The creative idea and the quality of your ad can have a huge impact on its commercial success. Advertising studies (from the IPA as well as our own) show a strong link between creative excellence and effectiveness. But radio is often an afterthought in the creative process and poorly integrated with other channels.
At Radiocentre, we want to help advertisers and agencies use radio to its full creative potential. Below is a ‘nuts and bolts’ guide to help you with briefing, writing and judging radio. You’ll also find practical tips on how to use music and sonic branding and a beginner’s guide to production.
We’re committed to recognising and rewarding great work in radio. Our Audio Ad of the Year Award in partnership with Campaign celebrates creativity in audio advertising and champions the teams behind the winning work. We’ve also compiled a selection of radio ads, some of our own favourites and the pick of best-in-class campaigns by sector to inspire you.
Creative best practice
When considering radio creative, our research study Turning Art Into Science shows that:
A consistent creative route is the most effective feature – familiarity draws the listener in
When used alongside television, radio is more effective if integrated through the use of common audio features (e.g. music, voice, strapline)
Use of a consistent voice is particularly effective, especially when using radio as the primary broadcast medium (regardless of whether it is a celebrity voice)
From this we conclude that advertisers can enhance results from radio by applying a more consistent construct within their radio campaign, ideally employing recognisable audio cues, such as voice and music to draw the listener in.
We offer online and in-person training for UK media or creative agencies. New to radio or need a refresher? The course will give an overview of radio as an advertising medium and tips on how to get the best out of it, with the in-person course including a studio tour and an “in the studio” recording session to learn how to get the best out of a radio script.
Our how to guide
Radio is the perfect platform to showcase writing talent. A well-constructed script can pack a real punch and make your ad stand out in a busy ad break. Although there is no one way to approach a radio script, here are some things to consider as you get started:
- Know your spot length. Before you start, be very clear on how much time you have to play with, including any ‘legal’ copy you may be required to include.
- Keep it simple. Be single-minded. Don’t expect your listener to remember complex detail. The ‘tennis ball analogy’ holds true.
- How does your brand speak? Are there any distinctive words, phrases or a distinctive way of speaking synonymous with the brand? If so, you should use them or write in a way that compliments them.
- Don’t overwrite your ad. With radio, you can communicate powerfully with very few words. Silence and a few carefully chosen words can create real impact and make your message easier to recall. That said, a more complex script can reward repeat listening if it’s well-written and well-judged – provided the commercial message remains clear.
- Avoid the clichés. Radio can be a best-bed of tired creative conventions. (‘This is the sound of….’, the presenter spoof, ‘The blah-blah sale is NOW ON..’ etc.) Make sure your spot is distinctive and avoid becoming audio wallpaper.
There is a high chance that the creative team may not be all that excited about your radio brief. If you’re working with a big agency, they may be working back to back on lots of projects or been working on the overall campaign for ages and feel little enthusiasm for adding radio into the mix. If you are working with a specialist, they may think they’ve seen briefs a bit like yours many times before. ‘Rubbish in, rubbish out’ may be a cliché, but it’s true that a bad brief is unlikely to lead to great work.
A good brief will encourage creatives to think differently about your brand and respond with a fresh perspective. Tired language and corporate jargon will have the opposite effect. What do you want people to think, feel and do as a result of hearing your radio ad? Think about how the tone of your brief can help persuade them.
Include some context too. What’s the business problem? Who are the competitors? Why is radio being used? The more your brief is grounded in reality the more relevant the resulting creative is likely to be.
Finally, add in a bit of creative stimulus. That might mean examples of competitor ads, some past examples of great radio creative you admire or even some clips from Youtube that convey a certain emotion or effect. If you make the brief clear and intriguing to pique the interest of the creatives, they are more likely to write ads that will do the same for your future clients. Go to our ‘Get Inspired’ hub to get your brain cells going.
It can be hard to have objective conversations about creative work. It’s easy for our gut instinct to over-ride and prevent us from appraising an ad in the context of what we want it to achieve. Radiocentre have a useful Rule of Thumb called the Five ‘I’s which can be a good place to start when judging a radio script and articulating feedback. When you read a script or listen to an ad, ask yourself to judge it against the following criteria:
Identity – do you recognise who the ad is for? Is it well-branded?
Involvement – Does the ad interest you and draw you in?
Impression – Does the ad make you feel more positive about the advertiser? Do you want to hear what they have to say?
Information – Is the information in the ad clear and easy to understand? Do you remember it?
Integration – Do you recognise the ad as part of a wider advertising campaign?
Alright, we confess, for this we are going to hand over to the experts. The following tips are taken from the excellent people at Jungle Studios and their user-friendly Audio Guide.
Working with voice over artists
This can be a tricky business and your time is often limited. So here are some tips…
- Give the VO artist some background on the product or project. The more they know the more likely they are to find the tone of voice you are looking for. If you have pictures/scripts in advance of the session, send them to the VO – it can save time in the studio and they may have comments and suggestions too. The more involved the talent feels, the better their read is likely to be
- Remember the VO is isolated in the booth – unless the engineer opens the talkback between recordings they can’t hear anything. It’s important to maintain communication with them between takes, which includes letting them listen to discussions between the team, so they know how you want the read to be delivered differently.
- Work out who is giving direction to the voiceover beforehand. It’s much better if direction comes from one source to avoid confusing the VO. If no-one in the room feels comfortable giving direction feed it via your engineer – they spend their lives doing it and can transfer your comments into “VO speak”.
- Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Fixating on tiny details means voiceovers slogging over and over the same lines and there is most definitely a law of diminishing returns. If something isn’t working try a different approach or ask your engineer’s opinion. Remember that different takes can be compiled to provide the perfect recording.
Finally… If you really aren’t getting what you want from the voiceover, don’t be afraid to politely say “thank you, that’s great” and let the VO go. Sometimes things just don’t click…
The amount of time you’re going to need very much depends on what’s required.
‘Simple’ is when all you need are background sounds i.e. the ad is set in a supermarket, a house, the back of a taxi, an office etc. Allow 30 – 60 minutes.
With complex SFX it’s best to discuss with the engineer in advance. This can help in many ways – the studio can source tricky sound effects in advance of the session and it also gives the engineer time to research and consider how they’re going to achieve the required effect.
There are three types of music you can choose for your ad:
- Commercial music – performed by an artist, commercially available and often well-known. • Library/production music – pre-recorded and available “off the shelf”.
- Bespoke composition – written specifically for the commercial.
Library music is the cheapest, with composition generally being cheaper than licensing a well-known piece of commercial music.
The price of licensing commercial tracks varies widely and you may not get permission to use the track you want. The process of getting a commercial track cleared involves the publisher, artists and writer all agreeing the fee. It’s time consuming so allow enough time to clear the track if this is the route you are going down.
The price of composition depends on the genre of music and level of production you require. If the music you want can be produced on a computer using samples, it will normally be cheaper than going into a studio to record real instruments or an orchestra. Although there will be instances when you only need one musician’s performance, so recording things for real needn’t always mean it is prohibitively expensive.
Make sure you engage the music production company early enough to allow time for the demo and a couple of rounds of changes before going into full production. They will be able to advise you on timeframes and fees based on your requirements.
Native – Some studios (including Jungle’s own music supervision arm) can help you with anything from library searches to composing big orchestral pieces, or recording a track in the style that you are specifically looking for.
The amount of time you’re going to need depends on number of voices, number of scripts, number of sound effects and any music requirements. It also depends on how quickly creative teams and clients make decisions in session.
As a rule, an hour is usually enough to do the VO record for 1 – 2 scripts.
If you have one VO for the main body of the script and another for the legal then get the legal VO in first because then you’ll know how much time you have for the creative bit.
Legal VO records tend to be very quick (15-30) minutes – so there’s no need to allow a whole hour. If the script is dialogue between 2 or more people it’s best to record them at the same time, this will help the script flow and allow the VOs to work off one another.
For ads that are just VO and music you probably only need one hour per script to record and mix your ad. If you need to choose music, mix different music options or the music needs editing to length allow an extra 45 minutes per script to do this.
Most radio ads, even with complex SFX, rarely take longer than 3 hours per script.