September 2006 - Ask the Expert

The Relationship Between Accountability and DRTV

By Timothy R. Hawthorne 

Q: Accountable advertising and direct response television (DRTV) are hot topics in corporate brand advertising circles right now. My company has been approached by one to make a capabilities presentation; therefore, what should I include in order to win the business?

A: DRTV has come a long way since slicers and dicers ruled the airwaves 20 years ago. We’re seeing more brand advertisers jumping into the fray, and working with DRTV producers and media buyers to showcase their brands, generate leads and pull in a new demographic of customers via TV.

Developed in the late-1990s, the first “brandmercials” pioneered a wave of upscale production values that worked hard to keep the brand tone intact for Fortune 500 firms. Apple Computer was an immediate beneficiary, ringing up $92 million in retail sales on a $3 million DRTV investment.

The pull of DRTV is too much for brands to resist. Traditional TV spots have morphed into simple blurs of imagery, while long-form shows provide a platform from which to educate and inform customers about specific products and services.

DRTV also helps brands exhibit authenticity that simply can’t be captured in a 15- or 30-second ad; yet convincing brand advertisers of these advantages isn’t easy. Lucky for you, there’s nearly always an internal ally championing the project, or you wouldn’t be there in the first place.

Your first charge is to find that project leader and connect with him or her to learn all you can about the brand and/or product, the story behind it, and the competitive landscape. Look at how the product is positioned and priced, and what its unique attributes are. Sit down with your own team and ask yourselves: Is this a retail driver? Is this a lead generator? Is this a direct sale over TV? Will we use a cost-per-lead metric, or cost-per-sale?

Now go to the web and consume as much information about the product and the company, then chew it up and understand it. Do the same with the competition’s websites and the industry in general.

Schedule a meeting and find out who will be there, how much time you have to present and whether you’ll have access to equipment like LCD projectors. Assign two to three people to the task, and work from an agenda that focuses on the client’s wants and needs. Are they uninitiated in the ways of DRTV? Spend 15 minutes going over the basics of long form. Is media top of mind? Put time into explaining the ins and outs of the current media environment.

Talk about yourself, your agency, talent and team. Highlight past successes, and throw around client names that are relevant to the prospective client’s industry.

Finally, go over the 12- to 16-week process, discussing fine points like the initial “think tank” meeting that should take place before any script writing, shooting or media buying starts. Walk the customer through the strategic thinking process, focusing not on the show itself, but on exactly what goes into creating the project model.

Expect objections to come up, and handle them with the proactive approach outlined above. State your capabilities, focus on the value of accountable media, showcase success stories, do your homework and come into the meeting prepared and ready to win the business.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of a full service DRTV ad agency founded in 1986. A 30-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate. He can be reached at [email protected].


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