There are a lot of things in life that remind me of the “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle that “Kate Plus Eight” made famous in the 2000s. You know—where everything appears picture-perfect smooth in the front, but there’s a messy backstory on the flipside. Cleaning the house for guests, for example. “Don’t look too closely; you’ll see the dirt! I only had time to clear a little clutter.” A little white lie we tell visitors in case we missed a dusty shelf or crumbs on the floor during the frenetic 8-hour cleaning spree that ended 10 minutes before they walked in.
Or showing up for a first date—that will last about half the time it took you to get ready. “Oh, this old thing? It was just hanging in my closet (for five hours this afternoon after I power-shopped at the mall, got a makeover at the MAC counter, and washed, dried and curled my hair).”
In our Firespring world, radio spots would fall into this category: Smart, polished and quippy when you hear them on your favorite station, but with an untold messy story of brainstorming, writing and rewriting, searching for voice talent, cutting words and recording on the backend.
I’m gonna give you a little peek at the backstory of a radio spot, from concepting ideas to achieving the final audio, like the spots scattered throughout this article—the latest Firespring ads to hit the airwaves.
First, you gotta answer the Big Question: Why do you want to run a radio spot? You could have a million reasons—raise awareness for your brand, promote a special offer or campaign, thank your customers, share important information (“We’ve moved locations”), drive people to visit your website or follow you on social… the list goes on.
For our latest radio spots, we wanted to address the cringy question people ask us sometimes: “So, what does Firespring actually do?” Because we do so much, we haven’t always communicated that clearly, so that was our goal: Clear up the confusion. Of course, we can’t cover a whole lot of ground in 30 seconds, so we decided we’d give a very quick elevator pitch, then direct listeners to learn more at firespring.com.
You might have three or four reasons for running a radio spot—it’s all good, as long as you know what your main goal is. If you don’t know that, then you have no direction and no target, and you’re going to spend even more than 8 hours cleaning up the mess you make in the next stage, which is . . .
This is my favorite part of any project because it’s all about bringing the creative energy. My brain can actually resemble the messy side of Kate Gosselin’s 2007 mom hairdo itself: a bit wild, running in several directions and hard to explain. But it usually serves me well, so I can’t complain.
In this stage, no idea is a bad idea—they all go on the board. Well, maybe not the inappropriate or “potential PR crisis” ones (our brand manager, Shannon, should be my censor for life), but still, we assemble a creative team and throw ideas around like confetti at a birthday party. The more ideas the merrier, in fact, because you never know when a totally-not-realistic idea can spark the winningest idea, when you all go “That’s it!” and leave The Brainstorm mentally exhausted but emotionally satisfied.
For our latest Firespring radio spots, we agreed on this idea: Instead of talking a lot about what we do do (“I said doodoo, snort”), let’s talk about what we don’t do. Let’s use humor to address the confusion and make it clear that we understand it exists (self-deprecating humor for the win), and then quickly turn the conversation into what we offer and how you can learn more.
With that idea in hand, we marched with a bottle of wine into the next stage.
Or as I often refer to it, “The hand-wringing, type-and-delete, question my abilities, get another glass of Pinot Noir and hope this makes sense in the morning” stage. I’m kidding. It always makes sense in the morning. But there is a lot of typing and deleting and typing and deleting before it does. When you’re writing radio spots, every single word counts, so it’s important to use only the best and get rid of the rest.
For our latest radio spots, we broke the writing down into two sections: the conversation between characters (the first 20 seconds or so) and the elevator pitch. I wrote the conversation, and our more intelligent writer, Lucas, handled the impossibly short elevator pitch that we knew would be voiced by Firespring’s CEO, Jay Wilkinson, who’s a broadcasting pro with a smooth voice (he was a DJ in another life).
Shannon stepped in at every step of the writing process to keep us on-brand (“Let’s not say ‘porn shop’ in our radio spots”), creative (“How about clown school?!”) and succinct (“That’s about 500 words too long.”). Once we cut all the extraneous words (and cut again and cut some more because 30 seconds is nothing), we moved on to the fun stage of figuring out who’s going to bring these spots to life.
The Voice Talent
I’ve voiced radio spots myself, so I know how challenging it can be—this is one of those jobs that seems like it should be easy breezy, but in reality, it’s hard to sound conversational when you’re reading from a script. On top of that, we needed voice talent who could pull off humor.
The guy in charge of procuring this: our illustrious senior producer, Adam. “The search for voiceover talent takes some time,” he told me. “Normally I’ll do a casting call with a script, and people send me their auditions. With those auditions, you’re listening for potential because the submissions usually aren’t exactly what you’re looking for at first, but you know you should be able to coach them to get the exact delivery you’re looking for.”
Like I mentioned earlier, we knew we’d be using Jay for our elevator pitch portion, but we needed the right voices for the conversational part of each spot—and after listening to more voice auditions than you think we’d need (but we did), we sent our recommendations to Adam, who ultimately did the hiring. And if you listen carefully, you’ll hear that our brilliant writer, Lucas, was the voice of the bounce house guy. He’s also now famous.
Once Adam had all the voices recorded, he took on the lion’s share of the work in our final stage.
I’ll be honest, this is the stage where I go, “Wut?” and scratch my head. It takes all the creativity of the previous stages, but also a lot of technical prowess and a great ear. Since this is where I typically drop off and move on to more writing, I’ll let Adam explain. “A lot of the process includes adjusting the levels of the VO (voiceover) against the music to make sure the music isn’t taking over the voice. Sound effects are fun and a little weird to think about because they’re meant to put you in the scene and help you visualize what’s happening or stress a certain point.”
Once he works his magic with the voice talent, the music, the sound effects, the editing, the levels and everything else involved in production, Adam hands the team the final professionally produced spots—the very quippy little audio files you might hear when you’re driving your kid to soccer or running to get groceries.
And now you know: Really good radio spots are polished and smooth on the front end with a whole lot of mess on the back end. But that’s okay—because for those of us who get to help create them at Firespring, it’s the fun kind of work that makes us go, “Man, I love my job!”
If this is something we can help you with for your own brand or business—or if you’re interested in tapping into the messy-but-imaginative minds of our creative team—we’d love to get our brains spinning on something for you.
Give us a holler and let’s get to know each other and how we can accomplish your goals.