for their original commercial.  This, of course, was pointless, because the catch phrase had everything to do with the original commercial’s concept and nothing to do with the one we were left with.

Advertising. Anyone can do it.

If anyone can do it, let me do your job

If you’re a car dealer, I doubt you’ll let me try to sell your vehicles without training. If you own a restaurant, you’re not going to ask a copy writer to cook your food (although you could ask me, since I’ve done that before). If you value your skills as a plumber, lawyer, book author, or widget salesman, why devalue the skills of others? If your rationale is, ‘anyone can write a commercial’ or ‘how hard can it be?’ then you are seriously underestimating the value of advertising.

Now, don’t start thinking that I’m trying to push my own particular service here. Yes, I write copy. I’ve written hundreds of commercials over 25+ years. And I have voiced and produced probably thousands of radio commercials during that time, as well…so I do know a little something about this.  But I don’t produce videos. I know how to write for video, I have voiced videos…but I don’t produce ‘em. So I’m not trying to get anyone to hire me to produce their TV commercial or book or movie trailer.

As a matter of fact, I’m going to need to find someone to produce a video demo for me this year – basically, a series of clips of commercials and videos that showcase my voice to prospective clients – and a college student is the LAST person I’ll ask to do it for me.

This is my life’s work we’re talking about, and it’s worth more than what a college student can offer…no matter what their rate.

.

* USP = Unique Selling Proposition! Learn more in THIS POST.

Who Do You Think You’re Talking To?

Or, who are you writing to?

Whether you write advertising copy or novels, video scripts or poetry…I’m talking to you.

Forgive me for indulging in a little cathartic rant in today’s post, but I felt compelled to write a few words about a scourge upon our advertising landscape. It’s something that is not only one of my personal pet peeves when it comes to copy writing, but it’s a sure-fire way to get potential customers and clients to immediately tune out your message. It’s an evil villain, but one that is easily thwarted if writers just take a little extra time.

It’s…industry-speak.

But hold on, poets, fiction writers, and voice artists – I’m not just talking about writing and advertising here. Industry-speak is more than just words; it’s also tone.

Are those pavers or pavestones?

Know your audience

I read scripts and marketing materials all the time. I know when someone is speaking to me about my concerns, and when someone is speaking at me about their product. I’ve written before about the importance of connecting with readers/listeners/viewers, and let me say right here that using terms and phrases that only others within your industry use – or worse, using terms and phrases that no one ever uses in real life – are copy-killers.

I hear colleges using the word “dynamic” to describe their courses. I’ve heard businesses offering “robust solutions.”  Just recently, I came across a script for a landscape company selling paving stones, brick pavers, and stepstones (I honestly don’t know if there’s a difference).

When you use words that normal, everyday folks don’t, you’re saying, “Let me speak to you in a language you don’t understand about things you don’t comprehend, so I can then wonder why you don’t care.”

What are pavers, and why should I care about them? Do I need them? Why should I get them from you? As a consumer, I have a flurry of questions when I hear something like that…and more often than not, I don’t want to be bothered with questions. I have enough questions in my life I’m trying to answer already without you throwing more at me.

On the other hand, if you ask, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could have an outdoor patio area that’s easy to clean, never needs staining, and can allow you to grill outdoors all year-round?” Well, now you have my interest. And you didn’t even use the word “paver.”

Don’t get me wrong, if pavers are what you’re selling, you obviously need to use the word “pavers” at some point.  What I’m saying is, don’t act like I already know what you’re talking about!  Also notice I said “easy to clean” instead of “virtually maintenance-free.” You know you’ve heard “virtually maintenance-free” in plenty of commercials before – but who actually talks like that?

Step into the Delorean

Before you write the copy, take a trip back in time and think about what life was like before you knew all this stuff.

Think back to when you couldn’t tell a flagstone from a fieldstone. When you didn’t care about the difference between clay and concrete.  Back when you didn’t even know college courses could be ‘dynamic’ (personally, I think colleges just make up that phrase to sound flashy).

Get rid of the industry-speak. Get rid of the advertising-industry-speak, as well:  crutch-phrases like ‘knowledgeable staff,’ ‘no-pressure sales,’ and – oh yeah, ‘virtually maintenance-free.’

Think about your listener or reader. Use the language that is used by the people to whom you’re talking.

The same goes for you, too, storytellers

OK, well, technically, radio and TV commercial copy writers are supposed to be storytellers…and if they’re not, they should be. But if you write fiction or poetry, ask yourself the same questions. To whom are you writing? For whom are you writing? Whether it’s a 4-line poem or a 1000-page novel, you need to know who your audience is, and use the language that best suits that audience. I’ve read drafts of picture books that use slang terms that went out with 8-track tapes. and drafts of YA novels about subjects that would only interest an 8-year-old.

Again, use the language of the reader.

Ask yourself who the consumer is; that is, the person who will be doing the reading. Some children’s authors say they write to their young self. Other authors write to an imaginary person they’ve created. Many poets write to their (former or current) spouse or significant other…their muse, as it were. Some folks simply write to themselves, too, which is fine if you don’t plan on distributing your material to a wider audience; I will never understate the importance of writing for oneself.

Conversing with your audience

It pays to read and re-read. If you’re a voice artist or speaker, look over the script and try to understand a) who you are representing while speaking, and b) who is receiving the information. Understanding who you are, who your audience is, and why any of you should care about the message is of utmost importance. There are plenty of tips out there about voice acting, but to me, they all come down to one truism: everything you speak is a conversation.

Writers, look over your copy, poem, or manuscript and see if that person to whom you’re writing will ‘get’ everything. Have someone else read it and ask them if they know what you’re talking about. If you’re an advertiser, it also pays to have a person who is not in your industry – but could be a potential customer – read the copy. If something doesn’t make sense to them, change the copy.

Again, it all boils down to knowing to whom, or for whom, you’re writing or speaking, and targeting your language to reflect that.

As they say in the advertising biz:  know your demographic!

(Wait, sorry….was that industry-speak?)

In Commercials or Poems, Be Specific!

I have mentioned before on this blog that different types of writing often need to follow the same rules, and can often benefit from the same methods. Thanks to a  7th- and 8th-grade English teacher in Haiti, I’m sharing another example today.

When I speak to clients about how to write radio commercials, one of the many things I tell them is to read the finished script and do a ‘generic check.’  I ask them to read the script, but wherever the name of their business is given, replace it with the name of their competitor.  If the commercial still makes sense…it’s not a good commercial.

Edit it – or throw it away and start over.

A commercial needs to specify a business’ Unique Selling Point (also known as the Unique Selling Proposition).  The “USP” is an industry term referring to the one thing that sets that business apart from all the others.  Ultimately, it’s the answer to the question, “Why should I give you my money, instead of the guy next door?” If your Italian restaurant commercial sounds fine using the names of other Italian restaurants, someone did something wrong.

If you don’t know what makes you different, how will anyone??

I’ll spend more time talking about USPs in a future post, but for now I want to concentrate on specificity.

SPECIFICITY [spes-ih-FISS-ih-tee]: noun. The state of referring to an explicit or definite thing.

Whether it’s a radio commercial, a poem, or even an on-air radio bit…don’t assume that by trying to be generic you’re going to attract more people.  If you’re not trying to be generic, but still come up with a script that can be easily appropriated by another business, your script is missing a key component.

I was reminded of this by a teacher in Haiti named Ruth, who operates her own blog, There Is No Such Thing As A God-Forsaken Town.  Last Friday, she posted a love poem by Craig Arnold titled “Bird-Understander,” in which the speaker addresses his partner about a particular facet of her personality that is particularly endearing to him. You can read the entire post here.  The poem is a terrific example of specificity because as one reads this poem, one realizes this person is a unique individual unlike anyone else – at least in the speaker’s mind.

In her blog post, Ruth points out:

“A love poem should be specific, not a generic verse suitable for a  greeting card.  The beloved is not interchangeable with others, and  poetry about the beloved shouldn’t be, either.  By that standard, this love poem succeeds brilliantly.  When we read it, as people who don’t  know the woman being addressed, we see a beautiful quality in her, and  we see why he loves her.  We know what makes her special.”

If you’re an advertiser, do we know what makes your business special?

Not all mortgage companies are created equal

Several years ago, while working as the production director for a five-station radio group, I was asked to record a new client who was going to come to the radio station to voice his spot.  I was handed a copy of the script just a few minutes before he arrived, so I had no time to edit the script or even speak to the account rep who wrote it.

But I knew we weren’t going to be able to record it the way it was written.

It was basically sixty seconds of bullet points:  “if you need a mortgage, call us”….”offering a variety of options”…”residential or commercial”…blah, blah, blah. And then it concluded with multiple calls-to-action, including the location, phone number, and website. (Multiple calls-to-action are another of my pet peeves, but that’s another blog post)

Any – and I mean ANY – other mortgage company in ANY part of this great country could easily plug their name into this commercial, and by changing the contact info, they’d have a  script.  Again I say, if your commercial script can be used by anybody else in the same industry…that’s a major problem.

So when the client came in, we chatted about the script and he expressed his displeasure with it before I even had a chance to express mine.  He felt it was too generic (!!!), he didn’t think it was written the way he would naturally speak…he didn’t even want a physical address or a phone number in the script, because the only call to action he wanted was to direct listeners to his website!

I breathed a sigh of relief, and did a little Happy Dance on the inside. The client and I were both on the same page.

The spot needed to change, drastically.

I had an idea.

Letting the client speak for himself

He was a very friendly, animated fellow who knew his business, knew why he was unique, and knew what he wanted his commercial to accomplish.  While he was talking to me about it, I suggested he let me turn on his microphone, and I would record him speaking extemporaneously.  I figured I could edit the best parts into a :60 commercial and let his unique message and unique delivery – at least for a mortgage broker – be front-and-center.

This is what we came up with:

StarOneFunding_Image-#1 9-2006

Have you ever heard a mortgage company commercial like that? This was just one of 3 or 4 spots we ended up creating, and he loved them. They were unlike any others on the air at the time, and because of the unique features of his website (along with his style of delivery), they stood out from the pack. Try plugging another mortgage company’s name into that spot; I’d say it definitely passes the ‘generic check.’

Making a habit of ‘generic-checking’

Next time you need to write a commercial, plug in another business’ name and contact info and see what you get. Can any business use this script? Next time you write a poem about someone or something special, try plugging in someone else’s name.  Could this poem be about anyone?

If the answer to either of these questions is “yes”…start over.

After all, if the business you’re promoting isn’t unique, why should anyone be expected to patronize them? If the person you’re writing about is as ordinary as everyone else, why waste the ink?

If someone was going to write about you…wouldn’t you want to pass the ‘generic check?’

The No-Resolution New Year

(The original title for this post was, “The No-Resolution New Year, or How the Portable People Meter Can Help You Not to Stress Over Your Resolutions.”  But that was a bit wordy.  Read along and it’ll all start to make sense.  Perhaps.)

For two weeks now, I’ve been reading and hearing about everyone’s new year’s resolutions.  Most folks want to lose weight.  Exercise more.  Eat healthy.

Some have very ambitious, specific resolutions, such as resolving to publish a book or to make a specific more amount of money each month.  Others are a bit more ambiguous, like trying to be a better person – which is nice, but what does that mean?  Are you only moderately tolerable now?

Believe me, I appreciate why folks make new year’s resolutions…but if you ask me for mine, I’ll tell you I have none.  And it’s not because I don’t think I can’t make improvements in my life, or don’t see the value in setting goals.

I simply don’t see the point in setting a date to start on those goals.

Why wait?

A few years ago, I was talking to some friends about wanting to leave my place of employment and strike out on my own to work for myself as a voiceover artist.  It was autumn, and I recall explaining to them that there were a number of things I would need to do in order to make that change possible.  I would need to build up contacts and clients.  I would need to make sure my finances would be able to handle the initial reduction in pay.  Most importantly, I would need to have the physical tools available to work from home, such as a new computer and editing software, a better quality microphone, and sound dampening equipment to prevent ambient noise and echo in my recordings.

One of my friends suggested it would be a good new year’s resolution to work toward that goal.  I agreed – although I saw no need to wait until the new year to begin setting the plan in motion.  So I began auditioning more, prospecting for clients, and connecting with more people through social media.  I also started buying some new equipment.

I knew my finances were not going to allow me to leave work that following year, but at least I had begun moving forward.

Eventually, I got more gigs, built up a clientele, and this past summer was finally financially able to leave my position as production director for a 5-station radio group and work for myself.  A month later, I began this blog – another item on my to-do list.

And you know what?  The 2010 new year, 2011 new  year, and 2012 new year had nothing to do with any of it.  It was done through sheer determination, and determination is available 365 days a year.

ppm

Image courtesy of Music Row

The Portable People Meter

The Portable People Meter (or PPM) is a small device developed by the company Arbitron to measure how often a person listens to different radio stations.  You may have heard of Nielsen ratings for TV?  Well, Arbitron is the radio equivalent of Nielsen, and ratings are very important , because they show how many people are listening to different stations, how often they listen, what times they listen, etc.  Radio and television stations then use this info to sell advertising and set rates.

The way it works is, a random person is equipped with a PPM and it automatically keeps track of which stations he/she listens to throughout each day over several weeks.  (Back in the day, people were asked to keep written diaries, which can obviously be fallible – although some still do use them – so the PPM was a huge breakthrough in radio station monitoring)

Ratings are broken down into ‘Average Quarter-Hours,’ which simply means a minimum of 5 minutes for every 15-minute block, if you divide your clock at :00, :15, :30, and :45 minute increments.  For example, if a listener tuned in at 6:00am and tuned out at 6:07am, that would count as one quarter-hour, because he/she had listened for at least 5 minutes.  If that listener tuned in at 6:10am and tuned out at 6:20am, it would count for TWO quarter-hours (5 minutes in each quarter-hour block).  However, if he/she tuned in at 6:11am and tuned out at 6:19am, that radio station would receive NO quarter-hours, because the 5-minute minimum per quarter-hour had not been met.

“Your point, Matt??  Get to the point!”

Ok, ok.  You see, the PPM blew away a rock-solid radio programming axiom that nearly everyone in radio obeyed.

Before the PPM, radio stations believed that each hour’s first quarter-hour (from :00 – :15) was the most-listened to of all the quarter-hours.  This is because the hand-written radio diaries often had the first quarter-hour listed.  So if that’s what people are writing down, it must be the way it is, right?

Wrong.

With the advent of the PPM, the number-crunchers at Arbitron realized that each quarter-hour was more or less equally listened-to.  People were tuning in to radio stations not at the top of each hour…but whenever they darned well felt like it.

Shocker, I know.

Thing is, it was a shocker to a lot of radio stations, who for decades had deliberately played their hottest songs, or some other type of important, exciting must-tune-in elements, at the top of each hour.  Turned out that that people were writing down the top of the hour on their hand-written diaries not because they were tuning in at the top of the hour, but because it was easier to say “11am” if they happened to tune in at 10:55am (which, you’ll notice, is an all-important quarter-hour!).

No time like the present

I’m explaining all of this to show that it’s irrelevant when to begin improving your life.  The important thing is that you have a vision for that improvement.  And if you don’t have the determination, that’s ok – take some time to find it!  It doesn’t matter if it’s the top of the hour or the beginning of the year – a radio station needs to have good programming every minute of the hour, and you make changes to your life every day of the year.

My wife and I met in September 2007, were engaged that following Christmas, and were married in August 2008, one month before we’d known each other for a year.  While some might say we rushed into things, I say we seized an opportunity.  We knew how we felt about each other, we knew our feelings would not change…so we figured, why wait?  One never knows what might happen tomorrow.  Carpe diem, and all of that!

Whether it’s the top of the hour or the beginning of the year…it’s just a spot on a clock or calendar.  You can make those resolutions whenever you feel like it:  losing weight, making more money, being more tolerable.

And if you do make a resolution that fails or for some reason doesn’t come to fruition…

Today is as good a day as any to start again.

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