When one thinks of putting words in front of on-air pledge hosts, the traditional ways of doing it come to mind. Over the years we’ve collected scripts into three-ring binders and printed them onto 3 x 5 note cards. Those resources have tended to be used occasionally at best, and at worst, they lay around unused after the first day or so of any drive.
Generally though, it’s been the pre-break suggestions of the pledge producer or just the inspiration of hosts that have provided case messages, close messages, and descriptions of whatever sweepstakes, matches, or premiums that need to be promoted during the next break. “We’ll figure it out when the mike opens” is the ultimate just-in-time solution.
This just-in-time leadership method lacks the qualities that distinguish your station throughout the year: Purpose. Planning. Professionalism. Attention to detail.
Off-the-cuff pitching and random generation of content is also inconsistent with your station’s broadcast product. Every radio show has a plan. The traffic log in the studio outlines the content of the next 60 second break and requires hosts to make underwriting announcements and promote specific programs. And to be blunt, off-the-cuff pitching is likely not consistent with your Development Department’s overall fundraising efforts either. Your DD spends a great deal of time writing foundation grants, planning and executing campaigns, mail pieces, and conducting face-to-face asks with major donors.
The solution is to plan. Plan breaks. Plan hours. Plan days. And plan your drive as a whole.
There’s enormous opportunity in pledge drives
Let’s assume that a typical pledge drive runs 6.5 days. It might start and end on a Friday, pitch for a half day on Saturday, and take Sunday off. Weekdays are 13 hours each- from 6AM to 7PM, and Saturday is most often 6 hours, from 8AM to 2PM. During each of those 84 hours, you plan 4 five-minute breaks. That’s 1,680 minutes of pitching distributed over 336 individual breaks. The opportunity is that you can plan the topics, and even script the words that will be conveyed during those breaks.
That’s a lot of words to plan!
Well, yes. But let’s get down to basics. You don’t have to write fresh words for every break. The best and easiest way is to write short 30 second scripts on essential topics that can each be repeated multiple times in each drive. The trick is to write scripts in categories, so they can be dropped in place strategically. Separate Case (why you give) messages from Close (how to give) messages. Drop Case and Close messages sequentially in a script, and the result is a plan for a pledge break. Four case and four close messages of 30 seconds each is a script for a four minute break. Easy-Peasy. And to make things easier, you can copy that four minute break and use it again later in the day or during the next day. Your audience will have changed by then, and you’ll have different pledge hosts who will deliver the same words in a slightly different way.
But what do you say in a week-long drive?
In reality, there is only one essential pledge message that is consistently delivered to listeners during pledge drive. The message is based on the granite-rock principle stated in Audience 98- “Public service begets public support”. That statement is translated into a giving message in the PledgeLab essay called “The Appleby Syllogism”. In its simplest form, the Appleby Syllogism is just six words:
You listen (that’s the “public service” part)
Listeners contribute (that’s the “public support” part)
Give now (that’s a call to action)
This syllogism is the basic fundraising message, which should be the basis for all scripting. A collection of a dozen or more scripts on this theme is valuable to have on hand. Generally I try to include two of these “Basic” scripts in any given hour of a pledge drive.
But a pledge drive is more than just asking for money. It’s about supporting a mission and funding the delivery of dependable, high quality news, and thoughtfully programmed music. Since pledge drives are as much a public relations and marketing event as a money raising event, ask senior management at your station about what other topics they’d like to hear about during the drive.
Your GM may want to hear about the Mission and Values of the station. What it is that identifies your station as a public service, and that merits public support. You’ll find those words in the station’s Mission Statement. Your GM will undoubtedly have them memorized.
Your station’s News Director will want to tell listeners about the station’s coverage of international, national, and local issues, be they political, environmental, business related, or in education and the arts.
The Program Director’s job is to create a program schedule that maximizes listening, and that informs, entertains, enlightens, and connects the audience to the world, our nation, and our community. Talking about the whole schedule might be on that persons wish list. This person will also help you find language to be used by your pitchers to quickly and accurately describe each program on the schedule. If you’re a music station your PD will help you with describing your station’s dedication to local performers and venues. Your PD will most likely be deeply knowledgeable about audience research. That person will be able to tell you whether ATC listeners also tune into Wait Wait on Saturday. If that’s true, you can mention Wait Wait during ATC- and vice versa.
Your Marketing and Promotions Director will want to be assured that on-air talent uses station descriptors and language that are used in other marketing efforts. If slogans are being used on billboards and in print advertising, it makes sense to use them on the air in your drive as well.
Community Outreach may be putting together concerts or lectures on stage or at churches, schools, or even taverns that they’d like to have you mention. Your news department may have listening sessions in communities to identify key concerns of those communities for your news department to cover. Listening to your community is a major part of what public radio does.
Your own Development Department will be able to provide topics that they’ve used in direct mail, major giving asks, renewal mail, and email asks. There’s also some great language to be mined for script writing in foundation and grant proposals. Most Dev Directors subscribe to the “Always Be Testing” rule, which encourages them to test language for fundraising effectiveness. If you’re fortunate enough to have a colleague that does that, you’re in luck.
Commonalities in your scripts will allow you to categorize scripts into bins. More specificity in bins gives you more control on scheduling message topics. Some bin topics are as broad as “Mission and Values”, “Connections”, and “Community”, and others are as focused as “Political Reporting” or “Traffic and Weather”. A “Funding Facts” bin explains how the station relies on many sources of support. How many scripts on each topic should you write? Ten scripts per topic would be more than sufficient.
Now that you’ve got bins filled with Case scripts, how often do you schedule them?
The technique called Optimum Effective Scheduling will give you an idea of how many times to schedule a topic during a week to make sure a percentage of your audience hears them. Ask your station’s underwriting salesperson to help you figure your station’s OES. As a rule of thumb, scheduling a message about a topic once every hour to every-other hour during the 84 hours of an average drive will get that message to about half your listening audience each week.
Place scripts thoughtfully in your program schedule.
During Morning Edition and ATC, place scripts about your own local news department before or after your local news broadcasts. Place scripts about your station’s election coverage around political reporting. Place scripts about international news coverage during BBC Newshour or PRI’s The World. You get the idea. Use scripts about community building and connecting during call-in shows.
Building Close Scripts
If Case messages give a reason for listening or a reason for giving, Close messages tell listeners how to make a contribution. Generally, it’s beneficial to write scripts for all premiums, matches, and sweepstakes so that pitchers have dependable brief descriptions and won’t be tempted to talk on and on about the mug or trip to wherever that’s being given away.
It’s also a great idea to write basic close scripts for each dollar level, and for renewals and ad gifts. I generally work with the Major Giving Officer to write two scripts for the major giving societies or levels. To help in scheduling close messages, I’ll gather categories or premiums into separate bins. Keeping scripts to a minimum of words offers pitchers the chance to ad lib comments about premiums or other accelerators. Read more on PledgeLab's "The Art of the Close"
Manage your accelerators
Accelerators are the elements that create urgency. Thank-you gifts. Sweepstakes. Matches. Challenges. Tightly script them so pitchers can describe them quickly. Place them in the beginning of the break with a short close message for extreme urgency- like when a match is about to expire. Place them a little later in breaks- after you’ve made a convincing Case message- if the urgency is lighter. End your break with another mention of the accelerator and a close. Read more about Accelerators here.
When scheduling breaks, think like a Program Director
Generally, the flow of a five-minute break follows a case/close pattern. Handing off between two pitchers gives a nice flow to the break and keeps the energy and momentum up. Below is one example on how to create a flow for the pitchers that also has a chance of keeping listeners engaged. Ask your program director for more ideas on how to create a great flow.
FORWARD PROMOTE UPCOMING PROGRAM
For a PledgeLab tutorial by Jacquie Fuller on building a break, go here.
Encourage your hosts to create a break that refers to topics from the previous ten minutes of programming. Mentioning the previous story demonstrates that the host shares an interest in the programming with the listeners. Promoting the next story demonstrates that the host is encouraging the listener to continue the relationship. Giving bits of weather information or time checks makes the pledge break sound more like a regular break, and will make all of your listeners feel more comfortable about your pledge break.
Plan the fundraising content of each break. Identify your fundraising goals and make sure your pitchers have the words to help you reach the goals. Plan the hostiness qualities of each break. Make sure your pitchers are informed and enthusiastic about the show they’re pitching in, and for the station in general.
Scripts Made Easy Part 3
The good news about pledge week is you’re going to reach most if not all of your station’s most dedicated listeners with your fundraising messages. The bad news is that most likely fewer than 5% of those listeners will respond by giving you money. So it’s up to us as pledge drive managers to make the pledge drive as interesting and effective as possible. That means that we MUST manage the message.