Many months ago I had a long discussion with another copywriter about the single most important part of a radio script.
Opinions ranged from what we thought it could be… was it the call to action message? Or what clients would consider the most important part – their business name, or the contact point?
On and on we went discussing all of the different things that could be the single most important part before we finally settled on the opening line of the script.
Why was this the single most important part of the script?
For several reasons. In our opinion the attention getting, scene setting done in the first 3 seconds would matter most – simply because it would keep people listening to the rest of the message.
Without their attention being grabbed, then there was no point producing the rest of the script.
So let’s beak that down… The first 3 seconds of your script should be:
* Less than 5 words.
* A sound effect
* A lack of sound effect
* A music bed start
* A Jingle start
* OR… A familiar top/start or introduction.
This then is the main part of your script that you should focus on, AFTER the rest of the script has been written.
Now radio gurus Dan O’Day and Dick Orkin used to say that no matter what you write as the first line of a radio script – you should cut it and start halfway through the action – and I used to live by that when writing any script.
That means that you are either starting in mid action, or mid conversation, mid story, or starting someway that can demonstrate that we are already in the thick of it.
Now getting that right can be hard to do, and you can agonise over it, write it again, re-write and re-write again and again until you think you have it.
The thing was… I was having this ‘first 3 seconds rule’ constantly being reinforced in my daily script writing, but I hadn’t paid any attention to it until that point.
It was like a lightbulb going on once I realised what was happening.
Suddenly I noticed how much time I was devoting to writing the script, then re-writing and re-imagining the opening of every commercial I was writing. I was spending more than 50% of my time just on the first line, after I had written everything else.
To give you an example, I was writing a script yesterday for a local specialist Battery company.
After some research on the topic they wanted covered, I had written what I thought was a clever script. I think I had nailed the copy brief, ticked off every component of the clients wants and needs, had a call to action, was clearly defining the one core message, but… it didn’t feel right to me, it sounded odd when it was spoken out loud.
I recorded myself reading the line (I sometimes do this to hear what it might sound like in a commercial). But, no, it still was not right.
So I checked it with the other copywriter who agreed, it was missing something and it was something that we both couldn’t identify, no matter how many ways we tried to rewrite it.
So I went back to an earlier version of the script, and I started tweaking more and more, then, I started to get frustrated and in desperation I decided to move 1 line to the top of the script, how would that look and sound?
So I moved what I thought was a clever line from near the bottom of the script to the top… as it contained a great question in it.
I sat back and read it out loud to myself, and BANG!
There it was. It suddenly worked!
I had set the scene correctly and suddenly the whole commercial fell into place, and made more sense to me.
A few more tweaks and I was happy to send it to the client for approval, which they did straight away.
So while Dan and Dick were correct, I think that you should focus on grabbing the attention of a listener with the single most important and best produced part of your commercial in the first three seconds.
From the most elaborate sound effect to best line in the commercial – it should be at the top of your script, every single time.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this… let me know below.