How to... Write a great radio ad


by John Fountain.


Tony Hertz is an award winning radio producer. Over the past 40 years there have only been two D&AD Black Pencils for radio and Tony has won both of them. Today he runs Hertz Radio, but many years ago he ran a company called The Radio Operators and it was here that he made a name for himself.


Tony has always been a very creative guy. Back in the 80's, as well as create some brilliant radio spots, he also went out on a limb and tried something that no other radio producer had attempted. He ran an ad in Campaign that, to put no finer point on it, gave away the secrets of his success.


He called the ad 'How to write a great radio ad' and he listed, point by point, the key elements needed to write an award winning commercial. And today - 25 years on - his advice is still as valuable as ever.

1. Do a storyboard. I'm not kidding. 'Pictures in sound' has become a tired cliche because people worry about the sound and forget the pictures. If you know what your radio commercial looks like, you'll find the sounds come a lot easier.

2. Write a two-sentence description of everyone in the commercial, including the end voice over. Give them names, flesh them out a bit. A dialogue featuring MVO1 talking to MVO2 doesn't give actors anything to hang a performance on, which means it won't give the listener much either.

3. Simple is always better. If you've got a good message, try not getting in its way; there's something really exciting about a beautifully crafted and presented straight commercial. But if you do write a two-hander, ask yourself the next question:

4. Is it really dialogue? A monologue divided into two parts isn't. Make sure there's a relationship between your characters and a reason for the conversation. This isn't as obvious as it looks.

5. Do your own people watching. Sitcoms are someone else's observations of real-life so if you use television dialogue as a source, you're a generation removed from the original before you start. Well-executed pastiche is valid. Well observed life is special.

6. Take your time. Here's a foolproof method for determining how long a commercial should be:
a. Write it.
b. Read it aloud.
c. Number of seconds taken for step b. equals length of commercial. Any media man, client or account exec who tells you how long a radio spot must be is talking rubbish.

7. Write in a "bumper". A line that helps the listener separate your ad from the rubbish that's likely to precede it. Do the same at the end.

8. Take your time (2). Good radio needs as much thinking time as good TV and good press, more if you're not used to it. It's worth fighting for.


John Fountain is a writer and creative driector.
Twitter: @fountainjohn


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