Feature: DRTV Specialists Huddle at DM Days

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The Broadcast Council of the Direct Marketing Association offered a series of direct response television workshops during the DM Days New York Conference & Expo last week, providing attendees with insight into why a growing number of brand retailers have found DRTV to be an important tool in their marketing mix.

Andrew Gordon, president of Direct Impact Group, Rick Sangerman, senior vice president at A. Eicoff & Company, and Phil Rozansky, president of Tower Media Advertising Inc., explored the "multiple personalities" of DRTV.

Mr. Gordon provided a case study on UCC Total Home, a buying club for home-related goods, which had relied mainly on in-house telemarketing. With the advent of the National Do Not Call Registry, the company had to completely rethink its strategy.  DRTV transformed UCC's business, helping it to build a national brand called Buy Direct from scratch.

Once DRTV gave the company time to communicate a better value proposition to the consumer, UCC was able to double the price of its membership from $2,500 to $5,000.

"DRTV is really a way of commerce now, a part of the branding pie," Mr. Sangerman said. "It gives brand companies the opportunity to develop a broader and deeper relationship with customers, while allowing a measurable method of observing incremental sales."

Mr. Sangerman described how Kimberly-Clark's brand advertising for Good Nites, a nighttime underwear product for older kids with a bedwetting problem, had only generated a 2 percent repurchase rate. The goal in creating the DRTV campaign was to generate leads at a cost-per-response equal to or less than the cost of other sampling efforts such as direct mail and coupons.

The original brand spot was dark and depressing, with the child ending up curled on the floor in a blanket to sleep, rather than in the wet bed. Eicoff created a 60-second DRTV spot that was more upbeat, focusing on the solution rather than the problem. When tested on "the mom channels," it gave Kimberly-Clark even more profitable costs-per-lead than originally anticipated. It ended up "flipping the iceberg" -- with DRTV eventually influencing the course of the general creative ad campaign, rather than the other way around.

"You need to forget 'high-concept' creative, and keep the message simple and clear," said Ian French, president and creative director of Northern Lights Direct Response Television, during a session exploring "Key Strategies for DRTV Success." He was on a panel with Ava Seavey, the "Queen Bee" of Avalanche Creative Services that was moderated by Gene Silverman, vice president of marketing services at Hawthorne Direct.

"People are busy," Mr. French said. "They've got the radio on and the kids screaming and they're being bombarded by messages. Consumers view a commercial with one question in mind: What's in it for me? You need to let them know how your product or service is going to solve their problem."

It's important to show viewers dramatic and visible results that "deliver the dream," Mr. Silverman said. "Before and after demonstrations and side-by-side comparisons are the bread-and-butter of DRTV."

Once you've got your creative, "crafting the offer is key," Ms. Seavey said.  The type of offer depends on the campaign objective: direct sale, lead generation or free samples. 

"It's important to consider your near-term and long-term goals and to chart the backend carefully," she said. "The lifetime value of customer transactions is becoming more and more critical. Sometimes the greatest ROI presents itself six months to one year later."

Mr. French and Ms. Seavey agreed that eventually DRTV will drive viewers solely to the Internet, because the younger generation is more comfortable making purchases online than on the telephone. Even today, up to 50 percent of people will check out a product's Web site first before they pick up the phone to order.

The overriding message of the day's final panel, "The DRTV Vending Machine: How to Successfully Select Your Vendors,"moderated by Danette Dickerman, director of media at Nautilus, was that after having made the decision to venture into DRTV, make sure to work with DRTV specialists.

Panelist Joan Renfrow, president of Onyx Productions, used the analogy of the DRTV wheel, with the product or service as hub and the various aspects of a DRTV campaign -- creative, production, media, telemarketing, credit card processing, fulfillment, customer service and Internet -- as spokes. All are equally necessary to have in place to keep the campaign rolling successfully.

"It's no use having good creative if you have lousy production," Ms. Renfrow said. "All your vendors must work together as a cohesive unit."

Scott Swanson, vice president of new business development at InPulse Response Group, said that depending on the objective of your DRTV campaign, choosing a telemarketing company shouldn't just be about making sure there are "butts on seats" in the call center. Higher price point products require operators who are well versed in the product and can probe a caller's need and be able to explain how the offer meets it. Mr. Swanson explained various metrics that can be used to evaluate a call center's performance.

The ultimate objective of every DRTV campaign is to get paid, and as Shane Bradford, executive director of sales at TransFirst ePayment Services, explained, you need to leave plenty of time to get a merchant account because banks are looking at a "card not present" environment, which is inherently high risk. If your offer involves continuity of payment it's considered even higher risk.

"Getting a merchant account is easier if you've aligned yourself with experienced DR companies in all the other aspects of your campaign," Mr. Bradford said.  It's especially important to ask potential payment processors if they understand the nature of the DRTV industry.

"A good DRTV campaign can generate $100,000 in a weekend," Mr. Bradford said. "If the bank cuts you off because they have a transaction cap, you're in trouble, especially if you've already paid for your media."

More companies are recognizing the power of DRTV for lead generation, direct selling and driving to retail outlets, but it's important to get experienced spokes in your DRTV wheel.

"These things can make or break you," Mr. Bradford said. "The devil's in the details."

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