Ad Strategy vs. Ad Writing

Posted by on May 13, 2013

Radio Ink magazine, published by Eric Rhoads, is the principal trade publication of the radio industry. Today we examine a feature article I wrote for that magazine recently. In it, I speak directly to the frustrations of the account executives – the salespeople – employed by America’s 10,000+ commercial radio stations and the many hundreds of stations across Canada and Australia. I’ve decided to let you see what I told them; a peek behind the curtain, if you will. – RHW

Ad strategy is more difficult to teach than ad writing.

Ad writing, essentially, is to choose:

1. an intriguing angle of approach into the subject matter and
2. the sharpest words and phrases to make your point.

Ad strategy, essentially, is to choose:

1. the point you need to make.

Bad strategy happens when you:

1. listen to an advertiser’s wishful thinking and then
2. assume that a radio schedule that
3. delivers great frequency and
4. reaches the perfect audience
5. with really good copy will
6. make that advertiser’s dream come true.

If you’ve been selling radio long enough, you already know that a client’s wishful thinking is a lever that will help you sell that client a radio schedule, but it takes a lot more than wishful thinking to motivate the client’s customer.

CLIENT: “I wish I could sell these items.”
ACCOUNT EXEC: “Let me help you.”
CLIENT: “How can you help me?”
ACCOUNT EXEC: “We have a loyal audience.” (Insert success story here.) “Advertising is an investment in your future.” (Insert schedule and contract here.) “Now tell me exactly what makes these items different and special and better than the ones your competitor sells.” (You start taking notes like crazy. The client is animated. Sincere. Hopeful. Excited.)

You return to the station with a contract and a run order. Now all you need is great copy, right?

Let me pause here to say that it’s not my goal to discourage you. My goal is only to open your eyes. I want you to see the problem clearly so that you no longer walk into a trap from which there is no escape. We will now continue.

You work really hard and write a great piece of copy. Excellent copy. Miraculous copy. World-class copy. The greatest copy that has ever been written. Your co-workers love the ad. The client loves the ad. High-fives all around and champagne for everyone.

The schedule runs. The ad airs. Everyone is commenting on it. Very little of the product is sold. Beyond generating those comments, the ad has minimal impact on the business.

What the hell?

Your copy, indeed, was fabulous. You employed an excellent angle of approach, held the listeners’ attention and made your point in a clever way. Well done! But your fundamental strategy was flawed; your ad answered a question that no one was asking.

You walked into the trap when you failed to question why the client was overstocked on the item he wanted you to advertise. The real problem is that no one wants the item. It’s a loser, a dog, a mistake. Your client assumed – and you assumed with him – that if people “only knew and understood,” then they’d rush in to buy the product. So you told the people, you made them understand. And they still didn’t want the product.

Advertising will only accelerate what was going to happen anyway.

Convince your client to let you offer the public what the public already wants. This is what drives traffic into a store. And many of those people will find other things to buy from your client. In other words, fish with bait that you know the fish love. Don’t try to convince the fish to swallow bait they don’t really like.

The inexperienced account executive allows the patient to diagnose his own disease then prescribes treatment under the mistaken illusion that the patient’s self-diagnosis can be trusted. If medical doctors did this they would go to jail.

The treatment – the copy and the schedule – is the easy part. The diagnosis – the strategy – is the tricky part. A quick glance at the symptoms does not prescribe the cure. Identical symptoms can arise from many different causes. Most account executives are bad diagnosticians because the successful diagnostician must be cold, objective, and suspicious. Not a good way to sell, right?

The successful diagnostician knows the truth of a statement is not determined by the sincerity of the speaker. In other words, a deeply sincere, passionate client can easily be wrong in their assumptions.

If you allow your client to frame the fundamental strategy and choose the principal point your ad will make, you are at the mercy of your patient’s self-diagnosis. You and your station will be blamed when that patient fails to recover.

The solution is simple. You must separate the selling of the schedule from the creation of the strategy. Selling requires you to be warm, receptive and empathetic. Strategy requires you to be cold, objective, and suspicious of the client’s self-diagnosis.

Ask yourself this question: “Are customers not coming because they don’t know about this client, or are customers not coming because they do know?”

Diagnose the real problem. Offer the client’s customers what you know for certain they want. I’m not pretending this is easy.

Are you beginning to understand why it takes years to become a doctor? But stick with it. Don’t give up. Have courage.

You’ll get there.

Roy H. Williams

PS – You’re on the inside of your business, looking out. A consultant can be anyone on the outside of your business, looking in. It’s hard to read the label when you’re inside the bottle. Listen to people outside your business if you want to grow to the next level- RHW

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