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Published in the Columbia Daily Tribune 23 October 2005

One Free Minute

In a previous life (between college and graduate school), I wrote ad copy for small market radio.  It was the start of my illustrious writing career.

One of the first things I learned is how to pace the ad copy to fit the length of time purchased by advertisers, either 30 second or 60 second spots.  Typically, the advertiser wanted me to cram about as much into that time slot as possible, so they "got their money's worth."  But repetitive recitations of sale items or business slogans get boring pretty quickly, and listeners tune them out or turn them off altogether by switching to another station.  Sure, the classic high-energy announcers for the Popeil products on late-night television did get your attention, and did work fine in a radio format, but who would want to listen to that all day?  Variety was what was important, not the number of exclamation points in the copy.

Now, I was hardly the first advertising copy writer to figure this out.  I bet it's been well known since at least the time of Town Criers.  All writing is basically just story-telling, and the goal is to get and keep the attention of your audience.  Only after you've accomplished that can you go on to present an argument, advance a theory, or get someone to buy the product you're promoting.

OK, with me so far?  Do I have your attention?  Good, then I can get to what I wanted to talk about.

There's an interesting interactive artistic project I came across called "One Free Minute" devoted to the idea of promoting and extending public speaking.  Basically, you call a number and leave a message one minute long, and sooner or later it is routed to a mobile loudspeaker system and played in some random public space.  There are some limits on profanity and what could be construed as hateful or incendiary speech, but not as much as you might think.  You can find all the details, including phone numbers for both the US and UK at http://www.onefreeminute.net/

Like I said, it's free (except for the cost of the call), so you should take advantage of the opportunity for your one free minute.  Of course, you can just place a call and ramble half-coherently for a minute, like placing a phone call to your ex from the bar at closing time.  But if you want to do something a little more interesting, prepare your speech in advance.  Make a little script.  Think of yourself as a copy writer, writing an ad to promote your idea.

I really wish we had one of these in Columbia, which would be positioned around town.  Even better, have one parked in front of the City Council at their next meeting.  Here's what I would say.  Imagine that late-night, high energy voice promoting the "pocket fisherman" or "vegomatic:"

Hey kids!  Tired of seeing all your money going to help rich developers get richer through the use of Transportation Development Districts?  Do you wish you could get some of that action for the arts?  Then what you need is the new Ronco Art Development District!  Yes, the Ronco Art Development District would allow you to finance more public art, pay street performers at festivals, and even subsidize art galleries in your town!  It's Amazing!  It's Astounding!  You won't believe you were able to ever live without it!  With the Ronco Art Development District, your aesthetic environment will be greatly improved.  Why, with just one small addition to your tax base, your town will be able to support the culture you always wanted to have.

Sounds like a good idea?  Sure it does, but wait, there's more:  No longer will your citizens have to go to other cities to get the original art they want.  No longer will arts organizations have to scramble for corporate sponsors to host events.  You'll be the envy of every city and town in the Midwest!  People will flock to your art and music festivals, enhancing the bottom line for all your businesses.  Act now to get the Ronco Art Development District you deserve!  [Offer void where prohibited by narrow-minded self interest and lack of vision.]

OK, maybe it wouldn't sell the idea right off the bat.  But maybe it would get people thinking.  Ya think?

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