Telemarketer Brings Latin Twist on Katrina Aid

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Global Telesourcing, a teleservices company that manages independently owned call centers throughout Latin America, found itself in a unique position to help raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

An agency representing the American Red Cross contacted the company about a Katrina telethon that was set to air Sept. 2 on NBC, CNBC, MSNBC and Spanish-language network Telemundo. Because Global Telesourcing has 75 percent of the market share for Spanish-language inbound direct television campaigns, the Red Cross saw it as ideal to provide the U.S. Hispanic television audience with a way to call in their donations to Spanish-speaking call centers.

With its headquarters in Alexandria, VA, operations in San Antonio and telecommunications center in Salt Lake City, Global Telesourcing reached out to its Latin American call center partners for assistance. The agents who worked the phones not only were current call center employees, but also former employees and non-employees who volunteered their time. More than 400 agents operated the phones at two call centers in Argentina, one in Mexico and one in Colombia.

Their willingness to help likely came from a combination of factors, said Global Telesourcing president Bill Colton. One was excitement at the idea of contributing to the relief efforts.

"It's not every day that a call center employee in Argentina is in a position to help people," he said.

Colton said they also wanted to show their support because of the United States' generosity toward their countries after times of disaster, including the Mexico City earthquake in 1985 and the deadly flooding of Guatemala after Hurricane Mitch in 1998.

However, the effort did not go off without a hitch. While all agents expected the Telemundo telecast to start at 8 p.m., the hour struck and the telethon did not begin.

"We panicked," Colton said.

But an hour later, Telemundo's telecast began. Instead of airing what its sister NBC stations were, Telemundo broadcast its own Spanish-language telethon, which, along with showcasing Hispanic-flavored entertainment also highlighted past disasters in Latin American countries in which the United States came to their aid.

The message for the U.S. viewers, Colton said, was that "this country was here to help you and your family. Now you are living here, and it is time for you to reach in your pocket and help them as well."

All money raised went to the Red Cross. Colton said call center agents are still fielding "well over 1,000" donation calls a day. The Red Cross has raised more than $400 million for Katrina aid in both the Spanish-speaking and general market.

A week later, Global Telesourcing's call centers also handled inbound calls for the "Shelter From the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast" telethon simulcast, this time for Spanish-language network Univision. The concert featured performances by recording artists including Paul Simon, Mariah Carey and Kanye West. Callers could earmark their donations for the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Again, a mix of call center employees and volunteers staffed the phones. Colton said some had no call center experience, and they were given special training to get them comfortable on the phones.

In all, 700 agents answered phones at four call centers in Argentina, three in Colombia, two in Mexico and one in Guatemala. The telethon raised more than $30 million in both the Spanish-speaking and general market.

"The network built from 'Shelter From the Storm' was probably the largest Spanish-speaking call center ever put in place for the U.S. Hispanic market," Colton said.

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