A few weeks ago, Drew told me that he found himself critiquing the voice-over actors on local radio commercials. He said he could recognize voice talent who need more training because they haven’t learned how to sound conversational in their reads. Among other things, he astutely detected that amateurs invariably let their voices trail off at the ends of sentences.
That same day, I called a major entertainment venue here in Atlanta to learn information about an upcoming event. I was rather shocked to hear a voice message in which the events and ticket prices were read in a choppy, uneven manner by someone with an accent. While some local commercials are produced by people with limited budgets, this complex has revenues in the millions each year. Its operations department unquestionably could afford to hire professional voice talent but has not.
In both cases, a professional voice-over artist like me could be tempted to offer her services to these businesses to fix their problems. However, both the people producing the commercials and those at the entertainment venue don’t think that they have a problem. My efforts therefore would fall in the category of unsolicited advice and most likely anger the people that I most wanted to impress.
I learned this lesson the hard way. As I was beginning my voice-over career, I wrote an e-mail to a local car dealer who runs a lot of radio ads. With my infinite wisdom, I explained that the dealer’s ads about Jenny in the office making a Bundt cake for all of the salesmen was offensive because it presented a very sexist and condescending attitude toward women. Mind you, I sent this message in the late 90s or early in this decade. The ad WAS sexist, but as a new voice talent who had no connection to this advertiser, it wasn’t my place to point out that fact. Naturally, I happily identified myself as a voice-over talent and offered to assist the dealer with future commercials.
I have auditioned for that dealer’s spots on numerous occasions but have never booked one. I have listened to my auditions against the ads that ran on the air. My vocal qualities and copy interpretation are eerily similar in many cases. Since I’m a positive person, I believe that maybe the producers knew the talent selected for the ads or perhaps never heard my auditions. I have to be honest, though, and acknowledge that an equally likely scenario is that my unsolicited advice was considered criticism and destroyed my chances of booking work with that advertiser.
“If I want your opinion, I’ll ask for it”
is an old adage that holds true in business. Bob Bly, a well-known and highly respected copywriter who has written many books, wrote a story with that title several months ago in the Early To Rise e-zine. He details valid reasons that you shouldn’t offer unsolicited advice.
When I feel my unsolicited advice could be perceived as criticism, I will keep it to myself, as Bly suggests. For instance, a nearby restaurant opened in the location of a previous restaurant. They changed the name and menu, which gave the customer one set of expectations, but kept the interior furnishings from the previous owner. The result was a hodge-podge of a poorly conceived restaurant with no unique identity.
During our one meal there, I told Drew a number of marketing ideas I instantly had for the establishment as soon as I walked in the door. I often have marketing ideas for businesses but usually don’t say anything because I don’t know the people. I didn’t say anything in the restaurant. It closed after being open less than a year.
If I am merely offering ideas for some new marketing twist, I don’t think the case against unsolicited advice is so clear-cut. When I am working with my clients, I feel that one of my value-adds to them is my marketing mind. I ask them if they are open to suggestions to changes in copy. If I see a way to promote their services, I enthusiastically point it out to them. My clients know that we have a collaborative relationship, and they always seem appreciative and excited about the leads, tips and ideas that I give to them. Certainly, when I am pitching an idea like an audiobook to a prospect whom I have targeted, providing a list of specialty marketing channels may be the key piece of information to seal the deal.
I still wonder what to do about those people who are in the category of potential clients. If I have a marketing idea for someone with whom I’d like to work, should I share it with them when we have no prior business relationship?
In three cases dealing with multi-million dollar corporations within the last month or so, I decided the answer was yes. The ideas had nothing to do with voice-over and nothing to do with me, but everything to do with the brand enhancement of the companies involved. (In keeping with Bob Bly’s recommendations, I wouldn’t have submitted the ideas if they could have been viewed as self-serving.) I suggested that 2 companies could partner on a promotion which would benefit both of them as they share the same target market, and I proposed a niche advertising campaign for a third entity.
I carefully researched the recipients so that the ideas would have the best chance of landing with the right decision-maker, but I can’t say whether anyone read my letters. The companies may not like or be able to implement my ideas. Like Bob Bly stated, these companies didn’t pay me for my ideas, so they might not find them valuable.
It’s one thing to approach somebody saying, “Will you hire me and pay me some of your money?” That line of inquiry won’t win you any friends when you continue with a recitation of perceived defects, like the web designer profiled in Bob Bly’s article or my letter to the car dealer. It’s another thing to approach somebody and say, “Here’s a way that you can make money!”
I think what you put out in the Universe comes back to you. If I was of service to someone else, the Universe will be of service to me. I sent these ideas freely, without any expectation of reward. I truly love all 3 companies and want to see their continued success and market domination. Of course, if any of these 3 businesses ever wants to engage me to voice commercials, point-of-sale and trade show presentations, training programs or anything else for their stellar organizations, I will be more than delighted to join their team!
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