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Radio Ad How-To Guide

Your biz is ready to take to the airwaves, but how do you actually make a radio ad? Here are the basics.
June 14, 2005
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/78218

Editor's note: This article was excerpted from Advertising Without an Agencyfrom Entrepreneur Press.

A well-produced radio spot can inspire the imagination like nothing else. Without a video aspect, the listener's mind is free to wander--to conjure up splendid and impossible scenarios to hold their interest, make them laugh, and, most of all, to pay attention! People listening to radio are usually doing something else at the same time--driving, working in the home or at the office, or exercising--so they don't necessarily hear every word in a commercial. It has to be good!

Obviously your production will need to be done at one of the stations you will be using. But once you have tried the production at a few stations and you feel comfortable with the quality of one particular station, use that production facility for as much of your work as you can.

These are the costs involved:

One of the wonderful things about radio production is that you have the option of having each station you use produce its own version of the same script. This saves you talent fees and the cost of dubs. The message will be the same--but the delivery will end up being very different, unless you give instructions that will standardize the spots.

Standardizing is very important, because you want people to know they are hearing a commercial for the same businesses when they hear slightly altered versions on different stations.

To standardize the sound of the spots done on different stations:

This way, each audience will hear the same words and receive the same message at little or no production cost to you. While it may be more appealing to have the same exact commercial on all stations, new businesses do not always have funds to pay even for the modest cost of radio production. And in that case it is smarter to put whatever money you have into the frequency of the schedule and run a basic but informative ad. However, if you can manage the cost of having one commercial produced (including talent fee and the cost of copies to give to other stations you are using), it's a plus to have the same commercial running on all stations.

Length of Spots

Generally, you will be running a 60-second spot. This gives you plenty of time to get your business name and location in at least three times. The name and location of your business should be mentioned at least twice in a 30-second ad and three times in a 60-second ad.

Since radio production is so inexpensive and often free, you don't have to be worried about changing your ad often. You can therefore be very specific with each script and make the ad generic or dedicate it to a special sale or promotional event. If you are having a sale, give price and item (jargon for "mention specific products and prices"), a percentage off, or a specific brand being sold at a discounted price.

You will find there is little or no room in 30 seconds for cute comments, sound effects, or even for a two-voice script. Save those extras for your 60-second scripts.

If you have lots of information to cover, create either one 60-second script or two 30-second commercials, splitting the information between the two and rotating both ads throughout your schedule. When rotating two or more commercials, be sure that the opening, the voice, the music, and the general feeling of the ads are the same, so your audience will hear all of the information in both ads without being distracted by differences between the two. Remember that there's nothing to keep you from rotating two or more 60-second spots in the same schedule as well.

Add some 15-second spots to your schedule to build frequency at a lower per-spot cost. Your account executive can help you cull the most important information out of your 60-second or 30-second spot to create this shorter version.

Ready-to-Go Ads

It may not be necessary for you to create ads from scratch. There may be other possibilities.

Franchise operators will often have access to canned radio commercials through their advertising support system. A single phone call can put a professionally produced commercial in your hands within a day or two. Usually there will be an eight- to 10-second blank space at the end of these commercials for "tagging" with your local address and phone number.

If you're in retail sales, you may find that distributors of brand name merchandise also have professionally produced radio commercials ready to go and often co-op advertising assistance is available in the form of not only commercials but also money.

Whether you have a commercial created from scratch or you're just tagging a co-op spot, always ask to hear the final product before it airs. The station(s) will be happy to play it for you over the phone or provide a cassette. Feel free to ask that the voice be more upbeat or that the music be changed to suit you. Listen to it again after the changes have been made. Give your radio rep as much lead time as possible to avoid a last minute rush on changes.

Once your commercial has been produced, ask your rep to give you the master reel or CD if you think you might use the spot again in the future. Radio stations will store the master copies, but on a rare occasion one can be misplaced. If your ad has the potential to be used again, keep it where you can find it in a hurry. Label the box with the date and title and put a copy of the typed script with it.