Look Who’s Talking: Jim Cutler
GIFF: How would you describe the state of radio production / imaging among news/talk/sports stations in America?
JIM: It’s actually pretty good and getting better. Yes, people are working with less and some had even cut out their production person completely, choosing to save money with a national or group service for creative on barter. There was a time when I was reading only tags for stations that all ran the same national promo all over the country. Different tag for each station but the same promo for every market. But IRONICALLY when the bottom fell out of the economy and stations had even fewer resources to work with that radio did some soul-searching and figured out that being cookie cutter is what was KILLING us. Many realized that local creative was the last thing they should have cut. The less local you are, the more you’re handing your lunch right to the other national medias. But this has turned around. The group production services are killer great, and I voice for many of them to use as promo examples. But they are supposed to SUPPLEMENT and boost what you do, NOT REPLACE all your local flavor and local texture, issues, problems, joys…local relevancy, just to save money.
You only have a certain number of promo avails each day to tell your story. If you just plug-in the same national “Glenn Beck rocks/Obama is bad” promos with your local tag every single day, there is nothing there that makes your city’s station special. People can hear the same promo in 100 different cities, along with the same music and shows. But instead if you take a clip of Beck and use it in something that promotes your town, your situation, your local politicians, your local personalities, your local political slant, your events and community vibe oh and by the way catch more of Glenn at 9am…then you’re taking Glenn and making him local. It’s strong, and that’s what I’m seeing more and more of.
If you’re not local you are going to go away. TV stations now know this. It’s why affiliate TV stations are putting on more local newscasts all day. What once was just 11pm local news, 6pm and a morning news hour is becoming news starting at 4:30am till 10 (not 9am anymore), news at Noon, again at 5p, 5:30, 6 and 11pm. Logically, your viewers can already get news anytime from FOX TV or CNN so why would anyone watch the local channel for more newscasts? Because in a time when listening and viewing is so completely fragmented among all the media screaming for your time, playing the LOCAL card actually is working. And you can make more money with it. I’m seeing a ton of really good scripts these days. it’s like the beginning of the return to creative thinking again. I’m VERY, very optimistic about radio.
Of the hundred things I could talk about, let me give one solid tip you can use: In a PPM world, you have to make everything shorter. Promos should be 15 seconds instead of 30. I was just a part of an expensive focus group test in New York where we watched 100 real listeners each holding radio hand controls turn the station when they were bored. Anything longer than 15 seconds and they are gone no matter how brilliant you thought the creative was. and YES you can get it all in 15 seconds. When we moved from 60‘s to 30‘s people asked the same question, “How can you get it all into a 30?” You think about what you want to say, you keep your clips short and tidy, you write clear and distinct sentences and you have a 15. In TV I read the daily news topical promos and they are only 10 seconds long. TV would love to have the luxury of being able to move up to 15’s.
GIFF: You talked about moving to the :15 promo, what are some keys to writing an effective promo in those time constraints?
JIM: It’s what TV does every time so it’s quite easy. Put in the important impact-full stuff and you must leave out the stuff that doesn’t matter. Once you get used to it you then think going back to 30’s feels wasteful. It’s the elevator speech, you have 15 seconds to impress and that isn’t hard. Leave out the stuff that isn’t important. And if there’s a ton of clients that have to be in you have to leave their slogans out of it. If a lot of clients are in the spot do several 15’s and just rotate 3 clients in each. Here’s an example of re-writing a 30 down to 15 seconds:
First the 30:
“WZZZ presents Lunch with a Legend. This month’s Legend is New York Giant‘s Quarterback Eli Manning. Thursday October 4th at Mortons the Steakhouse at 722 West 43rd street in Times Square. Come and meet giants QB Eli Manning. Reserve your spot now by calling Bonnie at 212-555-1212 , that’s 212-555-1212. Lunch With a Legend is presented by Capitol 5 Financial Management. WZZZ’s lunch with a Legend at Mortons the Steakhouse in times Square, Tickets are going fast. Join us for Lunch with a Legend by calling Bonnie at 212-555-1212.”
Here’s the 15:
“Are the Giants for real? Hear it from the QB himself, Eli Manning at WZZZ’s Lunch with a Legend. October 4th at Mortons in Time Sq. Presented by Capitol 5 Financial Management. Join Eli Manning and WZZZ for Lunch at Mortons, call for reservations: 212-555-1212”
Boom, your done.
GIFF: What advice would you give to account execs working with clients who want to shove 20 seconds of copy into a :10 sports update sponsorship?
JIM: Ask them for help. You’re not blowing the order. You want to fulfill the order and make client happy, YOU JUST NEED THEIR HELP because there is something wrong. Tell the agency it doesn’t fit, send them the voice track to illustrate it and tell them you’re standing by. That puts the onus on them and after hearing the voice track there isn’t much they can deny about it. They will cut the copy. It’s when you don’t send the voice track that they live in fantasy land about “Well I can read it at my desk and it all fits”. Sending the voiced example and saying “This ten is coming out to 13 reading at warp speed as you can hear, please let us know what to do” does the trick.
I deal with this almost every day but more on the network or big agency level where people have already approved the way too long copy and legal has locked it in. It’s still way too long but it can’t be changed. I read it at warp speed and send it to them unproduced so they see the problem.
How about a station promo that’s too long to be a 15 because of all the client mentions? Make several versions of the same promo that rotates the different sponsors in it.
When you write this stuff from scratch, know that you only have 15 seconds to tell the story. That immediately should tell you to get to the point fast. Boom. Boom. Boom.
GIFF: As an amateur photographer and a v/o artist you’ve had the experience of telling stories with just the eyes and with just the voice – what have you learn from each to make you a better story-teller?
JIM: GREAT question! Photography teaches a good a lesson about PPM. If you just take snapshots you won’t know the following: A Professional Photographer’s job is to think about what to capture so that you communicate what you want to say, but more importantly the job is to CUT OUT ANYTHING THAT IS DISTRACTING. If I’m making a Larry portrait outside Staples Center I might blur the background so the viewer sees that the focus is you. If there is a distracting sign over your shoulder or some people standing near you I’ll recompose so none of those distractions are in there. Just Larry in the clear well lit, with a creamy out of focus background (called bokeh) where the Staples Center is recognizable behind you but only as atmosphere. Most people don’t know that photography is the art of elimination so your story is clearly told without distractions. In a radio PPM world you need to be much shorter, much more to the point. Say it straight and make it interesting. Leave out the flowery language and the generic. People are going to tune away the first time you give them the opportunity: the ridiculously long intros, the generic writing that says nothing, the music bed that plays out of spots for 20 seconds before your host begins talking. So apply the same photography rule to what you do in radio, tell a great story and eliminate the distractions and the reasons to tune away.
GIFF: What does it feel like to be spoofed by Saturday Night Live? (see the video here)
JIM: Surreal. My coffee came out my nose. It was very funny and the Collinsworth imitation rocked. I think the guy who did me had me down pretty well. 🙂 The guys at Sunday Night Football loved it.
Jim Cutler is everywhere