I just googled “Writing Radio Copy” and was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, to see so many posts that are full of absolutely stupid ‘rules’ and methods. I almost choked on my Diet Dew when I saw, “You must mention the client’s name at least three times.” I wanted to shoot myself when I read, “Some of the most irritating ads are also some of the most effective ads.” These so-called ‘experts’ were handing out the worst kinds of advice on writing I’ve ever seen. With one exception, these articles all outlined what I would call the exact wrong way to write for radio, offering the kind of guidelines that will lead to cliché-ridden radio clutter that almost guarantees your audience will tune out.
The lone exception was the RAB Guide to Writing Great Radio Copy. As I read through it, nodding and saying, “Finally” I saw that a principal contributor was Jeffery Hedquist, who is well known to readers of RAP Magazine. I especially liked his method of dealing with writer’s block, which I’ll discuss later. The Radio Advertising Bureau made it a lot more complex than I would like, but in the main offered some pretty good thoughts.
I propose to give you a very simple guide to writing radio copy that leaves loads of room for creativity and imagination. I’m not going to burden you with a long list of right and wrong things to do because that’s a surefire way to stifle brilliant thinking. My ONLY hard and fast rule is to use good grammar. Giving your announcer ‘street cred’ is a quick way to lose more than half of the listeners right off the top. Being hip and cool does not require your announcer to sound like an idiot.
Before you write the first word, decide what your Unique Selling Proposition should be. What is the USP? It is the ONE thing your client stands for…the ONE thing your client needs to be famous for, and make no mistake, there can only be ONE USP. Far too often, clients (including radio stations) want to be the best at everything; the best selection AND the lowest price, the biggest variety of music AND up-to-the-minute news and traffic, the best steak AND the best salad bar AND the most scrumptious desserts. (Ugh!) The problem is, when you try to be known as the best at everything, you end up being known as the best of nothing. This isn’t just my opinion. It’s been amply demonstrated time and again by study after study. Read The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries & Trout sometime. It’s a very quick read available on Amazon that will open your eyes to so many amazing ideas, you’ll wonder why it isn’t required reading for every radio person. While you are at it, get The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Trout & Trout. These books will change your life. One of the key tenets they put forth is narrow the focus to broaden the appeal. In other words, just one USP will serve you MUCH better than a whole list of swell attributes.
One of the best things having only one USP will do for you as a writer is focus. Instead of trying to juggle two or three or fifteen wonderful things to talk about, you can concentrate on just one. You set yourself up for some remarkable creative flow.
Step 2 requires a little research. Pin down, precisely, the target demographic. When I say precisely, I mean find the ONE person you want to appeal to with your copy. (Are you seeing a trend here?) The reason should be immediately evident. When you speak to that ONE person, you can tailor every word to appeal. Once again, the phrase Narrow the focus to broaden the appeal comes into play. If your target is a 22-year old single female in suburban New York City with at least some college and an annual income of $60-80k, and you speak directly to that woman, you get all women who fit that category. PLUS, you’ll drag in all the 30-something soccer moms who dream of reliving their glory ‘single’ years, every high school age girl who dreams of being 22 and free of school and home, as well as everyone in between.
Now, you know what you’re going to write about and who you want to speak to, all that’s left is to have a dialogue with your target. Notice I didn’t say you should write a scientific paper about the product, it cries out for a dialogue. Speak to THAT person as if you’re having a conversation. True, she’s not going to say anything to you, but it has to be a dialogue nonetheless. Now, it is time to turn the knob on your creativity up to 11.
In the RAB article on writing great radio copy, Jeffery Hedquist had a marvelous idea for combating writer’s block. Grab a sound effect of anything you might have that has nothing to do with your client’s product or service. Play it and start creating a dialogue that is about the one USP and that sound effect. If nothing pops up after a few minutes, try another sound effect. I would suggest that you go there immediately. Don’t wait for the dreaded blockage, just grab the bull by the horns and go for it.
Creativity comes at the crossroad of two completely different ideas and how they interact. Steve Jobs, regarded by many as one of the most creative minds of our age, said that, “Creativity is just connecting things.” The spark of creativity can bring humor, insight, sadness, joy and any other emotion you care to name. And it all happens in a flash when you put two seemingly disparate ideas together. Oh and, by the way, the ONLY way you will successfully sell your USP is through emotion. Writing for radio is NOT an intellectual methodology…it’s purely emotional. If you can make your target feel sad, joyful, loving or can make them chuckle, you will win every time.
OK, your very next piece of copy probably won’t win any awards, it takes time and practice. But use this guide every time and I will almost guarantee you that within a few weeks, you’ll start getting some amazing results. Within a few months, people will beg you to write their copy for them, because it simply works.