Expert Columns

Calling all college basketball fans! It's that time again. The month of March means it's time to fill out your those brackets and pick the winner in the 2015 Big Dance.
While you're choosing teams, here's a quick reminder, courtesy of BroadcastLawBlog.com, be careful in how you use “March Madness” in your ads and promotions.
Why the scrutiny? “March Madness” is a trademarked term owned by the NCAA, and much like the “Super Bowl” can cause more than a few headaches when you use it as your own. For instance, you're find to talk about “March Madness” as a news event...but you can't plan a “WXYZ's March Madness Extravaganza” or “March Madness Mayhem Reports.” There's money involved in using the name, and the NCAA – like most businesses – is protective of its intellectual property.
So how can you make the most of this month's sports event...especially if you're in a college town? First – Always ask your station attorney. This article is not intended as a substitute for legal advice...it's only a reminder to be careful. Second...if you want to capture the magic, get creative. Businesses may not be able to have a “March Madness Sale,” but what about a “Free Throw Frenzy” or a “Slam Dunk Saturday.” Have some fun with some basketball terms and see what your team can come up with.
Use this opportunity to tie into current events and dinnertime conversations. Plus, have fun! Your audience will enjoy the connection!

It started when a friend told me he believed we lost a generation of hearts and minds because today’s culture simply told better stories than Christians. His words have changed how I view media and storytelling and have stressed the importance of sharing our faith through the power of stories. This week, here’s a look the things needed to tell a story.
All stories consist of three basic elements: A hero, a conflict, and a resolution. Learning how those elements fit together and engage an audience will help you create better promotions, write better spots, and track down top-notch show prep. Here’s a quick look at these elements and how to use them:
1) The Hero. The hero or protagonist is the main person in a story. It’s the “who” that we relate to. The Everyman that connects the tale to our lives. If you want a story – or a promotion – to have an impact, make sure to have a “hero” to humanize it.
2) The Conflict. The conflict is a struggle the hero faces. Or it’s a struggle common to all of us. The conflict motivates the hero to take action. It can be as simple as finding a dish soap that takes grease away to as complex as Nazi soldiers seeking to find the Lost Ark of the Covenant. But at its heart, the conflict is a struggle that motivates the hero to make change.
3) The Resolution. The resolution or solution tells us how the hero bested the conflict. It’s using the dish soap that makes her dishes shiny. It’s Indiana Jones outwitting the Nazis. The resolution is the reason we listen to the story. We want to see what happens to the hero. Did she live happily ever after? Can I?
How can these elements help you get mom to a remote? Fill a restaurant on Mother’s Day? Inspire a guy who’s having a bad day at work? What makes these three elements magical? Here’s something to try when you plan your next project:
1) Describe the hero. When you’re looking for show prep, find a story about a specific person. Or when writing an ad, keep your key listener in mind. A hero personalizes the story, so find someone who relates to my/our humanity.
2) Connect me to the conflict. If a hero/protagonist struggles with similar life issues – or something that relates to my life – I’m interested. Maybe the story is about a mom who overcame her struggle with credit card debt. Maybe it’s about a guy looking for an affordable car payment. Struggle doesn’t have to be monumental…it just needs to be experiential. I need to be able to experience the struggle to connect to it.
3) Wow me with the resolution. A good resolution convinces me to take the same action that the hero took in response to the conflict. To use the example of the dish soap, seeing squeaky-clean dishes convinces me to buy the same dish soap for my kitchen. It convinces me to buy from Crazy Herman’s Used Car Lot because I can afford those payments. I see the result and want it for my own.
When you put all these pieces together, here’s how to make it work: Make your next promotion or event personal. Don’t think of it as just another sales pitch. Involve me – your audience – in the story. Make me the hero. Show me why your advertiser or station matters…and how my life will change as a result. When combined, these three elements will help you think audience-first and answer the question, “Why is your message so important to me?”

It's one of the most basic tools in a promotions department. But it's often overlooked because who has time to maintain it. However, a simple promotions/editorial calendar can help you organize multiple events...and you save time when writing ads, Facebook posts, web updates, and newsletters.
If you're interested in streamlining your promotions projects, here's where to start:
1) Block off one hour to plan and prepare. Yes, that's a lot of time, but the investment pays off.
2) Make a list of upcoming promotions. I do detailed planning a month at a time, sometimes two months if I'm running a larger promotion. You're free to do as much advanced planning as you can handle, but I choose a month at a time because that's easier for me to prioritize and think through.
3) Make a list of what type of resource each event needs. Be sure to include spot writing/production, blog posts, Facebook/Twitter/Instagram copy, newsletter copy, announcer live copy, liners/IDs, bumpers for remotes, directions for staff, interview and contact info, and whatever else you include.
4) Get a blank calendar with plenty of room to write. I download an Excel-based calendar from Vertex42.com. It's totally free to use, and since it's spreadsheet-based, I can add extra space if needed.
5) Start filling in due dates. I batch similar projects together. For instance, it's easier to write all social media copy at once, so I'll plan to have social media copy completed early in the month. The next due date includes spot/liner/ID copy. Newsletter copy is next. Each project has a begin/end date. I know when content is due...and when I've missed something.
6) Add/Subtract/Change/Update as needed. No promotion plan is set in stone. Things can change at a moment's notice. That's why I recommend using a spreadsheet-based calendar. You can make changes quickly, and you can move info as needed.
7) Link to live content. Once I've finished promotional copy, I do myself a favor and create a link from my calendar to the document or file. I do this for two reasons: a) I can find it quickly; and b) if I need to compare details, it's easy to click a link and check my work.
8) Spend 20 minutes a week maintaining the calendar. Keep your calendar up to date and make the time to maintain it.
9) Look at it every day. Make it a habit to check your calendar every day. See what's due, and plan accordingly.
I keep a digital version on my computer desktop, and I tack a copy to my office corkboard. Yes, I still use a corkboard! I need a reminder that hangs around and it in my line of sight at all times so that I can review it often through the day.
If you're feeling overwhelmed by the amount of promotional work due...or you want to stay organized, I recommend starting a promotional calendar. You'll thank yourself!

When was the last time you fed your creativity? When you read something beyond the industry sites and news stories? When was the last time you read a novel, a short story, or a biography...just because it was interesting? I have a couple of dozen books stored in my Amazon account, ready to read on my tablet, but I don't seem to get around to them. There's always something pressing that needs my attention.
But what if those stories are important? What if investing in creativity is an important key to reaching our world for Christ? About four years ago I was priveleged to be in the room with Bob Waliszewski, host of Focus on the Family's Plugged In radio feature and Paul McCusker, who at the time was the executive producer for Focus on the Family's Radio Theatre program. Both were waiting to be interviewed on a webcast, and while they were waiting, they started talking about creativity and media. Their impromptu conversation was so challenging and fascinating that I followed up with Paul McCusker and asked him to share some of his thoughts on creativity and how it relates to our industry. I condensed his words into a short article. Here are a few of the high points:
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“I am convinced that we didn’t lose this last generation because of any political legislation, but because our adversaries told better stories and made better music and art than we did.”
Paul McCusker’s doesn’t just preach Christian creativity. He practices what he preaches with over 40 published articles, full-length plays, screenplays and lyrics…plus having written over 150 episodes for Adventures in Odyssey.
“Using our imaginations, being innovative, about how we communicate to our listeners is critical – especially since we’re communicating something as valuable and precious as God’s principles for living.” But unlike many artistic alchemists who hide their formulas for success, Paul McCusker is open about what fuels his creativity. “At the heart of it, my Christianity pervades all of my creativity. There’s no escaping it. I once tried to write something that I thought was detached from any real Christianity – and I couldn’t do it.” And to stay at the top of his game, Paul studies other artists’ works: “Even when I vehemently disagree with the worldview of certain writers, novels, movies and music I take in, I am constantly studying the disciplines and techniques used by those artists.”
But the greatest influence in his creativity? The Great Storyteller. “I’m a story guy, so I’ll always champion using story – more than mere facts and information – to reach people’s hearts. Jesus did it. Why wouldn’t we?”
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Over the next couple of weeks, I'll share some additional insights and ideas on creativity to encourage you to find fresh approaches to sharing your message with your audience. And in the meantime, go ahead...open a book...and feed your creative muscle!

I still write things out longhand. Not everything, but when I’m working on sales copy and web content, I usually end up putting my ideas on paper so I can see the ideas and connect the dots. This past week, I was working on a sales piece, but was stumped for ideas…so out came the notebook and before I knew it, I’d reverted back to Copywriting 101 and was asking the three tough questions that we’ve all been taught to ask when writing spots. Seeing them on paper was a good reminder of how important those questions are to crafting a quality sales piece. Ask these questions the next time you sit down to write copy:
What am I trying to accomplish? Most people start with the audience question…but sometimes the first step is to figure out what’s expected. In other words, begin with the end in sight. Figure out the purpose – are you selling widgets or asking for donations – and stick to it.
Who is my audience? Who is going to buy the product? Who is signing the monthly donation check? Who is bringing the kids to your family fair? Don’t be content to say, “Females, ages 25 to 45.” Be specific: Mom has two boys, 6 and 8 years old. She’s getting up early to drive the kids to sports practice, then stopping by your remote for free pizza. She needs a break and hopes that she can get to your event, grab some pizza, and head home. Knowing this helps you better understand your audience, and you can speak directly to their needs. And speaking of needs…
What problem needs to be solved? Find a person’s “pain points” and show them how your product or service meets that need. Pain points can be real – “I have headaches and need a medication to stop them” – or perceived. “I need the new Honda because it has a  cupholder and plays mp3s.” Your job as a copywriter is to find and solve those problems…then move people to take action.
Once you answer these questions, you’re on your way to getting people to pay attention and respond. So whether you’re a newbie who’s writing spots for the very first time, or you’re a geezer like me, I hope that seeing these questions help you create powerful spots.

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