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Direct Response Marketing

Media Zone: DRTV Agencies Are More Relevant Than Ever

1 Nov, 2010 By: Timothy R. Hawthorne Response

The lines between DRTV and traditional ad agencies may be blurring, but that doesn’t mean marketers can take a generalist approach to this specialized medium.


The average person wouldn’t go to family practitioner for heart surgery, nor would he or she call on a newspaper reporter to write an infomercial script. Everyone knows that an automobile dealership isn’t the best place to get your car’s windows tinted, and that Sam’s Club probably isn’t the best source of specialized business equipment. There are, after all, experts who handle such requests on a daily basis, and who can address the issue and tackle the task at hand quickly and efficiently.

This simple philosophy doesn’t always carry over to the advertising world, where an increasing number of general agencies are adding DRTV production, writing and media buying to their menus. The reasoning is clear: Infomercials and short-form commercials are popular choices for the independent entrepreneur all the way up to the brand-name advertiser.

But general agencies aren’t always equipped to handle direct response. DR agencies have years of proven response-generating techniques that traditional agencies rarely know (or care) about. They understand that DR is about understanding human behavior and how to generate an immediate response; it’s a unique body of knowledge that can take years of experience or study to master.

The question is: Are general agencies doing their clients a disservice by providing DRTV services internally? And would the clients be better served by a firm whose employees and managers have years of experience crafting successful direct response? Absolutely. In fact, many general line agencies miss the boat completely when they attempt to produce infomercials and short-form DRTV.

One way general agencies have been able to work around that challenge is by purchasing firms with successful DRTV track records. The major marketing services holding companies have been buying traditional DR agencies for more than 20 years, bringing them into their family of agencies. But many of these companies continue to function independently. And while these firms may attempt to provide DR services to their brand agency cousins, the actual “sharing” of clients is more rare than common.

So how are traditional agencies handling the demand from clients for DR capabilities? Well, many of them still reach out to the specialized DR agencies, bringing us in as partners and sharing in fees and commissions. The relationships aren’t always easy to manage, and their success depends on whether the traditional agency staff can check their egos at the door and allow DR specialists to do their job. When that does happen, everyone wins — especially the client.

Unfortunately, that win-win scenario doesn’t always play out in the real world. We continue to see a battle with infomercial producers and media buyers on one side, and traditional ad agencies on the other. The major corporation marketing vice presidents and brand managers are stuck in the middle and left to figure out which one is best qualified to execute their corporation’s first major infomercial campaign. The outcome is the same: The corporate marketing pros are caught in the crossfire. They postpone their infomercial campaigns and wind up missing out on the excellent leverage and sales opportunities generated by a well-executed DR effort.

Here’s the bottom line: General agencies have more than 60 years of image and awareness TV experience. They understand building and maintaining brand equity, and they know their clients’ products far better than any newly assigned DRTV agency could hope to achieve in a fleeting few months.

But DR experts have an indispensable asset: more than two decades of trial and error in both creative and media. They know how to create accountable advertising and what it takes to make a successful infomercial. These factors should come into play when selecting the company that will take the short- or long-form DRTV campaign off the concept table and onto the airwaves.

Much like they wouldn’t hire a homebuilder to install an expensive home theatre system, marketers should think twice before handing their DRTV projects off to firms that lack the experience and expertise to create successful campaigns. 


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