If you’re a new business owner who’s keen on gaining traction for your product or service and building your brand, there really isn’t much of a debate: your customer is online. Period. Traditional advertising has dwindled to a maybe-nice-to-have as opposed to an absolute-have-to-have. Your focus should be search engines, social media, and the production of audiovisual material. Welcome to the new normal.
That said, marketing budgets are rarely what one would like them to be.
“Startups, especially, are often forced into robbing Peter to pay Paul,” says UK-based growth marketer, Thomas McDermott. “But being penny-wise and pound-foolish is not the way to go. I frequently end up with agitated young executives in my office who’ve been forced into admitting that their in-house-produced product launch bombed to a point where it actually backfired. I always tell new clients:
‘If you think hiring a professional is expensive, you should try using an amateur.’
Casting agent, Wendy Carmichael, agrees. “It’s very easy to sell the concept of audiovisual; clients get that, no problem. What they tend to balk at is the cost of getting a pro voice-actor to do the voice over. There always seems to be someone in the office who eagerly tells them: ‘I’ll do it’. I’ve heard voice overs that are painfully embarrassing — trust me.”
“The trouble,” Thomas McDermott adds, “is that these young execs hear what they want to hear, not what they should be hearing. It’s a bit like pretending something isn’t there when it won’t go away.”
“Actually,” notes account manager, Lee-Ann Shepard, “online voice-casting sites have made getting professional voice overs a lot more affordable than they used to be. I know established voice-actors and newbie online mavericks are shouting at each other about the cheapening of talent at the moment, but my view is that the market dictates; it’s a matter of supply and demand.”
“Right now, there’s an oversupply of talent and the client is spoilt for choice because of it. I don’t have time to waste trying to appease whiners. My approach is if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
Veteran video producer, Greg Albany, nods sagely. “I’ve made a complete transition from broadcast television to online video; YouTube, Vimeo, Daily Motion. Reality TV and smartphones have totally changed the way consumers judge video. I’ve shot some great stuff on an iPhone mounted on a stabilizer I bought in an iStore. But I don’t compromise on VO — not ever. The voice over is often the soul of the piece; it’s what you remember. Sometimes a voice over can stay with you for years. I always refer prospective clients to voice-actor Harlan Hogan’s reading of A Bittersweet Story of Hearts for the Swiss Heart Foundation. There’s very little resistance to hiring a professional after they’ve seen that.”
Voice-actor John Bishop laughs. “You know what? I don’t waste my time fussing and worrying about my income; I rather spend that time on marketing and working smarter, not harder. A professional voice-actor who knows how to strut his or her stuff won’t struggle to find work. I find online casting sites like Voice123 allow me to cast my net so much wider; I have clients all over the world these days. I’m my own agent. My sales pitch to clients is always the same. Simply put, I bring knowledge, experience, versatility, range, authenticity, and the highest quality to the table, so I’m worth every cent of what I charge. Distinctive voices can also provide a brand with a familiarity that’s as important as a visually-striking logo. People bond with a voice. Get the right voice for your brand, get the right interpretation of the right script for your product or service and you’ve invariably got a hugely successful double-whammy on your hands.”
Advertising agency owner, Caroline Broomberg, shrugs. “I’ve reached the stage where I’m very upfront about quality.”
“If the client wants a product that’s the audiovisual equivalent of a German sports car, I better be given the budget for it, not terse instructions and an attitude problem. If you give me two fish, five loaves and expect a miracle, the best I can offer you is a nice sandwich.”
“Quality and affordability don’t have to be mutually exclusive,” says Jack Turner who runs a small, home-based video production outfit. “I’ve yet to find a voice-actor who’s not accommodating. The key, I’ve discovered, is honesty. I tell them exactly what the project is, and what usage is involved. Having been burned by clients in the past — either because they’re forgetful or mischievious — I do my utmost to negotiate full buyout. Online video stays online forever; don’t let anyone attempt to convince you otherwise.”
Freelance producer, Gillian Parker, rolls her eyes. “I’ve had some bad gigs with amateur voice actors over the years. Maybe because it’s sometimes difficult to nail down what constitutes ‘a professional’. For me, a professional voice actor needs to be available, consistent, articulate, well-mannered, and easy to work with. In addition, a pro needs to be able to take direction well and lay down a modulated, perfectly-phrased, and engaging five minute script in no more than half an hour. For all of us, time is money. I’m not saying an amateur can’t do that; I’m just saying that I’ve been in the business for more than twenty years and I’ve yet to book an amateur who can. Sounding like you’re not reading when you’re reading is far more of an art than people think and these days, reality rules. No matter how good the video work is, if the read doesn’t sound real, the project is dead in the water. Get a professional.”
Advertising executive, Tammy Reid Jacobs, pauses for a moment before sweeping her hair back and pulling a face. “I don’t think any kind of business has a choice anymore; you simply have to use a professional voice actor. Our company shot an advertisement last month where the client specifically wanted us to use an amateur to do the voice over. It was no big deal, we thought; the script was only a 12-word sentence. We posted job ads calling for what we wanted on every social media platform you can think of. We held more than sixty auditions in a local studio over a day and a half. In the end, when we were all sitting there exhausted, wildly frustrated, and seriously running out of time, the sound engineer said: ‘Let me make a call.’ When we got back to the studio after a quick lunch, there was this dishevelled, unlikely-looking guy who’d been a pro voice actor for 30 years. He listened to the client’s brief carefully, asked a few questions, smiled, walked into the booth, and did two perfect takes in less than two minutes.”
“He sounded fantastically amateur and the client was ecstatic. We all learned what a truly professional voice over done by a truly professional voice actor is that day.”