If you’ve read the article Roger and I co-wrote about Hosts that Hate Scripting, you might be asking yourself- "Yeah, but how do I do THAT?"
We know now that great pledge breaks require that members of the on-air team know what’s going on at all times and have a plan of action. Applied to pledge drives, that means we must provide well-written scripts stacked in a logical progression that keeps the pledge break flowing , the listeners listening, and the members coming in.
Other articles in PledgeLab's Message Bin talk about the need to incorporate and thoughtfully rotate message ideas from pretty much every major area of the radio station. This is a crucial aspect of establishing the foundation of your drive. But it takes more than that to reach the drive goal.
The magic is in the breaks. How exactly do you stack those scripts into a four minute break? And how do you encourage hosts to conversationally deliver the messages you want them to as they work to convince your listeners to give?
Let's look to the rest of your station's broadcast schedule for inspiration. As we mentioned earlier, your Program Director controls the sound of your station. PD's know what it takes to keep the interest of your listeners and how to ask them to stay tuned for the next program. They build little break plans for cutaways in Morning Edition or ATC, or at the top of each hour on weekends. Program Directors implement these little break plans with the help of your Traffic person. Traffic assembles the log, which goes into the studio, which then must be followed by the host.
So why not ask for Pledge Drive help from your station's broadcast pro? Meet with your PD and ask them how they could help make pledge breaks better. What can your PD recommend to make the pitch breaks sound like the programming that listeners expect from your station? How can they help train and guide hosts as they deliver fundraising messages in ways that sound natural and in tune with the station’s sound/identity?
Also ask your hosts about what they need to make their breaks more effective. If your station has a talk format and uses producers, it is fair to expect that they will have some ideas that may not occur to hosts. Add them to the mix as well.
Then take what you've learned and become your station's Pledge Program Director (PPD). And utilize a log-...something like PledgeDriver for instance... to put the plan in front of your pitch team as they are on the air.
Great PPDs thoughtfully stack their break messages with flow in mind. They make rules to help them build great breaks. One example might be to start each break with either a "heart" message- that appeals to the listener's love for the station - or with a short reference to the previous news story or piece of music. Both of those opening statements firmly establish that the host is talking to one listener and helps keep them listening. Starting out with "It's Pledge Week on ..." does the opposite, it tells listeners that nothing interesting is coming up, and suggests that they just tune away.
Some PPDs also ask their hosts to do a "reset" in the middle of the break- something like "coming up on Morning Edition (reporter name) talks about (topic). There's just enough time for you to make your call." Other rules regard the placement of premiums or special matches within the break, and how many dollar levels does one mention. Or how many times per day is a Major Gift ask made.
PledgeDriver gives you a spreadsheet-style grid that allows you to schedule case and close messages that build momentum during a break. It gives you the freedom to try things out. When you do, it's important to isten to the results. Look at the number of contributions you get. Follow the public radio direct mail rule of Always Be Testing.
Above all, remember that four 4-minute breaks per hour is a substantial part of your broadcast day. Treat your breaks with the same respect that your station gives to the programming that contain them. Your 7:19 AM pledge break in Morning Edition is still Morning Edition in your listeners opinion.
This prescription sounds time consuming. And probably is. But it is worth it. Start with one show or one host and see how it goes. Over time, add other hosts/shows into the mix. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Don’t expect to accomplish all of this in one drive or even two. Take what you learn each time you innovate and incorporate that into the next drive.
This is also a good place to remind you about the importance of air-checks after each drive. These are terrific opportunities to capture new ideas and to discover which things didn’t turn out the way you thought they should.
Don’t try to air-check each show/host after every drive. Rotate through all shows/hosts over a one year period (three or four drives). Listen to what they tell you about what worked or didn’t work in the scripts. Talk about improvisation that went wrong and why, or what was inspired improvisation and what made it so compelling.
Here’s a quote from W. Edwards Deming, the father of Continuous Quality Improvement:
Long-term commitment to new learning and new philosophy is required of any management that seeks transformation. The timid and the fainthearted, and the people that expect quick results, are doomed to disappointment.
The CQI cycle posits three things that lead to improvement: develop, implement, evaluate. These three ideas occur in a continuous cycle. The moment you stop striving to be better you begin to fall behind.
Deming forced manufacturers to listen to the people who did the work on the shop floors. Public Radio stations need to consider that same principle when developing pledge messaging.
The goal should be to make pledge pitching align with the sound of your programming. In order to do that you must involve the same people who deliver the programming to listeners in the creation of compelling messages to potential contributors. Those messages MUST be in tune with the station’s image/positioning/sound.
Not sure how to go about this? Hire a consultant to help you. Use tools like PledgeDriver® to help globalize your ideas across all breaks. The return on investment (ROI) is worth the risk.
Develop, implement, evaluate. When I read these words I immediately think of the Lowe’s tagline, Never stop improving. When it comes to on-air fundraising, THAT should be our mantra.