1) What percentage of your advertisers voice their own ads?
2) What are your thoughts on having clients doing their own voicework?
Some stations said "zero." Others reported that 15-20% or more of their clients did their own ads. My answer was decidedly, and perhaps remarkably, on the high end: two-thirds of my top local clients voice all or most of their own commercials!
Of these, most read from scripts. They have been doing this for so many years that they're for the most part quite comfortable at the microphone.
Admittedly, I'm a fairly driven coach; I've been called a "harsh taskmaster" by more than one client in this regard. I have no problem requiring repeated readings or "takes," until I have sufficient material to piece together an effective spot.
Former Los Angeles radio production whiz Blaine Parker, who now operates a boutique advertising agency/creative services company atop a mountain in Park City, UT, is adamant about the conditions under which he allows his clients to get near a mic. He says:
We're a general agency, and at the moment, we have two clients on radio. One of those clients is voicing his own commercials. The other client has testimonials. Both campaigns were produced exactly the same way: non-professional voice talent sitting behind a microphone, answering relevant questions about the business and what it means to be a customer. Then, those extemporaneous recordings are cherry picked and massaged to create glowing sound bites. When we know what the performer is saying via the magic of non-linear digital editing, we write announcer wraparounds.
That is just about the ONLY way we ever let clients voice their own commercials.
When you hand them a script and crack the mic, most clients' voiceover sound like exactly what it is: amateur product. Sometimes, that can be endearing and work in their favor. Too often, it just sounds bad. If it must be done that way, there are simple tricks to directing them that make them sound much better. But overall, I try to never make a client read a script or carry the entire weight of the voiceover on his shoulders. Whenever possible, I record him extemporaneously and pull out the nuggets. It's more real than anything we could ever write, and it presents the client in the best, most flattering light possible.
I would tend to agree with Blaine's approach: record conversations and extract the gold. It's a time-consuming and painstaking process, a labor of love that typically results in an exceptional and effective commercial. This is the only technique I employ when creating testimonial campaigns, and it's a great way for an advertiser to tell his story, one nugget at a time.
Do my clients have the training and polish of voice actors? Of course not. Nor is it important that they do.
In the context of a local market where they are known by many, what's important is that they come across as who-they-are, doing what-they-do, that they sound authentic and credible, and that the content of their communication meets their customers' needs. When all these factors line up, the results speak for themselves*.
Now, I don't disagree with Blaine's analysis for the most part, based on the fact that too many client-voiced commercials one hears seem to have been done hastily and without critical analysis. Whether due to a lack of education or training, a lack of time or effort, or a lack of concern, there's no good reason to settle for second-rate work. But the salesperson, producer and client must be of the same mind on this, each willing and able to invest the time and effort to persist until it's right.
Either do it well or don't do it at all.
It's interesting how attitudes toward client-voiced ads have changed over the past couple of decades. Today the practice is widely accepted. When I first started pushing for clients appearing in their own commercials back in the late 1970's, most radio programming and production people resented it as an incursion onto their sacred turf. Their attitude was not unlike what we encountered from the education establishment when the home-schooling movement began to gain some momentum in the late 1980's. These days, the accumulation of success stories has demonstrated the merit of both ideas.
*Here are three examples from campaigns currently on the air in our small market. One is relatively new, having started this past summer. Two have been on the air for over a decade. Are they "airworthy?" Listen, then decide.
IMPORTED CAR SERVICE
CHUD WENDLE - REAL ESTATE 101
ASK DR. DEVLEMING
Sales trainer Jim Williams used to say that the real proof a campaign is working is that the advertiser continues to pay his monthly bill, year after year. Folksy, perhaps, but true nonetheless.
Which clients are doing their own commercials successfully on your station? (Comments at RSC here.)