There is a lot of money in political campaigns. At the national level, this can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars for a single candidate. Some is well spent, while much is wasted in pursuit of vainglorious ambitions that exceed public buy-in. The question is, can the voiceover business learn from politics?
Embedded within the political process, however, are a low-profile group of individuals whose presence on a campaign can often make or break the candidate’s chance for success. These people often have vague titles like, “media adviser,” “consultant,” or, “strategist.” Ultimately, they are a highly-skilled group of fixers who can make the most mundane aspirant look electric, and the most scandal-ridden seem virtuous.
These operatives who add tremendous value to a political campaign have one thing in common: While they may draw a fixed salary over the length of the race, they make their real money based directly on the added value they provide, as measured by the media buy of the campaign. The better job they do, the more contributions a candidate receives, and the more money the campaign has to spend on advertising…….a small but significant percentage of which goes into their pocket.
There have been fiery debates recently about broadcast and new media rate structures in the voiceover business. A perception exists that rates are being pushed lower by talent influx and changing technology. Discussions both civil and acrimonious have generally boiled down to a broad consensus that buyouts are bad, and residual pricing based on usage is good.
Is it possible, however, that we may be missing the point altogether? Is there a fairer and more accurate means of determining appropriate broadcast and new media rate structures that account precisely for the value our services have added to a project? Can a $150 TV buyout on an online casting site actually be fairer than a national spot at double union scale with residuals?
This author believes the answer is yes to all three questions.
Consider this: The cost of a 13 week national broadcast run for a major brand commercial can run into the millions of dollars. With TV, maybe some cut downs for radio, and Internet pre-roll/social media ads, let’s say a major McBurger joint might spend $2M on the ad buy alone.
Union scale for such an ad might amount to around $4K for the various media for a single cycle. This represents one fifth of one percent of the total ad buy into the pocket of the single individual chosen by the company to give voice to their message.
Does that seem fair?
During a recent coaching session with a talent I am mentoring on the voiceover business, we browsed through job postings on a particular online casting platform. We encountered a TV ad for a nursing organization to run for one month in a single market of maybe 50,000 people in upstate New York. Pay? $150. Now, both of us initially reacted the same way: $150 for TV? That’s laughable!
Then a little light bulb went on.
What might this particular group be spending to air this project? Maybe…..maybe…..$2500? That might be a high estimate considering the market, but let’s go with it. TV only, 4-week buy, small local market, $2500. So, at $150 all-in, the talent receives fully six percent of the media buy.
If the talent working for the McBurger company were to receive the same, their pay for the gig would be $120,000 for a single cycle.
Which one seems more fair now?
It is entirely possible that the debate over rates, online casting, union versus non-union, etc… has completely missed the point. While blanket buyouts are clearly exploitative, especially for large brands, the cycle and usage structures the industry has long relied upon is only a degree less abusive. We are still signing away tremendous added value for a pittance of what we actually contribute to the campaign’s success. Perhaps there is a third way.
Broadcast and new media jobs should be considered in context, not based on holy-writ numbers negotiated in back rooms or dreamed up by entrepreneurs, the majority of which tend to be exceedingly favorable to the buyer.
This third way paradigm applies particularly well to new media like internet pre-roll, YouTube ads, and social media advertising. Tracking usage and impressions is cumbersome if it is possible at all. Tracking the media buy is much more accessible, and a far better barometer of the value we are adding. A medium to large social media ad campaign might cost $50,000, for instance. While the six percent figure presented in the small market spot example is probably a bit ambitious, one could argue that a minimum session fee plus three percent of the total ad buy would be a fair rate for any broadcast or new media run.
For our social media campaign, that might mean $250+$1,500 for usage. For McBurger, a flat $60,000….and for our nurses in Utica? That $150 suddenly looks a bit more reasonable.
These days, it’s not often that we look to politics for good ideas on our voiceover business. The great rate debate will not abate any more than poor alliteration. Nevertheless, perhaps this third way offers promise to bring order to the chaos.