The Importance of Seconds PART 1

Here’s an idea for the media folks (feel free to take this and run with it): The 33-second spot. And as a corollary, you can do the :17. I’m serious. Copywriters across the country would be pitching in their own coin to help the client buy them.

But odds are, as brilliant an idea as that is, nobody’s going to take me up on it anytime soon. So here’s my advice, something I’ve learned through painful experience: TIME YOUR DAMN SPOTS!

Aside from a pen and paper, a stopwatch might be your most valuable tool. Get one. When you write copy, BEFORE you present it, read it out loud and use that stopwatch. If it’s over :30 cut it. Actually, if it’s over :25, cut it. Allowing for a decent pace and pauses will give it character in the end. And when you read it, don’t read it with the goal of hitting :30. Read it like you want it to be read by your announcer or actors.

I can’t tell you how many times a writer comes into my office with a half page of copy for a :30.

“How long is this?”
“30 seconds.”
“You timed it?”
“Out loud?”
“Well, kind of.”
I pull out my stopwatch.
“Read it. Out loud.”
They do. They read fast. As they get close to the end, they get faster and faster. They stop breathing and the last couple sentences come out like they’re speaking in tongues, “andforminationvisitourwesiteatredna dot com!”
“34 seconds.”

This is so simple to do, but it happens all the time. Or, maybe more often, they write a nice script that clocks in under :30, and when the client makes them add stuff, they’re so enamored with their original copy that they don’t cut any of it.

Cut it. It will be painful at first, but suck it up and get over it. Learn to love that pain. Half of good writing is good editing.

Believe me, there is nothing more embarrassing than being on a set, ready to roll, with actors and crew and client and a director all standing by, and having the script supervisor tell you that she keeps clocking your script at :32, and you having to edit your script right then and there. That’s pressure you don’t need.

Stopwatch, my friend. Stopwatch.


6 thoughts on “The Importance of Seconds PART 1

  1. A copywriter without a stopwatch is like an art director without Adobe Creative Suite. You just need it.

    Rule of thumb for radio:
    No more than 80 words for a :30.
    No more than 155 for a :60.


  2. Recently, we had a client add a jingle in that we thought we convinced them not to use. They waited to bring it up while we were in sound design. It threw the timing off so terribly the spots didn't make sense. If I would have cut it to :25 instead of :30, we would've been fine. I didn't so now the spots are disappointing.


  3. I once did a radio spot for a credit card company and when their legal dept. sent me the disclaimer language for the :60 second spot, it was :62 seconds long.

    Um… we have a problem here. On a few levels.


  4. This is very true, in college I had a class where the professor had some sort of formula based on the amount of words that can be used in a :30 spot and it was pretty spot on. I just wish I could remember that now.


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