Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doesn't like WMUB's pledge drive

A listener sent us this reaction to the member drive which concluded October 10th. The name is being withheld for reasons indicated below. To respond and to hear more on this topic, listen to our "Ask the General Manager" special on WMUB Forum, Friday 10/19 at 9 am ET, repeated at 7 pm.

“I truly do appreciate your station 50 weeks out of the year. Though I realize that it is vital for you to conduct your twice yearly pledge drive, I must tell you that you lose my patronage during that time. I find the personalities that you use for the event very annoying and unprofessional. The on air banter is trite and annoying. I also do not appreciate the interruption it causes to programming. I find it interesting that public television stations for example can re-work their programming so that programs are not interrupted, yet you cannot. Your cut ins disrupt the flow of information within the programs and diminish your value to me. For example, I attempted to listen to the Diane Rehm show with former president Carter. I feel that I lost a lot of valuable information in that hour, as the programming was cut short by your pledge drive activities. I feel I missed a very informative program at your hands. Thank you for your time.

--"A loyal listener 50 weeks out of the year" [name withheld]

General Manager Cleve Callison replies:

Usually we prefer to use forums such as this for listener comments rather than our own. But this letter politely raises issues which go right to the heart of some of our key activities, and I feel it deserves a response.

First of all, I recognize the validity of the concern. We do try to be careful about how all our programming (including pledge drives) strike listeners. I know that this listener is not the only one to have a similar reaction. And I'm not about to defend every single thing we do or say on the air during a live program. Since I am one of the frequent voices on in the morning, I am very aware of how often I fail to hit the standard I should meet.

Like other public stations we always try to find the most effective ways of raising funds while keeping valuable programming coming to listeners. But as we say during the drive, we are a non-commercial station and we must receive contributions. While we can alway do better with any aspect of the drive, off-air strategies (for example, direct mail and telemarketing) generate only a fraction of the revenue of an effective on-air drive.

Of course, these other strategies have their critics too. And for the most part they can only reach our existing listener base. Try as we might, no public station has ever devised a way to recruit NEW members that's more effective than an on-air drive.

Given that, how to proceed? The writer objects in part to the frenetic sound of our morning "pitches". If we characterize our fundraising messages along a continuum of 'quiet' to 'exuberant', there is absolutely no question that by and large the exuberant hours are far more successful at bringing in pledges. We have years' worth of data to support this assertion. Of course, sometimes we make mistakes and exuberant slides over into frantic, which can backfire. But a first scan of data from this drive supports the contention above.

So then the question becomes, when we are being asked by Miami to raise more and more funds from listeners -- how much are we willing to forego in order to have a drive that will not offend some in our audience; or more starkly, should we plan to have a successful drive or an unsuccessful one?

Given that reality, what can a listener do who doesn't like the tone of the drive, or parts of it? My answer would be that if you listen to the station a lot (in the case of the listener above, 50 weeks seems like a lot to me), then you should support it during times when we are NOT being exuberant -- in the pre-funder mailing, or in overnight hours, or (most effective of all) during a time when we are pitching in a quieter way. I read these charts carefully, and if I can begin to see that the quiet hours can be anywhere near as effective as the exuberant hours, you'll see a shift in emphasis.

Which leads me to the reason I'm withholding this listener's name even though he OKed our using it. Despite his avowed fondness for the station (50 weeks a least), our loyal listener who "gives us his patronage" 50 weeks a year has never made a pledge to WMUB. I say this not to embarrass him, but to indicate the uphill fight that public stations have to raise money from people who can receive all of our services for free.

Which brings me to public television. The writer says that we interrupt our programming while public television "re-works" their programming. If we were to follow the public television model, we would not just cut into Morning Edition and Diane Rehm two weeks a year, we would take them off the air for a month at a time 3 or 4 times a year. I just can't imagine that.

When speaking privately, most of my public television colleagues will acknowledge that their way of fundraising is counter-productive and probably ruinous to sustained audience growth. But they see no way out because their core programs do not raise money for them and the infomercial-type specials do. For all its faults, the public radio method at least acknowledges that these are the programs listeners want, and our method challenges listeners to pay for them. That's the way it should be, and I for one am glad that so many of our listeners accept this challenge.

--Cleve Callison, WMUB General Manager