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?


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.

2 thoughts on “After years of hard work, it’s time to cut corners

  1. Pingback: 10 Top Voiceover Blog Posts This Week - March 30, 2013 | Derek Chappell's Voiceover Blog

  2. Pingback: In copy writing, it’s all about the details | Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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