By Mark Wainwright
Talk Show Host
SYRACUSE — Holland Cooke’s recent commentary on TALKERS TV about local endorsement spots reinforced my long-standing belief in local radio, and it gives me an opportunity to share some thoughts about the success we’ve had doing endorsements in Syracuse.
If I had to narrow it down to one key piece of advice, it would be: Don’t make endorsements just another part of your commercial load. Make them part of your show!
Over time, radio listeners have learned to tune out commercials, either mentally or by actually hitting the button. An entertaining live personal endorsement spot, performed at the start of a stopset, can break that pattern and grab the listener’s attention.
That’s why it’s important that the endorsement be funny, or compelling, or unusual, or crazy, or something other than a conventional straight read. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like: “It’s 7:20, Ron Radio here, with a word about your local Chevy dealers…” followed by the air personality simply reading a piece of copy. The host might have a good voice and great reading skills, and since there’s a live human element involved, there’s some improvement over just pressing the button to start the spot cluster– but only marginally so. The listener still thinks “commercial!” and proceeds to mentally or physically throw the switch. The client’s money and the host’s time have been wasted.
Meanwhile, my approach has always been that endorsements spots are part of my show. They are program content, with each one giving me 60 seconds — okay, maybe 65 or 70 seconds, sometimes I cheat a little — to show off my personality, my sense of humor, my perspective, or just allow a few rebellious brain cells to make themselves audible for a moment. I’ve used music, drop-ins, sound effects, character voices, bad puns, plays on words, you name it. Sometimes I do a lot of advance preparation, sometimes I totally ad-lib them on the fly. The point is, they’re different, and if I can get listeners to stop thinking “commercial!” and get them thinking “What is he DOING?” or “Where is he going with this?” or “Did he actually SAY that?”, then I’ve earned my talent fee. It breaks the established tune-out mechanism, the listeners start paying attention, and that’s when the client’s name and selling points sink in.
This approach requires some groundwork, and a lot of trust all the way around. Whenever I meet with a potential client, I make sure they understand what they’re getting when they ask for a Mark Wainwright personal endorsement. Not all clients or station salespeople are comfortable with my technique, or they might be hesitant to cede so much creative control to an individual air personality; I’ve had to turn opportunities down — graciously and diplomatically, I hope — when the client’s discomfort was clearly apparent.
Obviously, you also need the station’s management to support you and respect your professional judgement. This approach doesn’t work if the air talent is always second-guessing himself about what the brass will think. Fortunately, the management folks here in Syracuse cut me a lot of slack. And the clients? Once they give me a chance and they see the results, they pretty much let me get away with murder.
It’s very gratifying to have a client tell everyone in town that your live commercials were directly responsible for a big increase in their business, and it’s great to have listeners come up to you at an event like the New York State Fair and hear them repeating the same gags and catch phrases you’ve been using in endorsements. They’re engaged and responding, and the advertisers know it. That’s local radio.
(And the extra money in your paycheck doesn’t hurt!)
Mark Wainwright is the morning drive host at WSYR, Syracuse. He can be emailed at markwainwright@iHeartMedia.com.