DRTV: In the Strike Zone


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By: Ronald C. Pruett, Jr., Chief Executive Officer, Mercury Media

I took special notice of Multichannel Merchant editor Melissa Dowling’s lead editorial last week. If you didn’t catch it, she describes her experience in ordering and then not receiving a household cleaning product from a direct response TV ad. There are two lessons to be learned from this. One: Never underperform for a member of the trade press. Two: direct response is an operational business that covers the complete customer experience from ad to delivery and all points in between.

Any company that doesn’t believe this is not going to stay in business long, and runs the risk of alienating valuable customers even if their creative is good and their product is excellent. It’s similar to being a great sports team who can play well at the beginning of the game, but falls when the details have to be executed at the end. The end of the game, as any pro athlete will tell you, is winning time.

I’ve been thinking lately about the operational nature of the direct response TV business, because many of our business pitches lately have had to explain that concept to some companies that unfortunately think that DRTV is like static TV campaigns. You set and forget. But to continue the analogy to great sports teams, marketers should know that the DR business and the effective marketing manager will be consistent, adjust to situations effectively, and put their team in a position to win.  Our new business wins and even our pitches stress these skills. Like the great team, DRTV has tools to win, and has the teammates to manage. It is extremely situational in nature and demands attention to the operational details.

This is not meant to be a warning or any kind of “chin music” that backs a marketer off the plate. Set and forget TV ads don’t allow for the operational adjustments that make the difference between success and failure. Let’s look at some of those elements to illustrate my point:

Creative: Like a pitcher can change from curveball to fast ball, DRTV carries the ability to test creative approaches and change them if they’re not working. The script has to work, the images have to work, the voiceover has to work and the elements must mesh properly into coherent messages that drive customers to purchase.  While static TV marketers make one decision and live and die with it, creative is an operational advantage for DRTV marketers.

Media: We buy media. We do it all day, every day, and it provides an operational advantage that most prospects are surprised at. But at the same time that we provide that advantage, look at the management skills it gives us and our clients. We manage the media placement by market, daypart, demographic segments and response rates. If a market doesn’t work, it’s gone. If a daypart doesn’t work, it’s abandoned.

Customer experience: Most marketers don’t think through the media placement. We do, and it’s yet another operational element. Customers make their most important action while a DRTV spot is on, or just after: They make a call. Operationally, the person or IVR at the other end is just as important as any other link in the chain.  We understand that call center connection. It can make or break a sale. It is also possibly the biggest difference between set and forget media and DR. When you set and forget, the customer takes no action. DRTV demands action. A company has to operationally be ready for all that the action sets in motion.

This operational understanding has to be well orchestrated, internally as well. The c-suite executives should have some level of understanding of the whole chain of events in DRTV. If they do, they will understand that there are no wasted players, it is a team effort, and victory can be a predictable event.

Ronald C. Pruett, Jr. is Chief Executive Officer of Mercury Media.  Prior to joining Mercury Media, Pruett was the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Polymedica/Liberty Medical, the largest publicly traded diabetic supply company and one of the largest multichannel direct response marketers in the country. The company was sold to Medco Health Solutions.  Pruett has extensive experience in the creation, acquisition, and management of direct to consumer marketing companies in the US and abroad.

Contact him at rpruett@mercurymedia.com

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