"If you don't know where you're going, any road'll get you there."
- paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland
Once upon a time, underwriters were acknowledged solely by the name of their company. Now fast-forward several decades. Today some underwriting sponsors and underwriting sales people have become very good at wordsmithing for writing copy. That’s okay as long as the copy follows the FCC’s and your station’s guidelines for underwriting credits.
You must keep your destination in mind as you craft the copy that gets you there.
Be up front.
Writing copy that’s compliant with rules and guidelines is easy, especially when you’ve been proactive with underwriters about copy guidelines. This means it's essential to explain these guidelines to your new underwriter long before it’s time to write the copy. This should happen:
a) During early discussions about the uniqueness and value of public media underwriting or...
b) As part of your sales proposal. The copy should be based upon two to four descriptions of the underwriter's business that he has said he wants your listeners to know, (he'll have shared these business specifics with you during your very first meeting).
If you're writing the copy as the underwriting sales person, is there a second person at your station who approves the copy before it’s presented to the underwriter? At some public radio and television stations the salespeople write the copy and submit it to their department manager for approval or for suggestions for an edit. At other stations it might be someone in the marketing or programming department who checks the copy for compliance.
Whoever it is must be well-versed in the FCC and your station’s copy guidelines. A second set of eyes can help make sure it’s compliant. It’s a good idea to have an internal copy check, even if the underwriting credit is just a suggestion included in a sales proposal.
The Basics of Approval
So what do the people writing and approving the copy need to know?
Underwriting copy needs to fit in with the non-commercial nature of public broadcasting. Acknowledgments for nonprofit and for-profit entities are not commercials and need to avoid the characteristics of advertising.
The copy and content of the credit need to be in line with public radio’s core values and programming principles. The underwriting credits are to be presented in a way that maintains the uncluttered sound that listeners appreciate and expect.
Stations are responsible for the wording of their on-air underwriting credits and are accountable to the FCC in the event a complaint is registered with them about a credit that's potentially unacceptable.
We have to be sure that all underwriters and all public media people who work with and approve copy are aware of and understand the FCC and their station’s guidelines.
When creating a copy approval process, don't forget to address:
The maximum allowed length of a credit
Establish who will give the final copy approval
Understand how rewrites will occur, and who will produce and record the spots.
How/when to bring in the underwriter
If you’re looking to put together a copy approval process, it's simple and straightforward.