Saturday, December 18, 2010

How To Drive A Writer Crazy

I started out as a writer. The other day someone said to me, "It takes a special talent to do that." I may have agreed then, but I think it's more solitude, and a need to be heard than it is talent. Anyone can write, as witnessed by some of the latest books by various politicians who are no longer in office.

A writer will obsess over details - in the story and in the words.

This story is about the words.

I recently bought something with my company name on it. I was excited and looking forward to get it. My heart sank when I opened the envelope and read "Ron Harper Voiceover's" The salesperson had taken it upon herself to add the apostrophe. She had to place the order again. There are really folks who believe plurals come with apostrophes.

I saw it again today: on a large company website. The had a list of their computers, televisions, monitors, and... "radio's" OK, so plurals only get an apostrophe if it ends in a vowel? (It does sound like a rule we would have in the English language, doesn't it?)

But here's the easy rule: (say it with me) Plurals Don't Get Apostrophes.



Think of the apostrophe as a handle. It has to be carried by the one who owns it.
That makes it possessive.
So it's Tim's keys on the table. Tim may think he has the keys to several cars, but all of the keys fit only one car. This gold one is one of the car's keys.

I feel a little better, now.

--Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

What Does Radio Think Of You?


Which LOCAL radio spots have you heard recently that have stuck out in your mind?

Uh-huh. Me too.

It’s not supposed to be that bad. Really.

Here’s what they’re saying over at the radio station:

“I’m often embarrassed by some of the work I do which is considered acceptable to A.E.s and clients”

“I put a little extra time in a spot to sell the product better and I was told by the GM I had spent too much time on it and the client wasnt worth the effort.”

Wait a minute. Did you hear that?? THE CLIENT WASN’T WORTH THE EFFORT ?!?!?

Local radio revenues are down 5-7% in most markets. National sales are off 15%.

So tell me… which clients AREN'T worth the effort?

How many GMs and AEs have had bad experiences at a restaurant? Probably quite a few. Wonder how many ate there again?

So if a client doesn’t get proper customer service, if they get less than expected results, if any, from a poorly produced message, think they’ll be opening their wallets again?

The restaurant doesn’t advertise a Ptomaine Platter. But I’ll bet the chef knows if his Blue Plate Special makes his customers sick, he’ll lose more than customers. He’ll lose his customers’ friends. Because they’ll hear about it.

Radio is dishing out the same poison, and they have a hard time believing advertisers aren’t beating a path to their door.

That's why you hear trite, time wasting phrases in local radio spots. They're being written (and produced) for free. So the mandate for the writer/producer is
**Get It On The Air**, not **Let's Get Results For The Customer"

So when someone asks me if radio is a good buy, I say, "Yes. But you need to devote a healthy budget to it, and don't forget to budget for outside message development and production."

Then, give us a call.

–thanks for reading

Friday, June 04, 2010

When I Started

I remember getting the call from a listener asking me if I was the same Ron Harper that he had listened to ten years and about a thousand miles ago.

In such a transient medium, I was both surprised and shocked, but pleased to have made an impression. That particular station in West Texas had almost half of the available audience, leaving the other 16 stations to carve up the other half.

The other shocker was that we worked in the same building, just seven floors apart. After talking with him more, I discovered that his company, who managed some large power plants, was looking for someone to produce a corporate program for new employee orientation. In that pre-high tech world, we were talking slideshow. I bid for it, and got the job! I produced the soundtrack in four track MONO, and mixed it in two different studios to get it right.

Then that project was followed by another, and another...

This past weekend, I finished rebuilding my VO booth in my home studio. We've gone from four track mono, to unlimited tracks in stereo. And I still feel the same enthusiasm for each new project as I did for that first one.

--Thanks for reading.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

This Is News???

The Radio Ad Lab did a study on what makes a radio spot effective.

Any guesses as to what they “discovered”?

Successful radio ads use words that touch the senses and emotions.

Well, DUH.

I hate to spoil the party, but we’ve known that for 50 years. That’s why radio is called “theater of the mind”.

The study goes on to say, “strong beginnings make a difference”.

That does not mean that your spot should start off with sirens and the phrase “IF YOU’RE IN THE MARKET FOR A USED CAR, LISTEN TO THIS!!!” That's not a strong beginning; it's a loud one.

Anyone who has worked with me in the past, or read any of these blog posts knows I’ve been preaching the principles of effective advertising for years.

It is not easy to write a 30 second commercial that is compelling and direct.
Maybe that’s why you don’t hear too many of them. Account Execs and overworked production directors don’t, can’t or won’t take the time to give the client value for their advertising investment.

I’ve met with countless clients who have told me - I Don’t Want To Sound Like Every Other Ad On The Radio.

What they mean is - I Want Something That WORKS.

Of course. That’s the goal of any advertising. But you can’t write a spot from a Yellow Pages ad. That’s like mixing apples and kumquats. Emotional impact will not come from a laundry list of goods or services you have to sell. It comes from telling the customer how they’re going to feel when they buy and use them.

Ask any car salesman. They can talk all they want about mileage, features, colors, payments…but they know they have the sale when the customer is sitting behind the wheel in the showroom and IMAGINES himself driving down the freeway.

This is not news. Some of us have made a career out of producing effective radio like this.

The Radio Ad Bureau funded the study. Their CEO Jeff Haley said, "We will continue finding and sharing ways this medium is used best.”

You do that, Jeff. You do that.

–Thanks for reading

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eight Voice Actors You Should Follow On Twitter

Twitter is a mélange of interesting communities. There are thousands of Tweeple in the voiceover industry. You’ll find a lot of voice actors coming from broadcasting. We like it because it’s indoors, it’s air conditioned, and there’s no heavy lifting. So, this, in no particular order, is my list of folks to follow.

1. Dave Courvoisier (courvo) Dave is the anchor for Channel 8, the CBS affiliate in Las Vegas. You’ll find a lot of blog cross posts, links to his daily You Tube mashup of the day’s headlines, and lots more of interest. So with almost 6 thousand followers, I guess what happens in Vegas gets tweeted all over the world.

2. Austin Keyes (austinkeyes) He’s that big voice you hear on The Celebrity Apprentice, movie trailers, and lots of places around the radio dial.

3. Bob Souer (bobsouer) One of the master story tellers

4. Kara Edwards (karaedwards) Is it coincidence that there are two women on this list from North Carolina? Kara gives you a nice look behind the scenes of a voice actor. And I like her voice.

5. Jeffery Kafer (vooverload) Voice-overload is an internet comic strip that Jeff draws. It’s for and about the voiceover community. Search for the one about Kevin Spacey. Funny, Funny.

6. Ben Hopkin (actingnodrama) Host of the Acting Without The Drama Blog. Good tips on staying “in the moment”

7. Gregory Best (gregorybest) San Diego voice talent. I like reading his tweets. Seems like someone you could have a nice conversation with.

8. Dayci Brookshire (dayci) She’s the Geico Pothole. A Tarheel in NY, and a talented actress so………k, bye!

For those of you Twitterati whom I have forgotten, I’ll catch you on the next list.

--Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Prose for Pros - 6 Reasons To Hire A Professional

Recently someone asked a question on LinkedIn about whether or not to use a professional voice talent when producing corporate videos. How intriguing.
I’ll bet they got a professional to design and install the sign on their place of business. I’ll bet they use professional plumbers, lawyers, accountants…and those guys aren’t representing your brand.

So why would you want an amateur?

Here’s a few things professional voice talents do:
1. We can give you different options. Ask a professional to read something, then read it again, and they will make different choices.
2. We know how to take direction. Give us a mood, tell us how you want it to sound. We’ll be there. Even if you’re not that specific, we’ll probably ask questions to help both of us zero in on the performance you’re looking for.
3. When all is said and done, it’s less expensive. See above. You’ll spend less time getting the performance you want, AND you’ll get EXACTLY the performance you want.
4. We have better equipment, and we know how to maintain it. There’s a lot of cheap microphones, and free audio editors out there. Bigger is not necessarily better, but good gear stands apart from the rest. We’ve invested, in some cases, many thousands of dollars for the right stuff to make our performances the best they can be.
5. One MP3 is not like another MP3. The compression algorithms are vastly different. You know what I mean if you’ve ever gotten an echo-y, buzzy, clipped voice track from someone.
6. Problems? Well, sometimes it happens. But we do this every day. Usually, we’ve seen most of the things that can go wrong. If it needs to be fixed, we can fix it easier and faster, because we’ve been there.

I get asked many times every year to give advice about getting into voiceovers. I always tell whoever asks to get training. Take acting classes, work with a coach, volunteer to read for the blind, but do something. This industry is about the commitment to deliver the message in a way that gets the desired results for the client.

No matter what kind of project you’re considering, it never hurts to ask a professional.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Should The Message Match The Source?

When I worked for a family-friendly radio station, I had to constantly monitor the content of commercials that were placed on the station. I was usually the first person inside the building who heard the spots. Most times there were no problems, but around the months for TV sweeps, I would usually find a word or two that would have to be edited.

The station had a commitment to its family friendly status, and that included being entirely safe for young ears. Occasionally, we had to tell advertisers that we couldn’t run their spots. Imagine that.

Recently, while doing some research on reality TV shows, I started reading the comment board on Jamie Oliver’s new show Food Revolution. The postings were full of kudos for Jamie, and his concept. But there was one writer who took offense at ABC’s inclusion of a banner ad for fast food restaurant Wendy’s.

Does ABC have a commitment to a particular show’s brand? Should they be aware of the ads that run on their site?

It’s an interesting question. On one hand, you have the advertiser. They’ve paid for the placement, and they should get what they pay for. On the other hand, you have a show which is promoted with extreme images of human obesity, and direct references to the unhealthiness of fast food. Does it make sense to display a banner ad of a national fast food chain on the home page of that show?

What do you think?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

What If They Played A Commercial And Nobody Came?

Have you heard any good radio spots lately? 

I’m not surprised. Buy a local radio spot, and your copywriter could very well be the receptionist, the overnight DJ, or even the guy who sold you the spot.

Nothing against those particular jobs, but it just means that the crafting of your message is left to someone who needs something else to fill their already busy day. How much of their time do you think your business will get?

Are they vesting enough of their skills and experience to make sure you’re reaching the audience you need with the message that will tempt them to buy? Or will they use the same trite, unemotional babble on your spot as they used on the last 12 spots they wrote that day?

But, if you're  having an all out SALEABRATION, and prices will never be lower at all of our 16 convenient locations, so hurry in today because these prices can’t last, then maybe you’re getting exactly what you want.

But if you realize that your customers talk to each other, compare notes, and are actual living, breathing humans with a brain, and a life, then you might want to communicate with them rather than talking at them.

If you think that actual conversations go something like:

Hi Bill
Hi Ted
Say, Bill, where did you get that dandy garden weeder?
Ted, I shopped the grand opening of Middleburg’s newest garden superstore

No, you don’t really believe that, do you?

Next time you’re planning that radio campaign, DEMAND a copywriter who has actually seen your business, maybe has even shopped there, knows who your customers are, and what’s important to them. DEMAND one who knows creativity doesn’t mean just throwing a few adjectives at the problem.

“But OUR production services are FREE”, the radio ad exec says

And it’s still true:  - You Get What You Pay For.

--Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Do Your Customers Wonder If You're Going Out Of Business?

How’s your ad campaign?

If you said “what ad campaign?”, maybe you should keep reading.

In a recent advertising and media study by Ad-ology, a Columbus Ohio company that measures customer insights, they asked over 2200 consumers about their perception of companies who advertise, those who don’t as much any more, and those companies who don’t advertise at all.  Whatever your ad budget, the results will surprise you. 

The Ad-ology study showed that when consumers no longer see or hear an auto dealership advertising as much as they used to, 42% believe that the dealership must be struggling. Another 20% believe that the dealership is less willing to deal.

For banks, if customers no longer see or hear ads as much as they used to, 34% believe the bank must be struggling, and 13% believe they may not be in business much longer.

Hmmm. Do you think that advertising only works when it brings you a customer?  Maybe you should think about it KEEPING your customers as well.

Is your ad working? I’ve talked to clients and written in this blog for years: Don’t make your ad about the THINGS you sell ; make it about the benefits. The Ad-ology study asked consumers what makes a good ad.  Wow, imagine that. They asked the consumer. 

  • 68% wanted to be informed of something important or useful.
  • 59% thought a good ad should make them laugh
  • 51% wanted an ad to make them think
  • 39% said, “Don’t insult my intelligence”

I like that last one.  Unfortunately, there are some advertisers and some creatives who continually miss that mark.

In many respects, 2010 is looking like a good year already. Ad-ology makes a great argument for not cutting back on ad budgets.  And if you’re not advertising, now is the perfect time to start.

Look around you, and if you see your competition cutting their ads back, or not advertising at all, then they’re giving you the opportunity to move ahead.

For more information on Ad-ology’s insightful research and how to connect with your customers, visit


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Working With Copywriters

People are getting good at putting their thoughts into 140 characters on Twitter. But I still believe that the hardest thing in the world to write is a 30 second spot. 

I wrote one recently for a first time radio advertiser.

"I'd like to also talk about (she inserted two more of her business concepts here)"

Me: "Well, this is written to convey the thoughts that we originally discussed. It's only 30 seconds, so there's really no room."

"Can you talk faster?"

"Sure. How much LESS do you want your message to be heard?"


"Radio listeners are doing other things while listening: driving, working, and a good spot needs to cut thru all that clutter."

"Well, maybe they'll hear it."

"Really? You're going to make this sized investment on a maybe??"

Remember that whatever it is that you sell, people don't want the THING. They want the EXPERIENCE. In other words, people don't want to buy a big, honking backyard grill. What they want is the experience of family and friends together sharing a delicious meal. 

Humans buy either to seek pleasure, or avoid pain. Your sales messages need to reflect that.

It pays to work with a good copywriter.  If you like what that persn has written in the past, or if he comes highly recommended, he'll be on your side. Work with him as you would a team member.

--Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

But Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me

You’re at a party when someone you don’t know comes up to you and starts talking.

They talk about themselves. Everything. They tell you how great they are, and how many friends they have, and how many things they own. You smile and nod as you search frantically for somewhere else to be.

You’ve just met a typical radio ad.

The latest Adweekmedia/Harris Poll says that only 3% of adults find radio ads helpful when making a buying decision. It’s no wonder. Because most radio ads are like that obnoxious party guest: in your face and talking only about themselves. My Dad always said if you want someone to be interested in YOU, then you have to talk about THEM.

How many radio ads do you hear on a regular basis that talk about you? Apparently only 3% or less. 

Because the majority of radio ads are not compelling or engaging. They don’t tell a story; they give a laundry list of items or services, or tell you that they are simply THE thing for all your (fill-in-the-blank) needs. 

The medium of radio CAN be the most powerful communications portal on the planet, because radio tickles the emotion. It’s a best friend when it talks directly to YOU. Americans don’t gather ’round the radio like they did in the 30’s and 40’s for entertainment. They listen one on one. Radio stopped communicating one on one. It took too much time to establish that audience rapport; it wasn’t bottom line effective for 97% of advertisers. 

Looks like there’s only 3% of radio ads that are effective. If I were a radio advertiser, before I spent another dollar, I’d find out what those spots are doing to reach their buyers.

And then, I’d hire the best copywriter I could find.

–Thanks for reading