Dancing With a Star

What Dennis Miller Reminded Me About Using On-Air Talent

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Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
A couple of months ago, my friends Robb and Katie Walther from Run Spot Run Media here in Portland dangled a very tasty carrot in front of me. They had just brought on a company called ID Safeguards, an identity recovery company, and asked if I was interested in jumping on board with some creative. After meeting the people at the company, I not only walked away highly impressed and energized, I became borderline paranoid about identity theft.

One of our strategies is to use on-air radio talent to actively endorse the product. They currently use get-out-of-debt radio guru Dave Ramsey and have had some decent results to this point. In the next phase, we decided to add more talent to the roster. We started with Lars Larson, a popular conservative talk host on KXL who has a strong following in the Pacific Northwest and is gaining momentum around the country as well. Since ID Safeguards is an Oregon company, it seemed to be a natural fit. Then, after a great deal of deliberation, we decided to add Dennis Miller as well.

I have been a huge fan Dennis Miller fan for a long time and the thought of working with him is not only exhilarating, but borderline intimidating. This was validated on the conference call with him last week. After my client gave Dennis a very comprehensive overview of the company and its philosophy, I jumped in to start talking about the creative direction. As usual (and probably out of just being nervous talking to Dennis Miller), I became a little over-effusive. Dennis stopped me dead in my tracks and said something that is the greatest quote I have ever heard about advertising.

"Hold on a minute. Look, we're not here to do the cha cha. We've got to be direct here, guys."

"We're not here to do the CHA CHA???!!!!!" I was laughing so hard I actually had to hit the mute button on the phone. I still laugh thinking about it. It was, simply put, a classic line and, more importantly, one that made sense. (I have some bumper stickers with that quote on it. If you're interested in getting one, email me at [email protected] and I'll pop a couple in the mail.)

After this epic experience, it gave me a chance to reflect on using radio talent. In my experience, the more leeway you can give on-air talent, the better. All it really takes is a roadmap, some honesty and trust. Sometimes it requires letting go of your brand a little bit to get something remarkable. We did that for Rasmussen Mercedes in Portland with the 105.1 The Buzz morning show. Result? Record sales. 1-800-GOT-JUNK does it on Sportsradio 1080 The Fan in Portland. Result? Great sales and a happy client.

On the flip side, we tried to over-program our air talent with BMW Films back in 2001 by forcing words and emotions down their throats. To this day, it still ranks as the worst on-air endorsement disaster I have ever heard.

The moral of this story is that it is vitally important to engage (and compensate) air talent the right way. It's also important to establish good, honest emotional buy-in before a word leaves their mouths on the air. Then, everyone can celebrate by doing the cha cha.
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