Radio production

By The Drum, Administrator

August 25, 2005 | 8 min read

Writing a good radio ad is thought to be difficult... but not by those that can do it. Yet for some advertisers it is still breaching the comfort zone to explore beyond the pile ‘em high, sell ‘em low frontier, with voice over and 30-second library backing track. Still. If it ain’t broke...

The ability to write a first-class, creative, radio commercial is a skill honed to perfection by only a few. But writing effective commercials, on the other hand, may not be any more difficult (or easy) for radio than any other medium.

This perhaps means radio is not always seen as the most creative of medium. However, with raised levels of confidence and communication, this is changing and the creative potential of radio is now being exploited.

Well, it is by some, at least.

However, more and more clients and agencies are not only using radio but using it well.

“The industry, in general, has become much better at promoting the benefits of radio advertising and slowly but surely the message is starting to get through,” says Gareth Prosser, head of creative at Real Radio. “As a result, there is far more focus on the creative treatment and a recognition that it can be the difference between success and failure.

“A large part of the problem has been, for whatever reason, that specialist radio copywriters have been under utilised. It is preferable that we are included in the process when the creative treatment is being decided upon. This would ensure that a more substantial thread could be established through all the mediums used.

“However, as more and more agencies and advertisers realise how well radio can work as part of the media mix, it seems to be less of an afterthought, and seen more as a crucial and integral part of the campaign.”

Dan McCurdy of Radio Clyde’s creative services team, agrees: “I don’t think radio is a difficult medium. It takes a greater imagination perhaps than other mediums as there are no obvious supports, but curiously, that’s also radio’s greatest strength. People’s imagination, once you connect with it, is the world’s most powerful advertising tool.

“There is no secret formula for good radio advertising. A good radio ad is one the listener finds interesting. A good radio ad, is one that works for the advertiser. To work for the advertiser, the ad has to also work for the listener – otherwise it gets ignored.

“It helps to understand the environment, talk to your listeners , not at them; take the time to plan what you’re doing; and talk to someone who knows how to make radio ads and get help when you need it.

“If I wanted to make a good TV ad, I’d hire a good TV director. Radio is no different. If I was going to make a good radio ad, I’d hire a good radio director.”

“My objective first and foremost is to write and produce commercials that sell the client’s product, if that can be done in a creative manner then all well and good,” continues Tosh Lubek, commercial producer at Westsound. “However, the idea that it is creativity alone that sells is a false assumption. All of us must have been in the situation of telling our mates about the latest ad on TV but we can’t remember what it was for. That’s another great creative ad for the agency but it has done nothing for the client.

“On radio, keep the message simple because the listener does not care about the client or their product. Listeners lead busy lives and all they are interested in is, “what’s in it for me”. Moreover, effective advertising campaigns must also consider impact and frequency, unless it goes out frequently enough even the best ad in the world will fail.”

Creativity plays an integral part in helping advertisers get the most out of the medium. Yet, on radio, there are other factors that need considered to maintain the maximum effectiveness. Lubek, McCurdy and Prosser all agree that a bad media schedule with a good ad, has the same effect as a bad ad with a good schedule – a less than effective campaign.

Another point that is universally agreed to leave the effectiveness of a radio campaign in the balance is the brief.

“In my opinion the brief take is where it all happens. If a copywriter isn’t able to come up with an effective campaign when furnished with a good brief, he or she is probably in the wrong job. Therefore, it is essential that the creative is heavily involved in the brief taking process and not just given a brief that is considered set in stone,” says Prosser.

“A good brief makes a good radio advert,” agrees Lubek. “Unless the client knows exactly what he or she wants the commercial to achieve then it is impossible to write an effective ad.

“Having said that it is important to attract the attention of the listener. Target your listener, present them with something that they want now and tell them how they can get it now. It is not rocket science, keep the message simple and present it in an interesting or listenable way. Also, if you have more than one sales message then make more than one ad, advertising is one case where it is true to say, ‘less is more’.”

The radio groups have a huge interest themselves in making sure that a campaign does what it needs to do, and they have the creative and scheduling experience that can be of real value to any agency or client at no extra cost.

Radio can be an extremely effective way of advertising, delivering pronounced and measurable results. The better a client’s advertising works, the more money they will be willing to invest. It’s a simple equation.

“An in-house commercial production team will work on radio exclusively, day in day out,” says Prosser. “They have learned from experience what tends to work best on radio and because they work for the same people providing the airtime, they have a strong interest in making sure the commercials they produce actually generate the desired response.

“Most creative copywriters work with both sound and visuals and feel constrained when the visual element is taken away. But in reality, working with just audio can have a distinct advantage. You can do things cheaply in a radio commercial that would be very costly in another medium.

“Also, with radio commercials the listeners’ own imagination can create a far more vivid and far more personal picture than any visual medium could. The ‘theatre of the mind’ can be a very powerful motivator. But the same advertising fundamentals apply, whatever medium you’re working with, it’s just with radio you have to paint the picture in the listener’s mind rather than placing the picture in front of his or her face.”

Lubek continues; “A good sounding and effective advert does not have to wildly creative, but it does need time and thought spent on it by the client as well as the creative team.

“There are times when we have to wait around for copy to arrive from London for national campaigns. Does that mean that the agency has left radio to the last minute? Make your own mind up. Fortunately that is seldom the situation with local agencies, possibly because we have a much closer relationship with them.”

“As the advertising world changes, so radio and the way we use it and consume it as a medium changes,” concludes Dan McCurdy. “As advertisers rightly demand the most effective advertising they can buy, we’ve perhaps become more sophisticated in the way we – as advertisers and listeners – consume ads, and the industry is responding to this demand.

“But if you’re constantly told something is difficult, eventually you’ll believe it is. Currently the writers in Radio Clyde’s creative services team in Glasgow have written somewhere between 8,000 to 10,000 scripts each in their careers. They should be good at writing radio ads by now, while our studio producer claims similarly staggering production figures. We know how to produce good radio ads.”


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