Giving radio work a higher profile is the way to start, Anne-Marie
Dave Trott once told someone that he wasn’t interested in working in
radio because it didn’t have any pictures.
It’s a fair comment, if rather an obvious one. But is there any hope of
raising standards in the industry when high-profile creatives such as
Trott don’t even want to try?
The answer is a stereo ‘yes’. However, radio will start making its
biggest strides only when creatives trained exclusively in the medium
are making the ads. And that requires an entirely different set of
skills from TV work.
Radio will never be in-your-face in the way TV or posters are, but as
Nigel Dugdale, group marketing director at A. G. Barr, says: ‘Creatives
have got to find a way of harnessing radio’s ubiquity. I believe if you
can produce a good radio ad, you can do it anywhere.’
Tim Mellors, creative director at Mellors Reay and president of the
Creative Circle, feels so strongly that radio should command a higher
profile in agencies and more recognition as a craft, that, for the first
time, this year’s Creative Circle Student Award scheme is devoted to the
Ask Mellors why he is now starting to champion radio advertising and he
points to last year’s Creative Circle Awards when Howell Henry
Chaldecott Lury carried off the platinum prize for its Tango campaign.
‘I thought: ‘We’ve always ignored radio, maybe it’s time we explored it
a bit more,’’ he says simply.
And what should we make of the maverick commercials director, Tony
Kaye’s, first foray into radio? Kaye, who has made his mark via visual
extravaganzas for clients such as British Airways, Dunlop and more
recently, BT, has signed to direct a series of generic ads for the Radio
Advertising Bureau, together with the Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO
copywriting duo, Tom Carty and Walter Campbell.
Some dismiss the whole exercise as mere window-dressing. Mandy Wheeler
of the production company, Mandy Wheeler Sound Productions, is blunt:
‘What happens if Tony Kaye does a bad radio ad? People won’t blame him,
they’ll blame radio. I would say to him, ‘I don’t care if you’ve made
brilliant TV commercials, go away and show me some scripts.’ We’ve got
to dismantle this word ‘creative’.’
Others stress that the first step towards producing great creative work
is to recognise the medium’s parameters. ‘Radio is the most stripped-
down medium. Everything from the sound to how the words tell the story
is so much more important,’ says Giles Keeble, the former creative
director at Leo Burnett, who recently judged the Classic FM radio
In other words, writing for radio is bloody difficult. This factor alone
may help to explain why many TV-trained creatives shy away from such an
aesthetic form, preferring to test their visual mettle through the
latest computer graphic techniques.
Keeble and other aficionados believe working in radio can instill the
sorts of skills that are useful in advertising per se, and even beyond,
namely: writing stories, dialogue, casting and characters. ‘The problem
is it’s hard to do well and you don’t get the foreign location, huge
budget and toys to play with,’ he points out wryly.
No-one denies that the glamour element is missing in radio, but as
Wheeler pertinently says: ‘The industry is not there for the creatives,
it’s for the clients. If advertising is just about being exciting, it’s
a pretty naff industry.’
She argues forcefully that the way forward is by carefully building up a
radio skill base. ‘Somebody’s got to start putting serious money into
training radio creatives. Agencies should be going out to find people
with different skills, such as BBC drama writers, not just recruiting
from art colleges,’ Wheeler says.
Until the effects of such a drive filter through, agencies would do well
to offer clearer guidelines to their conventionally trained creatives.
After all, an increasing number of clients are following Dugdale’s line
and channelling money away from TV into radio. This year he split his
marketing budget equally between radio, TV and outdoor and has been
thrilled with the Irn-Bru work through the Leith Agency. Previously, 100
per cent of spend had gone on TV.
Perhaps radio will know it has truly arrived creatively when its awards
schemes recognise craft skills. For his part, Keeble says, with improved
standards, there is no reason why there shouldn’t be awards such as
‘best produced’ and ‘best edited’ ad.
As Mellors observes frankly of himself and many of his peers: ‘Take the
pictures away and we go blind.’ Now more than ever, radio is dedicated
to teaching creatives how to see again.