Research shows that 99m a year spent on DRTV is wasted on unmanned calls. Richenda Wilson explains why this occurs

Alarming statistics about call wastage abound in the DRTV industry and the necessity to tackle the problem becomes ever more imperative as use of the medium grows. More than a fifth of ads now carry a phone number – ten times more than a decade ago – and a failure to respond to someone who dials that number can deal a severe blow to perceptions of the brand being advertised.

According to research last year from CIA Medianetwork, 99m of the total spent on DRTV ads every year is wasted because call handlers cannot cope with response. BT and Channel 4 found that about a fifth of calls are not answered at all, or callers hang up after being made to queue too long. And that’s before further custom is thrown away by problems with fulfilment.

Until now, much of the criticism for missed calls has been laid firmly at the feet of telemarketing bureaux. After all, who else can ensure they have a sufficient number of live handlers or adequate automated facilities to cope with the influx of calls?

Simon Foster, head of DRTV at Ogilvy & Mather Direct, maintains the problems start with poor media buying. Can a bureau be held responsible if an unscheduled ad is aired while the bureau is closed, or if it is scheduled at such a peak time that the bureau cannot cope with the volume of response, or if the ad contains such a spectacular offer that the level of response is off the usual scale?

It is these aspects of a responsive campaign that media buyers and planners should be considering early on. So why are they often ignored?

Foster claims part of the problem is that a successful DRTV media plan may be totally opposite to a traditional brand-building campaign: “People have to unlearn what they know. Lots of media planners have a brand pedigree and need a change of mindset. Peak programming is no longer the ultimate goal. The definition of quality changes entirely.”

Foster claims several core aspects of DRTV media buying and planning are misunderstood. The most effective direct response advertisements tend to be shown during low-interest programming broadcast at off-peak times of day – generally from the morning coffee break to lunch time. Media buyers who would formerly have whooped with joy at being offered a late-availability, dirt-cheap News at Ten slot, say, refuse the offer: there would be too many viewers calling a bureau that may have closed down for the night.

Don Iszatt, managing director of Direct Marketing Solutions, has monitored responsive ads in that very slot. “When you dialled the number, you were greeted with a recorded announcement stating that the lines were closed,” he says. “There was no opportunity to leave a message.”

Tony Moss, marketing director of telemarketing bureau Interactive Media Services, agrees: “Media buyers should not do what they have traditionally done and go for the best slots, because they have to allow for the other link in the chain – the capacity of the call handler.”

But just when you think you have mastered the differences between brand-building and response-generating ads, along comes a set of murky hybrids to blur the distinctions between the two. Foster claims there are no fewer than five different types of DRTV, each of which needs its own media approach.

The first is pure cash with order – those ads which give us plenty of time to grab paper and pen and assure us that these products are not available in the shops, so we should move quickly to order them now. Ads like this still exist, though the executions are becoming more sophisticated.

The second type is lead-generating advertisements that form part of a two-stage sell, the sort most frequently used by insurance and financial services companies. The caller leaves a number and is sent further information.

Third, there are the fmcg brands that are keen to polish their interactive credentials and broaden their brand image. Tango and Peperami are among those that have signed up for this sort of treatment.

In this case, running advertisements at peak times may still be appropriate, says Foster: “Tango ran ads at peak times, but they were intended to be brand advertising more than responsive.

“You rang an 0891 number – which pay for themselves – to get a Tango doll. If call handling is automated, thousands of calls can be handled simultaneously.”

Next, says Foster, are the brand ads that carry a phone number, but no one knows why. “The advertisers don’t know how they expect consumers to react,” says Foster.

He blames media houses for failing to co-ordinate these potential minefields, or failing to persuade advertisers to do so.

Robin Worboys, telemedia consultant with The Decisions Group, reiterates this: “Some clients are unclear about their objectives, so they are unable to pass them on to the media buyers. The greatest confusion arises with the hybrid campaigns that aim to blend brand-building (BRTV) and response-generating (DRTV).”

Foster describes the final – and newest – sort of DRTV product as the “direct brand”. These are products that cannot be bought in shops and are only available through responding to the ads. Sound familiar? Perhaps, but they are a lot more sophisticated than the miracle stain removers, hair restorers and wool-bobble eradicators. Exemplified by Direct Line insurance and First Direct bank, this field’s key players are financial services providers, followed by catalogue companies, such as Racing Green and Next Directory.

Foster says it is imperative to decide what you want to achieve before starting to plan a campaign: “Different types of advertising are buying different audiences and different levels.”

He maintains that it is up to the buyers to book spots that will generate a manageable level of response. “Advertisers should do a small regional test to check on an ad’s response rate. You can plan campaigns at controlled levels of audience using terrestrial regions or satellite channels,” he explains.

Response must be monitored against the media schedule. The telemarketing agencies have a lot of information about campaigns that are not being used effectively, says DMS’s Iszatt. For 0800, 0345 or 0990 numbers, BT can provide an “ineffectives” report, which monitors how many calls have been lost across different times of day, days of the week and geographic regions. It is then up to the bureaux to pass this information on to media buyers. The plan can then be re-evaluated and spots moved into the most effective segments.

This process of constant evaluation and communication between call handler and media buyer should be running speedily and smoothly throughout a campaign, but this doesn’t always happen. Mediapolis broadcast director Russell Boyman says: “Some bureaux drag their heels about getting figures back to media buyers, so campaigns can’t be adjusted.”

Diana Rhodes, deputy media director of WWAV Rapp Collins, says this fine-tuning of campaigns is one of the most important aspects of a DRTV plan, along with a post-mortem of the campaign once real conversion and sales data are available. “WWAV’s TV reporting system simplifies this by taking automated input from the bureaux and matching it with the schedule as well as with AGB ratings data.”

One of the call handlers’ main gripes is that media buyers don’t give them the full story about the ads they have booked. “Media buyers haven’t realised the implications of their job,” says IMS’s Moss. “We’ve found TV buyers and clients haven’t told us about spot changes.” However, he says this situation is starting to improve.

In June, Channel 4 launched 4-Link, which set out to tackle this problem by giving bureaux direct access into the channel’s scheduling database. While the initiative has been broadly welcomed in the industry, only four bureaux chose to sign up for the service and Channel 4 is only one of many channels that have to be monitored.

Stephen Jacobs, managing director of WWAV Rapp Collins’ Telebusiness Consultancy, says: “Anything that tells you when a programme is going out is a good thing. But lots of DRTV is on satellite, so it’s not ideal, because you haven’t got the whole range of advertisers sitting in front of you.”

Martin Shields, managing director of telemarketing bureau Merit Direct, says: “Faxing media schedules on pieces of paper is a bit old hat. The Channel 4 initiative is a real step forward. The TV companies have information that could improve this whole process.”

He has his own technique for persuading buyers to keep him informed of the spots they have booked: “If one client hasn’t sent us a media schedule, while another client has, and the spots end up clashing, we just adjust the level of service we provide.”

“Channel 5 will introduce even more DRTV opportunities,” concludes IMS’s Moss. “We can no longer hide behind the excuse of being ‘new to this’. The education process now has to come very fast. As well-known fmcg brands start to sign up alongside the financial companies and charities, we must all – clients, buyers and bureaux alike – make sure we know how to do the job right.”


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