Did I tell you about my first radio gig?

One of the many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many benefits you get for being a member of my “email club” is access to the GOOGLE DRIVE OF AWESOME!!!!

And one of the most popular of the many, many, man… (“Don’t you dare start that shit again!” – you, probably) PDFs it contains is “The Sniper Approach” – the complete story of how I landed several heavyweight copywriting clients despite having no experience, no connections, and only nine toenails.

I didn’t realise it until a few days ago, but I actually discovered this “highly targeted” cold pitching approach about twenty years ago…

… totally by accident.

Let me take you back to a time when everyone was bragging about their high score on Snake and someone on the board of Channel 4 said the words “I think we should commission Big Brother” out loud…

I was trying to break into radio.

There are two ways to get your own radio show:

1) Be a Chris Evans* level megastar, walk into any station and ask “where are the keys to studio one?”

2) Fire a barrage of demo tapes at various programme Controllers until one finally submits.

* Not THAT Chris Evans… the other, more ginger one. (This was 20 years ago, remember?)

Recording a high-quality demo tape was a big barrier to entry. My twin-deck ghetto blaster (even with its graphic equaliser) wasn’t going to cut it, so I only had one option…

Hospital radio.

Hospital radio was great, but slow…

I spent six months visiting wards, collecting requests, and pretending to like elderly people before they would even let me touch a turntable.*

* Again… twenty years ago.

Eventually, I passed the initiation and the Ronseal-inspired “John Holt Thursday Night Request Show” was on the air.

One of the benefits of being a presenter (I NEVER liked the term “DJ”) was I got my own set of keys.

I figured a demo tape of me badly pronouncing “Man-toe-varney” wasn’t going to impress a Programme Controller of a station playing chart music, so I’d pop down to the studio during the day to record more suitable demos.

I didn’t know any radio presenters and no one else at hospital radio had high ambitions of getting their own show on a local tin-pot radio station, so I had no idea what I needed to put in a demo tape.

I figured I’d make a list of all the stations I’d be a good fit for, listen to the station, pick out songs on their current playlist, and just pretend I was doing a real-life show for them.

“You’re listening to 97.4… Cack FM. Coming up next – the news, traffic, and obituaries where you are… Did Mabel finally croak, or is she still clinging on? You’ll find out after Phats and Small…”

I’d send out about ten demos a week. I got a stack of rejections, but most were really useful, giving me advice about how I could improve.

One day, I got a call asking me to come in…

I sat down in the Programme Controller’s office. He made a big deal of my demo tape and covering letter, where I mentioned the things I loved about the station and why I thought I’d be a good fit.

I thanked him for his compliment but genuinely couldn’t understand what was so special about it.

Surely everybody did this?

Turns out – no. 

It seems most other wannabe DJs fire out generic demos – machine gun style – to as many stations as they can, hoping one will land.

Which helped mine stand out like whatever the good version of a sore thumb is.

And that’s what makes the Sniper Approach work so well…

People always appreciate EFFORT.

It’s why I was getting helpful rejection letters. They could’ve just ignored my tape, or sent a curt “thanks, but no thanks” reply – after all, Programme Controllers probably get hundreds of tapes.

But they didn’t. They saw the effort I’d put in and matched it in their reply.

Even twenty years ago, firing off a bunch of generic applications was a doddle. Now, the internet makes it even easier.

This is good and bad.

Bad because it means it’s harder for you to stand out.

Good because it means it’s easier for you to stand out… when you put a bit of effort into your approach.

The one who puts in the most effort won’t always win, but… 

They’ll ALWAYS get noticed.

And when you’re living in an “attention economy”, that’s a pretty big advantage.