Friday, March 25, 2005

Those Who Fail To Learn From The Past

Two items in the news today made me think of that old saw.

1. Why Terri Schiavo? Why now? Heart-rending though her case may be, none of the issues are new. But she has been elevated to a national symbol by cable news, which wasn't as tabloid a few years ago and didn't exist when Quinlan was hospitalized. When I was a New Jersey newspaper reporter in the 1970s, we ran many stories on the saga of Karen Ann Quinlan. The case drew national attention when the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that the 21-year-old brain-damaged woman could be taken off a respirator, although it turned out she survived until 1985. During this furor over Terri Schiavo, I've been looking back at other such cases. Turns out there were a lot of them (read more - Howard Kurtz-Media Notes)

2. This letter to Jim Carnegie, Editor & Publisher of Radio Business Report:

The debate continues on :60s vs. :30s.

My first job out of college was a radio sales position. At that time (1976), thirty second commercials were the local/ regional/ national "spot buy" industry standard. Every station in the market had a published ratecard. The standard rates in every daypart were based on a :30. There was a premium charge of approximately 25-40% for a :60 depending on the station's format. At that time practically no advertisers bought :60's with the exception of car dealers, who needed the extra time for the legally enforced disclaimers, re: finance rates, etc.

As I see it, the issue is NOT really spot length but rather COPYWRITING! When the industry moved to "units" rather than "minutes" and :60's became standard, the need to write and produce really good copy was relaxed. No one that tries to write really effective radio copy will argue with the fact, that writing a really effective :30 is much harder than writing a mediocre :60 that relies heavily on repetition to make a point or deliver a message. The reality is that at the local level, the majority of commercial copy is at best mediocre ( I'm being kind).

Most local commercials regardless of length don't, as Paul Weyland would say, "stand out above the crapisphere!" Agencies are as much to blame for this as local sales people forced to write their own copy for direct accounts. Even large group owned stations that employ copywriters simply churn out formulaic, mediocre copy. In the 70's and early 80's ADDY AWARDS were the most competitive for radio at the thirty second level. Frequently, there would be NO ADDY awarded for a :60, because of the lack of quality entries. I know because I won several of those awards in various markets. Whether, Clear Channel is effective at resurrecting the :30 as a standard unit, will depend almost entirely on the effectiveness of those commercial messages that their stations air for those advertisers.

Reconfiguring the commercial breaks to accommodate selling :30's, is about 25% of what they need to be successful. The harder 75%, of WRITING and producing "EFFECTIVE" :30's that work for their clients is, as I presently "hear it on the air" in this market, yet to be considered, let alone addressed.

If the "less is more" is to have the desired effect on programming and listener retention, the "MORE" part of the equation, needs to be addressed by not only Clear Channel but, the entire industry, regardless of commercial length.

-- Mark CortnerTulsa, OK


Howard Kurtz's question highlights the fact that every generation is not exactly the same and the lessons that one 'thought' they had already learned may not apply to the next one.

Cortner's points are excellent, as long as we remember that all the research in recent months continues to support that move to UNITS because it was soundly based on listener reaction to multiple messages, no matter what the length, and that still seems to apply (witness very recent data from Paragon Media Strategies, Bridge Ratings, and Navigauge).

PS: Mike O'Malley does the math.

If we want the listener to notice our efforts to cut back on clutter we need to reimpose absolute limits on both units and minutes. I like Clear Channel's 12 minutes in the morning and ten the rest of the day, but worry if that opens the door to more than 10-12 units an hour too, regardless of length.

I thought we'd already learned that lesson in the 1980's. Hopefully, we don't have to learn it again now, the hard way.

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