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November 19, 2003
The Few. The Proud. The Great Radio Writers.

I'm a graphic designer by training, so naturally, the thing I most want to talk about here is radio.

Actually that should make perfect sense to you in that, done properly, there is no more graphic medium than radio. With virtually no money, you can build the most elaborate sets, go to any location in the world and do special effects that would send Spielberg into a fit of jealous rage. With radio, you can commandeer that greatest single SUV known to man-the mind-and do with it as you please. Yet at most agencies, radio just sits there forlornly like a primer-colored '72 LeSabre up on blocks in the front yard.

You can see that, can't you?

And therein lies the holy grail of this particular crusade. Great radio is really about nothing more than great writing. Which is why it shouldn't be trickled down the food chain to that new kid two cubes over or automatically sent out to a jingle house. Radio shouldn't be just the VO of the big budget TV spot you spent three weeks shooting in the Moab Valley; it should be treated like the very powerful weapon it is and placed only in the right hands.

At our place, some of our most senior people are our best radio writers. They not only agree to take on radio assignments, they relish them. And with good reason.

Fact is, virtually everything else you work on in the agency environment very quickly becomes a collaborative effort-which is putting it nicely. The reality is that all-too-often the terrific little bouncing baby idea that you birthed and breastfed is poked and prodded and grasped at by a myriad of people who have no sense of how you wanted that idea to be raised.

Print ads and TV spots often end up in the middle of a feeding frenzy of directors, production people, clients, account people and any number of others, all with their own vision of what used to be "your spot."

Our senior writers have been through that meat-grinder enough times to know that when a radio spot comes along, it's not to be viewed as something you pass off onto someone else, it's a vacation on your own private island.

Radio is that place where you're free to do what you want to do. No prying eyes, no affected director and the accompanying mood swings. No cadre of hangers-on looking for a couple of $350 hotel nights in Santa Monica. It's just you.

Come to think of it, maybe that's why radio gets the sad treatment it often gets at most agencies. If it sucks, it must be because you do. After all there aren't all those other folks there to deflect the blame.

On the other hand, if you can write, you won't have to worry about all that anyway. And if you keep after it, you can build quite a nice little career out of it. Not to mention a whole lot of great brands. And if you're just in it for the awards, fine-we've got several people who've won lots of neat little gee-gaws and a few hundred thousand dollars doing nothing but writing the things most other agencies didn't want to mess with.

I've hired a number of people on the basis of just great radio writing. Yes-some people actually have radio spots in their books-and I know when I hire them that if they can do a great radio spot, the rest of the stuff will come easy for them.

So if you've ever turned your nose up at a radio assignment or if your agency only puts its second stringers on it, think again. If not just for the enhancement of your own career then--please--do it for me.

After all, I may be a graphic designer by trade, but I still have to listen to the radio.

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Stan has been honored as one of The Wall Street Journal’s “Giants of Our Time,” an Inc. magazine “Entrepreneur of the Year,” and an Art Directors Hall of Fame inductee. The Richards Group was named America’s Best Creative Agency by the American Association of Advertising Agencies in 1997. In 2006, Graphic Design USA ranked it one of the six Most Influential Agencies in America.


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