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Lessons in Marketing Strategy Learned from Broadcast Newswriting

radio commercial scripts

It’s a short attention span world out there. Information is coming at all of us like a fire hose: in print, on TV, cable, Radio, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, ads (whether on a bus or above a urinal) and smartphones.  How short is our attention span?  Marketing and Radio Guru John Lund explains that it is VERY short:

“Listeners make a decision to give their attention to your station in the first three seconds……We call this the remote control effect, similar to what TV viewers do when surfing channels.  For radio, if (we) fail to connect in the first few seconds, the result is often “tune-out”……Even if listeners keep listening, they may turn their attention to other things and allow their radio to become background “noise.”  There is a good chance their attention may drift to another device or a conversation.“

So I try to train young broadcast news writers to grab the attention of the listener right away, and to put extra work into getting a visceral reaction:

A story about somebody winning a huge Mega Lottery:  “Gee, I wish that was me!”

A story about somebody in a terrible accident: “God, I’m glad that’s not me!”

A story that sounds familiar: “Hey!  That’s just like me!”

See a pattern there?  Yep - ME!

And to get that visceral reaction, you have to engage the recipient of your message right at the start of the message.  John Lund again:  “Lead with a strong benefit or a good hook.  Get buy-in, and pay off on anything you promise……Imagine you’re on TV and the listener has the remote control aimed at the screen.” 

  • A story about gas prices may or may not grab your attention. But it has a better chance if it begins with: “It’s going to cost you MORE to fill up at the pump.”
  • A story about the Washington DC Metro system considering a fare raise may or may not grab your attention. But it might if you start with: “Get ready to shell our more cash to get anywhere on Metro.”
  • A story about a city council meeting will put you to sleep if you simply talk about government process.  But it makes for more effective communication to focus on the RESULT, or impact on the listener’s life:  “Better have a lot more quarters for those parking meters.” 

A good broadcast news writer focuses on how it will impact the listeners or viewers.  Or as I tell those I work with the WTOP Newsroom, “Here are our 5 W’s”:





And Why the listener should care about the story.  And not necessarily in that order!

This exact concept applies directly to your marketing and advertising.  The end result is the same.  In both cases, you need to get attention to be successful.  The art of crafting a message is the same for marketing as it is for good broadcast news. 

It always goes back to the intended recipient of your message.  In the case of advertising, who is your target customer?  What do they care about?  What will get their attention?  Those are “benefits” and any effective marketing message focuses on the end user.  Will it:

  • Save them money?
  • Save them time?
  • Improve their commute?
  • Make them smarter? Healthier? Smell better?
  • Make them feel richer or more successful?
  • Grow their business?
  • Improve their life?

What is the benefit to the intended recipient of your message?  Let’s consider how the automotive industry sells cars in advertising.  They sell cars by focusing on price (which saves them money-benefit).  They highlight navigation systems (which make their life easier by getting them around town quicker-benefit).  Hybrid cars save gas (benefit) and they help save the planet (emotional benefit to many).   Trucks are shown pulling MASSIVE loads of anything.  They are selling POWER (benefit).

Just as in a well-written broadcast news story, a great advertising or marketing message is all about what specific benefit your product or service will give the customer.  It’s about creating a positive emotional connection.  But it needs to be all about them, not about you or your company.  What is the benefit???

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Editors note: Jim Farley has been teaching Broadcast Newswriting in newsrooms, and previously at Fordham University and NYU, for 40 years.

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