What Happened to All the Commercial Work?

Posted in For Pro's by Administrator on the February 13th, 2009

By Jim Conlan
Copyright Jim Conlan, Voice Overs 2009
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Lots of professional voice-over talent, including me, have a long history of doing voice overs for radio and television. As you may have noticed, though, that long history is pretty much… history.

Why? The immediate answer is, lots of advertisers are abandoning traditional media in favor of reaching their markets online. OK, but that answer ignores an obvious point: There’s still plenty of advertising on radio and television! So how come you’re not getting those gigs? Here are three big reasons why:

- There are fewer local advertisers
- Local media is retail-oriented
- Most local advertising is produced for free at the station

Disappearance of local advertisers

Let’s start by acknowledging that for most of us our commercial gigs were with local advertisers – barring the occasional national Budweiser job (Oh… that wasn’t you? Damn, it sure sounded like you).

Sadly, many of these advertisers have disappeared. There are two main reasons why. First, with the exception of cable, the local media have boosted their prices beyond the affordability of many of the smaller advertisers. And second, many companies that used to be independent and locally owned have been either swallowed up or driven out of business by larger regional or national companies.

Think, for example, of all the banks in your town that used to be locally owned. Or the hospitals. Or the restaurants. Gone! That means that the advertiser pool itself has shrunk – and the ad agencies that served them have shrunk or disappeared. The voice-over opportunities to serve the local market have, therefore, also shrunk.

Skew towards retail

But what about those locals who are still advertising? For the most part, they consist of larger retail companies such as furniture stores, car dealers, and so on. They’re still willing to put money into broadcast media because on any given day their price-item message will attract buyers.

The problem is that most of these large retailers have a set formula for their commercials that usually requires the services of just one or two lucky voice-over artists – and sometimes those few artists keep those gigs for years and years. There are no term limitations.

Cost over quality

That still leaves a pretty good number of miscellaneous local companies who are on the air at least occasionally. Why don’t we approach them? Well, there was a time when many such companies were ambitious enough to hire local ad agencies to write and produce decent commercials for them… and hire decent talent to voice them.

No longer. To save money to pay for the exorbitant media costs, most advertisers have their spots produced for free by the station. That means that, although the actual production will be OK, the spot will be written by a person who doesn’t know how to write, and voiced by whatever station personnel are available under the crushing deadlines stations impose on themselves. I don’t have to describe the result: just turn on your nearest radio or TV.

What this means for us

So is it time to pack in your RCA Model 77 and say, “Goodnight, America”? Well, I haven’t. As many of us have found, more and more non-commercial work is developing all the time. We simply have to be more flexible about what we do.

I believe the true gift of a great voice-over artist isn’t only to help make a great commercial: it’s to bring even ordinary copy to life in a way that makes people pay attention. That gift can be applied to any voice-over project: corporate, institutional, technical, narrative, instructional, on hold – whatever.

So if you’re not getting many commercial jobs anymore, and you haven’t yet gotten into non-commercial work, you might still have a rosy future ahead of you… maybe on the Budweiser website!

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