The Radio Mercury Awards have just been announced. Click here to listen to the winners.
Radio is still a writer’s medium. It’s awesome to have an A-list director and a crew of 100 working on your TV or video spot. It’s really cool to see top designers and programers bringing a web site or an app to life. But it’s equally amazing to sit down with a small team of a producer, a sound engineer, and some great talent to pull off something like this.
If you’ve ever run track, you’ll probably agree that the hardest race is the 400 meter dash. It’s running as fast as you possibly can, one quarter mile around the track. Absolutely grueling.
In high school, one of the guys on our team was a contender for the state championship in the event. He won every meet and came close to breaking the state record almost every time. So to help him prepare for the state finals, the coach took him off the 400 meter event and made him run the 800 meters – probably the only race worse than the 400.
The coach (who’d been a 400 meter state champ himself) knew that after conditioning this kid’s mind to run for 800 meters, running the 400 in the qualifying tournament would seem like a piece of cake.
Turns out it worked. The kid went on to win the state championship, and break his own coach’s state record.
Here’s how this applies to you writers and your radio scripts: Start writing 30-second radio scripts instead of 60s.
It’s tough to get a script to fit into 60 seconds. But squeezing a great idea into 30? That’s almost torture.
Sure, 60’s are standard. But I’m seeing a lot of clients who are buying 30s – especially in this economy. Some clients buy them because they’re less expensive. Some buy them based on media buyer’s recommendations. And some buy them because they don’t believe in or care about radio.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t do great 30 second radio. Just visit the Radio Mercury Awards site and hear what I mean.
:30s and :60s are different beasts. What works in one might not work in the other. But practice writing a few. Because if you can write a fantastic :30, you’re going to be that much better at writing :60s. Not to mention TV spots, headlines, and concepting in general.
Quite honestly, I look for an element of “We can’t do that on the radio, can we?” Even if the commercial is just a single voice and serious, I look for some element of honesty or truth or execution that is mischievous. To me, big, subversive ideas are the key to great radio. The best commercials leave me with a sense of “I can’t believe they got away with that.”
Paul Ruta believes you should write what you believe is a good script for the length of your spot, then prune the words by half. “It’s incredible how little it takes to fill 30 seconds.”
The stuff that works is the stuff that you don’t expect. Well-observed real moments are the source of great writing and great advertising. So watch people yourself and write what you see. Then you’ll never have to write another quiz-programme, courtroom-scene, phone-in, psychiatrist-and-patient or film-trailer pastiche as long as you live and the world will sound a lot better.
If the first five seconds don’t intrigue me, I’m not bothered by the next 25. The idea should remain pure from start to finish. If you have to deviate to accommodate other information, write an additional script.
The better radio commercials have ideas in the scripts and whether you put sound effects with them or not, they’d work because there’s an idea.
Too many radio commercials do try to say everything – and end up communicating nothing. Each commercial should set out to achieve one main goal, not many.
If we’ve got a tightly defined market we shouldn’t be shy about identifying them. “If you’ve got a child of two…” may not be the most creative opening to a radio spot, but it will sure get everybody with a child under two paying attention.
I just finished re-reading Jim Aitchison’s Cutting Edge Radio. Such a helpful book.
So for the next several weeks, Thursdays at Makin’ Ads will be Radio Thursday, and I’ll post a quote I think may be helpful for young creatives. (Art directors, you should learn radio, too. It will help you be a better creative director later on.) We’ll keep it up until I run out of quotes.
So here’s the inaugural Radio Thursday quote:
Silly voices are another hallmark of poor radio. [It shows creatives] can’t think of an idea. They don’t put any effort into being creative.
Note: There are so many quotes in Cutting Edge Radio, I’m not going to attribute them all to their rightful owners. Just know they’re all from Aitchison’s book.