Making Radio Sound Great Again, One Spot at a Time
Does the radio industry take creative seriously enough to help clients succeed? Why do many advertising agencies lack the desire to spend time on radio creative, caring mostly about a television commercial that takes so much more time to produce and costs so much more than radio? Why do radio stations allow awful-sounding advertisers to record their own commercials? We turned to a very successful creative services company to try to find the answers.
Oink Ink Radio was founded 26 years ago, after Dan Price finished stints at Bert Barz in Los Angeles (Bert Berdis and Alan Barzman), following several years at RadioBand of America in New York City. Price knew it was going to take time to make a name for Oink Ink while Dick Orkin’s Radio Ranch, Bert Barz, and several others were still thriving. He hung out his shingle nonetheless and went to work teaching the industry about what he could do and working hard to push out great radio creative. It certainly paid off. After 26 years, Oink Ink has created thousands of great radio ads for hundreds of clients, and it’s still going strong.
Dan’s brother Jim (now Oink’s CCO and a partner) joined the company shortly after it was launched; he’d been freelance writing for Dan, so he was a natural addition. Today, as their roles have evolved with the times, Dan produces most of the work in the studio while Jim oversees the creative process and directs the writing pool. Oink Ink specializes in radio commercials, but over the years the company has morphed into a “radio agency.” Brands now reach out to Oink Ink directly, so, like any successful company, it’s had to evolve. Oink Ink is now not only called upon to create and produce radio ads, but to strategize, handle client services, and manage the entire process below the surface.
We spoke with Dan and Jim Price about the success of Oink Ink Radio, their thoughts on radio creative and why there are so many bad commercials, the elements of a great radio commercial, and their reflections on some of the best commercials they’ve ever heard.
RADIO INK: SPECIFICALLY, WHAT DOES THE COMPANY DO AND PROVIDE?
Jim Price: We conceive, write, cast, produce, and direct radio commercials. Occasionally we’ll produce agency-written scripts, too. We’re also developing several digital initiatives as those who know more about the tech side continue to introduce new technologies. There is a neednow to provide great content using those innovations; we think that’s lacking. Our clients have come to count on us for our expertise in the terrestrial space; it was only natural that they’d begin to ask us about digital opportunities.
RADIO INK: HOW IS THE COMPANY DOING TODAY?
Dan Price: Hard as it is to believe (after all, radio gets very little respect, and even less so now), but 2017 was by far our best year ever — in our entire 26-year history. And that’s thrilling to us, that we’ve been able to not only remain resilient, as any small business needs to over time, but to adjust our business model as the situation called for it along the way as well.
We started out as a resource to ad agencies, then we seemed to attract a lot of media work (i.e., promos), and then we made a decision to target brands directly. It turns out there are still a lot of national brands who demand results and appreciate the attention we give their radio. Traditionally, ad agencies don’t treat radio as they do TV or other “sexier” media, and so that created an opportunity for us.
Many companies that were doing what we do didn’t make those adjustments, and as a result, we really have no direct competition anymore. They’ve pretty much all sort of faded away.
RADIO INK: WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON CREATIVE IN RADIO?
Jim Price: Generally it’s pretty poor. (And I imagine that’s no big revelation to readers.) In fact, it’s the very reason the industry I’m in exists; radio creative has never been very good. But I also think it’s gotten less entertaining than it was back in the day. There was a time some of the radio was quite good, per capita at least. Now it all needs to work so hard. ROI wasn’t even a term you’d hear way back when.
And so our challenge nowadays is to develop cleverly creative ways to present hard-working spots.
RADIO INK: WHAT ARE THE ELEMENTS THAT MAKE UP A GREAT-SOUNDING RADIO AD THAT WILL PRODUCE RESULTS FOR A CLIENT?
Dan Price: 1. The initial few seconds need to create interest or attract attention. It could be jarring, could be subtle, but it can’t just be “seamless.” In every spot we do, I try to establish that “we’re beginning our story now, you might want to listen.” Like the snap of a finger.
2. The story you tell needs to then keep that attention. The best vehicle to achieve that is by making sure the narrative is interesting for the listener. Of course, what’s interesting to one may not be interesting to another. And so tapping into our own personal experiences as we write copy is a great way to go. Because the stories we have to tell will likely be relatable to the average person, at least on some level.
3. The product you are selling must solve the problem that you’ve established in number two.
4. Pay it all off in a way that rewards a listener for his/her time. I think way too often, the people producing radio spots don’t consider the fourth, seventh, 18th “listen.” Using one (often bad) joke at the end, for example, is “old news” the second time the listener hears your spot. We try to create little “magical moments” in each commercial so that the audience doesn’t tire so quickly of hearing it. Also, if it is humor you are going for, it had better be good. No one wants to hang with “that guy down the street” who thinks he’s funny, but isn’t. We all know him.
5. And this isn’t a “must,” but the technique I like best, and the one I think listeners appreciate, too, is the “slow reveal.” It was employed in some of our own best work (“Traffic” for Jeopardy, “Guys With Kids” for NBC, “Babysitter” for Rainbow Foods). When you can create a level of interest that has the listener wondering, “Where is this going?” that’s a pretty special way to accomplish number two.
RADIO INK: HOW HARD IS IT TO CONVINCE AGENCIES TO USE BETTER CREATIVE FOR THEIR ADVERTISERS?
Jim Price: It’s hard. As I’ve said, we started our whole business because agencies were at one time willing to pay for better work. Even just for help tweaking and producing scripts they wrote themselves. They saw real value in enlisting the help of us or Dick or Bert or the others. I have to believe they still see the value (after all, many of their clients actually circumvent them and come directly to Oink), but agencies remain unwilling to spend the money on companies like ours.
They often dump the radio on the “junior guy at the end of the hall,” who then goes to the local studio and muddles through the process. Or clients themselves allow the station to do it for “free.”
We’ve approached radio parent companies to help elevate the spots they offer their clients, which in the scheme of things would benefit both the client and the station, but have gotten nowhere with that.
It’s a hard sell. And to this day, it’s confounding. Why so little effort is put into the creation of radio ads, in spite of there being a willingness to spend good money to air them.