Radio Advertising: Writing for radio

Radio can be a uniquely intimate medium, so treat the audience with respect and keep some truth in your advertising, Andrew Ingram advises.

It will be clear from the articles in the rest of this supplement that there is a lot more to engaging radio than just the writing.

But the writing is what this piece is about and I am here to tell you it just ain't possible to give the answer in 400 words! So what I am going to do here is offer a few nuggets of advice and insight (most of them stolen from others) to help your radio be as engaging as a stranger's hand on your thigh.

Actually, rule number one is probably not to put your hand on the listener's thigh (even metaphorically). This is a medium people use to keep themselves going in periods of loneliness or boredom, and they rely on it to treat them in a friendly, respectful manner.

Rule number two: write with truth. You can exaggerate truth, turn it inside out, but there needs to be some human truth in the stories on radio.

There is not really an option to use pretty pictures.

Rule number three: come in late and leave early. For example, you do not need to hear someone answering a phone to know that what follows is a phone conversation. Cut to the middle of the conversation: it is much more entertaining if you do. Cut, cut, cut.

Number four: write visually. I thought this was bollocks when I heard it, but actually it is helpful for deciding what you want the listener to see in their heads. It can be crystal clear, or dark and suggestive, but it should be something for them to art direct. This also avoids vague, marketing-speak phrases from sneaking into the ad from the brief.

Finally, I would say use music and rhythm as much as you can. It is magical how it gets into people's heads. The more clever agencies are using post-modern versions of the jingle, like the new Zulu stuff for Coke: brilliant. Do it well and listeners will go round singing songs about the brand.

So, there you are; you have your exquisite, perfectly timed, finely balanced, multi-layered script. All you have to do now is work on your client, account handler, producer, director, engineer and actors to make sure it turns into the kind of audio that people want to hear all over again.

Good luck.

- Andrew Ingram is the director of the Aerials Foundation and the author of Engaging Radio Advertising for Dummies.

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