Direct Response Television (DRTV) isn’t for everyone, but for many organizations it’s proven to be a powerful and essential tool in acquiring monthly donors.

 My friend Russ Reid, pioneered this medium in the U.S. and today the Russ Reid Company carries on his tradition. 

In this first of a series of posts by Robbin Gehrke, Creative Director of that company, you’ll get a good idea if DRTV is for you and your organization.


So You’re Thinking of testing DRTV?

Do not pass GO until you know the crucial factors that will make or break your success.

If you do it right, DRTV can be the best source of your most valuable donors — monthly sustainers — who often become middle and even major donors.

More than any other medium, TV can also enrich your brand and build awareness.

But DRTV doesn’t work for every nonprofit. And just like direct mail, it requires a commitment to ongoing testing to optimize your results.

Here are the 7 essentials you need to succeed.

1.     An emotionally compelling cause. Saving children or animals in dire need. Helping our troops. Fighting hunger or curing a terrible disease. It must appeal to a broad audience. DRTV is not the place to have to explain your cause.

2.     A powerful offer that clearly addresses the need. It should be simple, tangible, and specific. Offers that are too broad or complex won’t fly.

 3.     Motivating creative. Successful DRTV uses footage or images that bring you to tears, along with heart-wrenching soundbites and moving music. The calls to action must be strategically placed and crafted.

 4.     The right format. Long-form or short form? Hours or half hours? Two-minute spots or :60s, :30s and :15s? Again, it depends on your goals. And beware– a format widely used for infomercials won’t work for fundraising.

 5.     The right TV media buy for your goals. A DRTV agency may be experienced in lead generation, but not in order generation. They may know what performs for selling gadgets, but not for nonprofits. Ask smart questions.

 6.     Digital integration. DRTV and digital should be linked at the hip. TV-specific search and display ads are now imperative to maximize DRTV results. So are homepage features to funnel TV prospects.

 7.     A competent, well-briefed call center.  Plus proven conversion strategies, and constant monitoring to maximize performance. Neglect this and even great creative and media strategy will fail.

And then there’s the matter of funding your first test. You need to spend enough to ensure that the creative, media, and call center are all working together beautifully.

The good news: you can usually learn whether your spot or show is viable within 4-8 weeks.

TV production costs depend on many variables. A 2-minute spot can be produced for as little as $30-40,000 if you have existing assets to work with. If you’re starting from scratch, need to develop a solid DRTV offer, or require several days of shooting, actors, location travel, etc., it can cost as much as $125,000 or even $150,000. Long form can range from $350,000 to $500,000+.

TV media costs: For short form (2-minute spot), media typically ranges from $125,000 to $250,000 for a launch, depending on how much you want to learn about dayparts and networks, and how well you want optimize your call center and digital response. For long form (an hour show), budget $150,000 to $350,000 for 4-8 weeks, depending again, on how much you want to learn and optimize.

More good news: the initial investment in a strong launch can pay off for a very long time. We have DRTV spots and shows that are still producing great results after 8-10 years.

I’ll go deeper on the DRTV essentials in upcoming posts, and share some examples of successful spots. So stay tuned.

Robbin Gehrke

Russ Reid Company

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