In the 1990’s, I did some monthly VO for a local car dealer. It was all very hard sell stuff – “club ‘em over the head and grab their wallets” is how I described it. It was sort of a guilty pleasure for me to do that style of work and I was very good at it.
But then one day, another regular retail client of mine (a sporting goods chain) dropped me as his voice. He had heard my hard sell auto dealer work on the local AM news radio station and told me “I don’t want my client being associated with that sort of thing.” My work for his client was so different in tone that I bet 99.7% of the listening public would not have realized it was the same guy. But my arguments did not sway him, and I lost the account. I felt burned by this experience and began to evaluate whether I should continue doing hard sell VOs, at least in the Chicago market where I was a well-known brand.
I made the choice around 2000 that I would stop doing automotive retail work in the Chicago market. What really made the decision for me was the realization that I was often cast in the “warm, authoritative” role for health care, banks, etc., and did a lot of well-paying gigs for those clients – and I did not want to take a chance at losing them like I lost the sporting goods account.
Fast forward to 2012 in Charlotte, NC, host to the amazing voice-over “un-conference” FaffCon 5 (which you can read about in an earlier blog entry). Here I met Cliff Zellman, a producer from RadioVision in Dallas, and one of the very top producers of automotive retail Radio/TV spots nationwide. I attended a breakout session that Cliff ran about improving your retail read. I walked in thinking “I’m damn good at this, I know what I’m doing with retail reads,” but boy did I learn a lot from Cliff. One of the things Cliff spoke about that impressed me was that he was trying to persuade his clients to move away from the stereotypical hard-sell style automotive dealer read.
I began to reconsider my ban on voicing car dealer spots. After all, way back when I lost that sporting goods account? I worked every month for my car dealer client, but only 2-4 times a year for the sporting goods account. Car dealer work is REGULAR work (a rare and valuable thing in the world of VO), and therefore can be quite lucrative – especially if you are fortunate enough to land a regional or national dealer account. I still think it might be a good idea to continue my ban on the hard-sell stuff in the Chicago area, but in parts of the country where I am not overexposed (as I sometimes am here at home), I have much more to gain than I do to lose!
A strategy that has served me very well these past 5 years or so has been to produce very specific demos, with the idea that it makes the casting decision easier for the producer (and especially, their client who signs off on a casting decision) if they hear demo clips that are as close as possible to the type of spot they are doing. While a generic “Retail” demo can get me some automotive dealer work, I am convinced that a “genre-specific” demo focusing on the Automotive read will significantly improve my chances of being cast. After my great experience with Cliff at FaffCon, and knowing his long track record of success in this niche, I took Cliff up on his offer to do an audition read for his critique. He even sent my critique read back to me as a fully-produced spot (it was a young-sounding, quirky real person script for Kia Rio). He liked what he heard, and I loved what Cliff produced, so we decided to make a demo together.
Cliff listened to my current Automotive Retail demo that I had self-produced from a mish-mash of actual spot clips and some clips that I recorded just for an interim demo – not bad, and it gave him a sense of my range – but it could not hold a candle to what we could do together. Based on his assessment of my particular skills and range of reads I was competitive with, Cliff wrote about a dozen script JUST FOR ME! They were all terrifically well-written and conceived, ranging from Soccer Dad to gritty to a smooth luxury read to quirky young guy to non-announcer to friendly guy to a simulated live event host, and yes, a “screamer” spot that I had a whale of a time recording. Over the span of about a month, we had 4 sessions from my home studio with Cliff directing me via Skype. Cliff is such a master at this, he knows exactly what he is looking for and has amazing vision for this sort of work. After we finished recording the raw VO tracks, Cliff did his magical production work and sent me his rough versions. In every case, I had only the most minor of tweaks. His music selections were *brilliant*. I could tell we had something incredible brewing.
My demo was just about finalized when Cliff played it in front of a VO gathering in Atlanta, including a “heavy-hitter” from LA who pronounced my Automotive Retail demo “THE best ‘genre-specific’ demo I have EVER heard!” Cliff excitedly called me on the spot to tell me the good news. The whole room was abuzz and upon request, he played it several more times.
My new Automotive demo was officially unveiled in early May. Since then, I’ve record 5 spots for Cliff for 2 different dealers (one a hard-sell spot, the rest were more “warm and authoritative”). I’ve already paid off 2/3 of the cost of making the demo in my first month!! Talk about ROI! So now I’ve added it to my Home Page and have even re-tooled my generic “Commercial” demo to include a few clips from the Automotive. This is the best demo of my 23 year career, and working with Cliff has been an amazing experience.
Cliff Zellman has just recently unveiled a unique new concept in demo production called “Done By Six.” Visit the website to learn more: http://www.donebysixproductions.com/ FaffCon was really opened my eyes to the incredible value to collaborating with other VO talent and producers across the country and beyond. Moving outside my comfortable abode in Chicago has certainly been a life-changing experience for me!