Direct Response Television

TV is becoming an increasingly attractive medium for fundraising. Over recent years, it’s become easier to target specific audiences, costs have fallen, flexibility has increased, and the range of response options has grown.
A television fundraising campaign can power a charity into a new level of growth. Charities that make TV work see a valuable new channel for DRTVdonor recruitment, with huge additional benefits in raising profile and lifting campaigns in other media. Yet failures happen regularly and scar those involved so badly, they’ll often be reluctant ever to try TV again.
So is there a way to guarantee results from TV and what can be done to ensure that campaigns do not fail? Here are ten points to consider.

1. Be realistic about your expectations.

The first time you try a new medium, you are unlikely to achieve the best results from it. The expense of TV often means that smaller charities view their first campaign as an all or nothing exercise – if it doesn’t get close to hitting targets immediately, the exercise is written off as a painful failure. Set targets that are not too ambitious for your first campaign, with the expectation that returns will grow as you find out what works. It’s important to recognise that your first foray into a new medium is partly about learning and discovery – hence point 2.

2. Test as much as possible.

Make sure you have enough room in your budget to test variables, so you can establish what has and hasn’t worked. There are a wide range of elements which can affect your returns. If, for example, you only tried one or two channels, one format, one creative approach and one call to action, getting a single element wrong will derail the whole campaign and you’ll never know what went wrong.
If success relies on getting every element right in one hit, you’re unlikely to achieve it. You have to expect to test and learn before discovering your best options.

3. Timing matters.

Time of day can have a huge impact on your costs, who is watching and whether they are likely to respond. For example, research shows that people are far more likely to pick up the phone during the day, when they tend to be less involved in programme content and watching on their own (so responding doesn’t disrupt others’ viewing).
Costs also vary significantly depending on the time of year and the demand for TV advertising space. During holidays and at times when retail sales are poor, TV is likely to be cheaper. During a major event like the World Cup, costs can grow significantly. Timing your campaign well can make it far easier to generate worthwhile returns.

4. Integrate as much as possible.

TV has a very wide impact and is likely to lift returns from any other fundraising activity, so it makes sense to time your campaigning to make the most of the benefit. The RSPCA found that revenue via other direct response channels increased by 25% after its DRTV campaign
It’s particularly important to run an online search engine optimisation campaign in parallel with TV – the Salvation Army found SEO responses trebled after their TV campaign aired.

5. Use what you already know.

Consider all the lessons from fundraising in other media in devising your strategy and creative approach. All the learning about how your donors behave and what works elsewhere remains valid. Sometimes, TV is seen as separate to other activity and requiring a radically different approach, but this is rarely the case. However, learning from other media should be seen as a guide and not a rule – if there’s a good reason to alter your approach, don’t be afraid to do so.

6. Invest in the right creative product.

It’s a common mistake for charities to take the offer of free creative and production from an advertising agency or production company, perhaps because the company wants to help, or perhaps because it can see a chance to win awards. Free work is often driven by the company’s desire to produce something that makes waves and is creatively fulfilling, which is not at all the same thing as your best fundraising option.
If you buy expensive TV airtime for a commercial that’s been shot for free, you are likely to waste your media budget. Equally, don’t use a fundraising agency that has little or no TV experience. The right supplier will almost certainly be an agency with an understanding of both TV and fundraising (not a production company, which won’t have the right insight).

7. Be clear about your budget.

TV production can cost an unlimited amount of money. Set a clear budget at the outset and make sure that the script you have approved can be delivered within it. Don’t be tempted to borrow from the media budget in order to bring a great creative idea to life. If the media budget is less than 2/3 of the total cost, it will be hard to generate good returns.

8. Be sure you can cope with success.

TV can deliver huge spikes of demand to a call centre or website in a narrow space of time. If you’ve really made a powerful commercial and put it in a popular programme at peak times, you need to be ready to cope with massive responses. If you can’t, go for programmes and times when fewer viewers are watching.

9. Understand the process and get approvals early.

Make sure that people understand the approval process and what changes can be made at the different stages. Countless video and TV projects have gone over budget because people waited until the last minute to make changes, requiring protracted re-editing or, even worse, reshooting.
Make sure you have thoroughly understood what’s in the script and the storyboard – and that anyone else whose opinion will be important has signed it off. One senior figure coming in late in the day and making a ‘minor’ change can result in really significant and avoidable cost.
Be there when filming and editing takes place, so you can raise any concerns before it’s too late. Bear in mind that scripts and scenes can appear very differently on film from the way you pictured them on paper.
Do make sure that as far as possible, you have obtained all the right approvals for your script before filming. In the UK, for example, commercials need approval from Clearcast Ltd before they can be aired. Final approval will not be given until the completed commercial is submitted, but most problems can be avoided via pre-approval of the script.

10. Be aware of change.

TV is a medium which is constantly changing in many different ways. Even the way that people watch during the day changes. Today, it is exciting because it is evolving, which creates both opportunities and threats.
Viewers are viewing TV in new ways – via technology like Sky+, which makes advertising easier to avoid, and through online technologies like the BBC iPlayer, for example – and these trends are set to continue. This creates opportunities like interactive response through the TV or Sky’s option for viewers to press green and see extended footage of your appeal.