Arts Org Telemarketer Exposes Tricks Of The Trade

It was easy to miss, but the 3/11/2014 edition of Lifehacker published an article about how to get rid of telemarketers and the author, Erica Elson, made passing reference to her telephone sales position at an arts organization.

ADAPTISTRATION-GUY-087She doesn’t name which organization she worked for but she goes on to reference details that make it clear she wasn’t using the organization as a pseudonym.

Granted, it is an excellent article (I learned a few things I plan to use in the future) but it does draw attention to a practice that takes its share of lumps in the court of public opinion, not to mention serve as one of the chief complaints from patrons leaving comments about orchestras at online review outlets such as Yelp.

What’s even more interesting is a comment in the article that, in turn, spawned a 24 entry long sub-thread. The initial comment takes the author to task for comparing commercial telemarketers to those working for nonprofits but the majority of responses were not of similar mind.

All of my personal hell with telemarketers are from the ones that non-profits orgs have sic’d on me and my wife after we donated a couple of times to them. We have since stopped donating because their minions simply won’t stop calling us. (source)

Well, no. I am going to lump non profits into the pile of telemarketers…because they’re telemarketing. Maybe for a good cause, but it’s still….telemarketing. And I object fiercely to that. (source)

I work for a company that has both a fundraising and a sales campaign, at different times of the year. I can tell you that we are as relentless in getting people to donate as we are when we are selling a product and use similar tactics. Also, just because we are a non-profit doesn’t mean we don’t try to get as much money as possible from people. (source)

What are your thoughts on any of this?

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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11 thoughts on “Arts Org Telemarketer Exposes Tricks Of The Trade”

  1. I remember one orchestra I worked for actually stopping the practice of calling previous donors to beg for more money. Instead, They called current donors at the end of the season merely to thank them. I believe it was mostly orchestra and board members who did this, and the following year donors actually gave more.

    It was nice to call people and thank them and leave it at that. I believe it was also appreciated on the other end as well.

  2. I work at a small non-profit performing arts group and we use a telemarketing and telefunding service. Ours is a very targeted campaign: telemarketing close to renewal deadline for subscribers to keep the same seats and a couple of small annual fund campaigns. I am not in marketing or development so I can’t speak to the statistical success of the campaigns but for a group our size, it saves us from having a part-time/seasonal staff member on the payroll to do these same tasks. We have employed the same service who has sent us the same person for several years now and I have heard from colleagues that we have several subscribers and small donors who wait for this person to call because she is very sweet and they like knowing she gets a small percentage of their subscription/donation in addition to her hourly rate. I know from my experience as a donor to other larger arts groups though that this kind of campaign can be unpleasant since I myself don’t like to get these calls.

    • that’s an interesting observation Dave, when we moved to our building in downtown Chicago last November, we noticed that the previous tenants received a substantial amount of solicitation mail from just about every arts and cultural group in Chicago; the daily stacks were nearly eight inches high.

      Knowing how important it is to these groups to have updated info, I sent the messages back with the standard “no longer at this address” notice but we still get a regular stream of mail coming in from the very same groups. It’s a terribly inefficient and wasteful practice.

  3. Prior to becoming a full-time orchestral musician I worked on a phone subscription sales campaign with a major professional orchestra. The campaign was contracted to a specialist arts telemarketing company. The campaign was run with extraordinary professionalism and attention to detail, but it had no stake in the long-term success of the orchestra. I had one patron hang up on me after yelling at me that they had repeatedly been asked to take off our calling list and demanding that I do the same again. When I submitted the request to remove that patron from our calling list I was told we couldn’t do that, because I hadn’t gone through the full official script with the patron for removing a number from the list. That person will get another call next season. By now they have a strong impression that the orchestra does not respect their patronage or their right to privacy. This sort of thing happened several times a shift while I worked there. Now that I no longer work there, I’ve tried to get taken off their call list twice with no success. They’re still calling.

    This was how we were treating our past single-ticket buyers, people who we desperately needed to make a good impression with, who we needed to come back and buy more tickets later. As a separate entity from the orchestra, our phone sales campaign was able to completely ignore the customer service side of business to focus on how many subscriptions we could sell. I came to feel I was actually harming the orchestra more than I was helping.

    I’m not saying all telemarketing is evil, but it should be undertaken in a way that’s consistent with the orchestra’s brand and with its goals for its relationships with patrons. Any orchestra that uses or is considering using a telephone sales campaign has to look into the scripts being used by their sales reps and ask if the telephone campaign really represents their organization the way they want it to.

  4. In the three orchestras I have worked for, I have had or created an in-house call center for subscription sales. It is a lot of work, but having the telemarketers in-house and from our community makes such a big difference! Telemarketing campaigns are an ESSENTIAL part of my annual subscription campaign, and are preceded by a targeted direct mail campaign. We call unrenewed subscribers, lapsed subscribers and single ticket buyers. Last season, 11% of our subscription sales came from telemarketing and had a cost-of-sale that was less than 30%. We absolutely keep an up-to-date and accurate Do Not Call list. I certainly don’t want to call people who have asked us not to. Plus, in our call center, it’s about conversations with our patrons, not hard sales tactics and rigid scripts. We get a lot of good feedback about our concerts/musicians from these calls. I’ll continue to use telemarketing as long as it is helping our bottom line.

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