Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Listener Perceptions of Telemarketing

I went to the PRADO listserve the other day and a hockey game broke out. Actually, it wasn't much of a brawl. No players were injured or ejected from the game.

PRADO, for those of you who don't know, is an organization for public radio fundraising and marketing professionals. The argument was over how to respond to listener perceptions about telemarketing (they really don't like it). On one side, the people who helped conduct and interpret the research. Their opinion was to stay away from telemarketing. On the other side, a VP for a telemarketing firm who said you can't trust the research because people, even public radio listeners, will say one thing and do another.

I've been in this argument before and have had similar discussions about pledge drives (also disliked by listeners). Here's my response to the list.

One of the biggest failures in public radio's development community is defining "what works" solely by dollars raised or responses received. It is paradoxical to ask people to give because of the emotional value derived from listening and then to dismiss those emotions when it comes to evaluating fundraising techniques. You can't pick and choose what you want to believe about what listeners say. To say, "We trust listeners when they talk about our local music host but not when they talk about telemarketing" is irresponsible.

The "what works" mentality is especially prevalent when it comes to pledge drives. The response rate to pledge drive appeals -- pledges relative to audience that hears the fundraising -- is typically less than 1/2 of one-percent. Pledge drives don't "work" when compared to any objective direct marketing measure. Would you pay for direct mail or telemarketing campaigns with that response rate? No. But the out-of-pocket costs are cheap so we keep doing them, even when we know they are a source of customer dissatisfaction.

Likewise, just because telemarketing gets responses doesn't mean the respondents like telemarketing. All it means it that they responded. Let's not confuse what they do with what they like.

The vast majority of listeners don't like pledge drives. The vast majority of listeners don't like telemarketing. Don't take it personally if you're in either business because both remain valuable fundraising tools. Rather, ask yourself how to best use these tools while recognizing the deep dissatisfaction they cause with listeners. Strive to keep them to a minimum. And when you use them, strive to make them as listener-focused and as respectful as possible.

That was one of the major lessons from the Listener Focused Fundraising project. Listeners don't resent being ask for money, but they often resent how we ask. Everyone who asks for money for public radio should be aware of this, including paid telemarketers.

Equally important is understanding that it is sometimes better to make 1,000 telemarketing calls to lapsed donors than to add a full day of on-air fundraising that interrupts the public service of 100,000 listeners. That's a choice stations frequently face.

Data I've seen show that stations that don't do a telemarketing hit at the end of the renewal series typically have lower-than-average retention rates. Failing to get those renewals this year reduces next year's direct mail revenue potential. To make up for lost donors, stations try to get more new and lapsed members from on-air drives. The result? They often use Give and Get, Blame and Pleading, and Frantic fundraising messages in an attempt to boost results. Again, the telemarketing call might be the better option.

Finally, part of the reduction in public radio's national donor base can be attributed to some stations' reluctance to call and say "please." After all, if donors haven't responded to 6 letters already, the 7th isn't all that likely to work.

This is not an easy topic. Expenses and goals are going up. We can't just stop using methods central to meeting this year's revenue number and building next year's donor base. Having less to spend would certainly undermine public radio's public service in time, if not right away.

Yet reliance on negative-impact fundraising techniques is rising. Competitors with less-invasive revenue generating methods are easier for our listeners to find and use. This is a real threat. It is imperative to find fundraising methods that don't cause so much listener dissatisfaction. That's good customer service and it is good public service. Respectful, non-invasive fundraising should be one of public radio's Core Values.

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APM to buy DC Station?

First reported in the DC area on the website and now in the Washington Times: American Public Media appears to be the leading bidder for WGTS, a Contemporary Christian radio station serving the DC area.

There's no word on what format APM might put on the air if it buys WGTS, but one thing is for certain. The impact will be felt at NPR as well as at WAMU and WETA. Having a station presence in the nation's capital gives APM greater national programming clout and the opportunity to compete for a big pot of DC-based underwriting dollars.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How Listeners Hear Fundraising

We've known for decades that listeners don't like on-air fundraising. Many say they tune out for entire pledge drives. Some listeners say they stop listening after making their contributions. Some just listen less during the drive.

But what of those listeners who stay tuned? Are they hanging on every word? Over at, we've posted an audio demonstration of what fundraising might sound like on the other side of the microphone. Click the link below to go hear it.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Major Breakthrough?

For years public radio has considered listeners who give $1,000 or more annually as major donors. A lot of people at this year's Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference are talking about how that sells public radio short. There seems to be movement to start thinking of these folks as important annual donors. That's going to make room for more productive approaches to getting real major donors -- those who make five, six and seven figure gifts. That's a good thing for public radio.

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Be the Demographic

Heard recently during a public radio pledge drive:

“You are intelligent. You are actually based on demographics.”

Coincidently, I just received the latest edition of NPR’s Profile 2007 – a 500-page book on public radio demographics, audience perceptions, and consumer behaviors. I guess we should consider it the recipe book for public radio listeners. Here are some items that jumped out as I browsed its pages.

· The public radio audience isn’t getting any younger despite a decade of industry talk about making it younger.
· Public radio has made no progress on diversifying its audience.
· Public radio’s appeal to highly educated listeners remains strong. Example: you are six times more likely to find someone with a PhD in the NPR News audience than in the general population.
· Public radio listeners are more advertising-adverse than the average American.

But you probably already knew all this. Let’s get to the good stuff.

Public radio listeners like their drink. They are more likely to consume alcohol than the average adult. That applies not only to wine, but also to beer and whisky. Their mixed drink of preference: the margarita. Rum and Coke or Gin and Tonic will do in a pinch.

Public radio listeners are 13% more likely than the average adult to use diet control, 27% more likely to use a hair loss treatment product, and 91 percent more likely to use products for sexual/erectile dysfunction.

Then there is this: women in the public radio audience were 3% more likely to have purchased new underwear in the past year. Men were 22% more likely.

Draw your own conclusions.

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