Call-handling bureaux and agencies must respect each other to create
great DRTV ads. Robert Dwek on the DMA’s efforts to bring both sides
Once upon a time there were two very distinct disciplines: above the
line and below the line. The former was always assumed to be wildly
effective, even if company chairmen didn’t quite know which half of
their advertising budget was working. The latter was wonderfully
measurable, but its effectiveness in brand building was questionable.
Then along came direct response television, now universally abbreviated
to DRTV. Suddenly, there was a way of combining below-the-line
accountability with above-the-line image enhancement. The two very
distinct disciplines began to merge.
It’s no surprise that DRTV has taken the UK marketing world by storm,
growing first as a result of recession-blasted budgets but subsequently
because of its obvious appeal in the new direct-selling, database
building environment. Many advertisers now using DRTV - car
manufacturers, banks, grocery brands and drinks companies, for example -
would not have considered it even five years ago.
Recent figures compiled by BT and Channel 4 show DRTV to be the fastest
growth sector in UK advertising, increasing in volume by 46 per cent
between 1993 and 1995. The BT/C4 report also notes that the number of
ads carrying some sort of response mechanism leapt from less than 2 per
cent in 1986 to more than 20 per cent in 1994. Total spend on DRTV this
year could be more than double the pounds 237 million spent in 1994,
according to industry estimates.
But this rate of growth has brought problems. Over the last year there
have been increasingly heated disputes between agencies and call-
handling bureaux. The old divide has begun to reappear - in cultural if
not concrete terms.
The bone of contention is who is responsible when things go wrong - for
example, when a DRTV campaign is expected to generate a much smaller
number of calls than it in fact does, or vice versa. The call-handling
centre will either be unable to handle the response (industry estimates
say as many as 22 per cent of calls to DRTV bureaux go unanswered) or it
will find itself expensively overstaffed.
One large bureau, Merit Direct, has produced a booklet in association
with BT (‘A Guide to Direct Response Television Advertising’, recently
updated) in which it urges clients to take more of an interest in the
reasons behind unanticipated response rates.
‘If things go wrong,’ it cautions, ‘don’t assume it is a response
handling problem. The bureaux are in business to take calls, not lose
them, and will have sophisticated monitoring techniques to spot
problems... Methods for monitoring are constantly improving, but don’t
forget [the] unexpected factors.’
Also at issue is the quality of call handling - the vexed question of
whether the call-handling centre is conveying the right brand message in
the way that it interfaces with the public.
In an attempt to answer these and other concerns, the Direct Marketing
Association has just published its first set of guidelines on DRTV (‘The
DMA Broadcast Guidelines’). Formulated over the last year in
consultation with many industry figures, the DMA’s aim is to make
everybody involved in DRTV, including the advertiser, fully aware of
their rights and responsibilities.
The DMA says it seeks to ‘demystify’ call handling and to ‘establish
best practice to ensure that future development continues at its present
rapid rate of growth’. The guidelines also cover direct response radio,
which has grown even more dramatically than DRTV and now accounts for 32
per cent of all radio commercials.
So, what exactly are these guidelines? Here are some of the DMA’s key
* The call centre bureau or telemarketing organisation must be a member
of the DMA.
* The bureau must appoint an individual to act as its prime contact with
* Bureaux offering a 24-hour service must guarantee that a comparable
service to that run on daytime weekdays is provided overnight, at
weekends and on public holidays.
* Any decision to alter or adjust the service in any way must be agreed
with the client - for example, a ‘live’ (operated by people) bureau
would have to request permission before providing an overflow to an
automated call-handling facility.
* Target measures should be clearly defined before the campaign. These
might include the number of rings within which a live bureau must answer
calls; an acceptable average call duration; an acceptable rate of
‘failed calls’ - ie where the caller does not leave enough information
to complete the follow-up; deadlines by which fulfilment must take place
relative to when the call was received; and the reporting system - ie
what information the client will receive, in what form, and when.
* For datacapture quality and transcription, a service level should be
set with penalties incurred if this is not attained.
* The client should also be able to impose financial penalties on a
bureau which fails to produce agreed reports on time. However, this
would need to be agreed with the bureau before the campaign began.
* Where the client’s resources and timescale permit, a test campaign
should precede the full-scale campaign so that its overall effectiveness
can be optimised and any immediate obvious problems can be solved.
* The bureau must ensure that the client fully understands the costs in
advance of the campaign and understands the impact on cost if the
campaign is particularly successful or unsuccessful - for example, high
network costs for major freephone services or high unit costs for low-
volume niche services.
* The quotation document should be detailed and include a range of
projections of response as well as a full account of the cost elements
likely to be incurred. There should be no hidden charges and the
quotation should be signed off by both the bureau and the client.
* Live bureaux should ensure that failed call details are supplied to
the client, giving details of why the calls failed to deliver. The
bureau must ensure that the client understands the cost implications of
* Communication between the parties of any queries, complaints or
misunderstandings is vital at any stage in the campaign.
* All parties involved should attend a thorough campaign pre-brief and
The guidelines provide in-depth information and advice on these
recommendations, discussing, for example, whether the client should opt
for a live bureau or an automated one, or a mixture of both; and
explaining why it is more important to look at the availability of
telephone lines at a bureau during the scheduled campaign period rather
than at the total number of lines a bureau can provide.
The guidelines represent a milestone for an area of marketing that has
become the victim of its own success. Initial response from the industry
- agency and bureau alike - has been positive.
Simon Foster, formerly at Channel 4 and now head of TV at Ogilvy and
Mather Direct, helped formulate the guidelines. He believes they ‘draw
ample attention to the importance of managing the moment of truth in
broadcast direct response and advertising’ and should ‘help the response
handling industry to continue to develop into a highly credible and
professional service industry’.
He adds, however, that they will only succeed if the DMA manages to
extend its membership base ‘far beyond traditional direct response
advertisers and their agencies’.
Mike Colling, group media director of the direct marketing giant, WWAV
Rapp Collins, welcomes the DMA initiative as ‘a thoroughly good thing’
which has ‘arrived at a very opportune moment’.
So long as the guidelines are adhered to by the telemarketing bureaux,
they should, he believes, ‘take standards a long way forward and put the
onus back on to direct marketing and ad agencies to ensure they fulfil
their side of the bargain’ - in terms of properly briefing the bureaux
and giving them enough notice of their schedule and any changes to it.
In the past, both sides, says Colling, have been at fault. ‘Volumes of
business have been pushed through without forethought about how they
would be serviced. What we should see coming out of this is a proper
business partnership between the agencies and the bureaux.’
Clients also seem reassured by the guidelines. Sara Mansfield, telephone
fund-raising manager at the NSPCC and a member of the DMA’s DRTV
committee, is optimistic that the guidelines will help foster a more co-
operative, rather than combative, environment.
‘If clients and bureaux use them as a working guide then a lot of the
problems that can arise through client lack of knowledge can be
avoided,’ she says.
‘I think they cover every aspect of a response campaign, and they’re
clearly written and jargon-free. Charities do a lot of DRTV and I’ll be
recommending the guidelines to my colleagues in the industry.’
Jonathan Hoare, managing director of TBWA, which handles Direct Line’s
DRTV campaigns, welcomes the guidelines but has some reservations: ‘What
we are seeing is a maturing of the industry, an attempt to put in some
checks and controls because people are no longer willing to tolerate
leakage [lost calls].
‘All the points made in the guidelines are realistic ones, but my
concern is that people will never be able to predict accurately the
level of response to an ad - human behaviour often is very
unpredictable. The onus will always be on the bureau because that is the
critical point of contact and, if it is not handled well, can destroy
brand values which may have taken many years to build up.’
Not surprisingly, the bureaux themselves have a slightly different
perspective. Robert Dirskovski, sales and promotions manager at
Broadsystem, one of the biggest bureaux, retorts: ‘It should be obvious
that you don’t book your media before you know how you’re going to
handle your calls. It sounds simple but it’s amazing how many people
ignore this fact.’
Commenting on the guidelines, which he helped create, Dirskovski adds:
‘DRTV’s full potential will be greatly aided if the advice given here is
taken up by all practitioners in the field.’
Despite these caveats, he is ‘delighted’ the DMA has taken this
initiative, describing the guidelines as ‘a valuable and timely addition
to the DMA’s guidance on direct marketing best practice’.
And he is satisfied that everybody in the industry has been given a
chance to have their say: ‘The guidelines have gone through the most
comprehensive series of industry discussions - there have been debates
across the board.’
Even so, some DRTV players are reserving judgment, concerned that theory
will not translate into reality. ‘I don’t believe the industry will
shout ‘hallelujah’ and follow them slavishly,’ oneÿ20bureau insider says.
Nevertheless, they are a first step, and one which has been generally
welcomed as A Good Thing. Hopefully, the guidelines will help all
parties concerned work more productively together. Then, perhaps, they
can all live happily ever after.
What creatives think of the standard of DRTV campaigns
Simon Kershaw Senior copywriter Craik Jones
Daewoo: Daewoo’s ‘no-nonsense, here’s the deal’ ads are rigorously
single-minded and well-produced. However, direct marketing lore states
that an emotional sell should have more pull than a rational one. So I’d
love to see how Duckworth Finn Grubb Waters would test an emotive
approach against its current - very admirable - work.
Bupa Some nice bits of film (from a corporate commercial) and advice
that gives the sole reason to respond as: ‘It only takes six minutes to
It’s not that amazing. And if there was an astonishing response, I’d be
Martini and Tango Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury continues to take the
piss out of direct marketing techniques on behalf of two sexy drinks
brands. This desperately hip ‘interactivity’ may well be achieving the
advertisers’ objectives - but could HHCL cut the mustard with a genuine
DRTV brief? The jury is still out.
Robert Campbell Joint creative director Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe
I guess the eternal debate must be ‘do we give them a memorable ad, or
do we give them a memorable phone number?’ For my money, all these
memorable ads are a bit light on phone numbers - the Bupa number is the
most successfully integrated of the bunch. So what happens if you phone
the response number?
Daewoo Even at 11pm a real live person answers the phone, promises an
information pack and takes your details. Amazing.
Bupa OK, so I was ringing late, but just got an answering machine. Not
Tango An answering machine entertained me for six minutes, and promised
to send me a Tango calendar. It cost me pounds 2.50. So now I have an ad
for Tango on my wall 365 days of the year. Clever, but a bit of a rip-off.
Martini A bit of wacky nonsense, then the recorded message asked for my
name and address.
So, soon my doormat will be piled high with stuff. It had better be