Taking Control: KCET Staying Top of Mind — and Mail Pile
Life as a PBS station is a tough gig. Providing much-needed programming related to news, history, the arts and education made possible by hard-won donor support, public broadcasting easily can be taken for granted amid the mass of television channels available today.
PBS direct-mail campaigns face a similar challenge, with stations battling each other and nonprofit organizations of all kinds for top billing in a potential donor’s mail pile.
In such a competitive atmosphere, there was no time to waste when Los Angeles-based KCET, community television of southern California, noticed the response rate for its control mailing declining.
“There’s a plethora of charities and nonprofit organizations Competing for our dollars,” says Louis Newman, director of marketing communications for KCET.
“Media consolidation continues to increase at an alarming rate. Yet in a world filled with tragedy, uncertainty and lack of connection, KCET continues to positively impact our community with tangible, useful information, benefits and direction. Public television deserves and needs our members’ support, but it’s an ongoing battle.”
For several years KCET had mailed — and mailed well — a 4-inch-by-91⁄2-inch outer envelope affixed with a yellow Post-it note with lasered, red copy reading, “Dear KCET Viewer, Take advantage of our special $29 membership offer. Details inside.” Additional copy above the address window reiterated the offer.
Sent to donor prospects and deep-lapsed donors who had not renewed their support in at least two years, the mailing focused on the “great bargain” that is KCET’s $29 membership offer. Included was an 81⁄2-inch-by-101⁄2-inch letter, a 21⁄2-inch-by-6-inch coupon that donors mailed back to the organization, a 31⁄4-inch-by-81⁄2-inch reply card and a BRE. The control was averaging a 0.45 percent acquisition response rate, a $35 average gift and raising $166 per thousand pieces mailed.
A different wavelength
KCET turned to Plymouth, Mass.-based direct marketing firm DMW Worldwide and began testing against the lagging control in February 2005. Test packages included an invoice-like package, a survey, a premium package and an “action-needed” urgent appeal. Newman says that, for the action-needed piece, the organization revamped the look and tone of both the packaging and the messaging, with a focus on urgency rather than getting a bargain.
KCET also wanted to see if it could do away with the Post-it note and coupon, decreasing the costs of the mailing and reducing the clutter factor.
“We took a totally different approach to the mailing,” says Jodi Scheib, vice president of fundraising for DMW Worldwide. “A simple, clean, concise package without inserts, without Post-it notes, without any sort of up-front premium. We did decide to go in a totally different direction as a cost factor. Why spend additional money if these inserts don’t boost the response rate?”
The action-needed piece — created by DMW designer David Goff and copywriter Tom Hurley — also is enclosed in a 4-inch-by-91⁄2-inch outer. But unlike the control it beat, the address label is on the left side of the envelope and is larger. It includes the following copy above the addressee information: “To: KCET Viewers, Re: Program decisions being made now. We need you to determine our direction. Action needed by March 31st!”
To the right of the address window is the urgent message, “Action Needed!”
The yellow, 81⁄2-inch-by-14-inch letter with perf-off reply is visible through the address window and is the lone element in the mailing, save for the BRE.
The overall offer — a $29 membership — is the same for both mailings, but there are some key design and copy differences that Newman and Scheib agree help the action-needed package pull better response.
In terms of copy, while the letter in the prior control talked about the tangible, cost-saving benefits of membership with KCET, the action-needed letter talks about what KCET offers TV viewers and the need for support to keep that programming going.
“[The letter] is not convoluted or confusing,” Scheib says. “It’s simple and to the point, and really demonstrates the mission of KCET and the need and importance of viewer support. It directly translates their support into the benefit of public television.”
The “Action Needed!” copy on the outer, as well as the “To” and “Re” copy, command attention and give the mailing a clear purpose.
And in terms of design, the oversized poly address window is a more cost-effective option than the Post-it note, while still garnering attention.
“I think the whole outer envelope and its design and simplicity really increase the open rate of the envelope,” Scheib says, referring to the “urgent message” appearing through the window, the action-needed copy on the outer envelope and the yellow paper.
And the winner is …
The action-needed acquisition package is averaging a 0.61 percent response rate, with an average gift of $39 and $299 raised per thousand pieces mailed after five campaigns. It marks an 80 percent increase in dollars raised per thousand pieces mailed a $4 increase in average gift and a 35 percent lift in response rate over the prior control.
The action-needed package sent to deep-lapsed donors pulled a 0.65 percent response to the control’s 0.47 percent response to the deep-lapsed list. In August, KCET tested a greater discount — a $25 membership as opposed to $29 — in the mailing sent to the deep-lapsed segment. Newman says this discount increased response but resulted in a dip — of more than $15, Scheib says — in average gift.
“Overall, the cost to re-acquire the lapsed donor at the original discount was more effective,” Newman adds. KCET is in the process of acquisition price-point tests, “testing a lower and higher discount offer to ensure that we’re utilizing the most efficient ask string,” he says.
The organization also wants to attract the attention of a slightly younger demographic than PBS’ typical viewer, a female 65 years and older, through targeted programming and Web initiatives.