To DRTV or Not to DRTV?
Faced with declining direct-mail response rates, increased competition and rising consumer skepticism, more and more nonprofit organizations are considering direct-response television (DRTV). Done correctly, DRTV is a highly effective donor-acquisition tool. The combination of powerful visuals and engaging dialogue can bring your mission to life, turning skeptical viewers into long-term donors. But it's important to understand that DRTV is not ideal for every cause. And as with every donor-acquisition channel, there are issues and challenges unique to DRTV.
Here are some things to consider when trying to determine if this medium is the right fit for your organization.
First, your mission needs to have a broad appeal. TV cannot be targeted as effectively as direct mail or online, and narrow or niche causes simply won't generate sufficient response to justify the investment.
Second, your mission must be one that can be communicated visually. TV is, after all, a visual medium. To truly harness its power, you must be able to tell your stories in pictures.
Third, you must be willing to create a commercial or infomercial that is highly emotional. This is not a medium that rewards timidity. In fact, the opposite is true. Only commercials that are dramatic, arresting and emotionally captivating work. A program that is upbeat, positive and trumpets all of your success stories will fail miserably.
Clients that we work for, including Children International, Smile Train and SickKids Foundation, understand well the importance of creating highly emotional campaigns that focus on need. They understand that telling real stories about people who are suffering, and truly need help, is the key to success. As a result, their campaigns engage viewers, elicit compassion and drive response.
If your organization, board, donors and staff are uncomfortable with producing highly emotional content that will bring the viewer close to tears, DRTV will not work for you.
Let's assume that your cause is suitable for DRTV, and you have made the commitment to embrace the emotional needs of the medium. Here are some tips on how to make your foray into DRTV as successful as possible.
Bigger is better
If you can afford it, your chances of success improve considerably if you produce both two-minute and one-minute commercials. Despite conventional wisdom — which is based on conjecture rather than measurement — long-form commercials almost always outperform short-form commercials. The rationale is simple: The more time you have to communicate, convince and convert, the more successful you will be.
Likewise, if your mission lends itself to an even longer format such as a 30-minute infomercial, your chances of success increase dramatically. Imagine having 30 uninterrupted minutes of dramatic visuals, inspirational music and heartbreaking stories, all focusing on the importance of your work!
Of course, not everyone will watch a 30-minute program. However, those who do go on a journey into the heart and soul of your mission — and often come back and convert others to the cause!
Make it monthly
DRTV works primarily as a monthly giving tool with an ask of $18 to $35 per month. Single-gift commercials typically don't generate enough revenue to be profitable. Recently, however, several innovative organizations have been successful with short-form spots, asking for high-value ($1,000 to $3,000) single gifts. As with any direct-response initiative, it is prudent to test different offers, premiums and upsells to determine the best outcome.
Integrate, integrate, integrate
With the ascendancy of online, integration has never been more important than it is today. Your DRTV campaign should be fully integrated for maximum impact. There are several ways to do this.
The first step is to ensure that all online traffic is driven to a unique, conversion-based microsite or landing page. This is critical because corporate sites simply do not convert effectively. Given that 40 percent to 50 percent of viewers will go online after viewing your program, converting these prospects into donors is essential.
The solution is driving viewers to a unique microsite or landing page specifically designed to complete the transaction process. It should be response-based and not littered with the peripheral information that inundates corporate websites. It also should be creatively analogous to the commercial. In other words, it should feature images from the commercial, possibly video of the host of the commercial, and look and feel similar to the program. The donation form also should be on the landing page itself.
The second step is to layer in other mediums that play off the same creative as the DRTV and drive to the same unique landing page. This could be radio, direct mail or online banner ads. Needless to say, these creative components need to reflect the high emotional content of the DRTV commercial.
Select experienced partners
DRTV is a unique discipline, and you will benefit from choosing an agency, media company, call center and fulfillment partner who are experienced, brutally honest (you will thank them later) and committed to your success.
Launching a DRTV campaign is a significant investment. A long-form (30-minute or 60-minute) program can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $400,000 to produce. Short-form, while considerably less, can run between $150,000 and $250,000.
A successful DRTV campaign takes commitment to both the advertising budget and the ability to recognize that success comes through customer lifetime value. In order to allow your campaign to build steam, you ideally would invest upward of $50,000 per week in DRTV media during the initial two- to four-week test phase. Once the successful test phase has concluded, weekly spending will be determined by the amount of core media you can efficiently run plus an additional 15 percent to 25 percent per week for ongoing testing.
Depending on the amount, it could take 12 months to 24 months to break even on your upfront investment, but once you reach that point, every month past it will serve to make the overall campaign more efficient.
Resources also come into play when you consider the time that is needed to oversee a project of this magnitude. Ideally, you would have at least one member of your staff for whom DRTV is a major part of his or her responsibilities. That person would be the bridge between you and your DRTV agency. During production, he or she will work almost exclusively on preparing for the campaign. After production, responsibilities include overseeing the media, call center and online services directly related to the DRTV campaign.
DRTV is growing in popularity because it is a powerful medium for acquiring monthly donors, while simultaneously building your organization's brand, raising awareness and furthering your organization's mission. Understanding the unique challenges it presents will help ensure your campaign is as successful as possible. FS