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photo of pledging at KPBS

Peter Yarrow sings for pledge breaks in San Diego while volunteers at left use computers to gather demographic data from donors. (Photo: Paul Nestar for KPBS.)

CPB to back sharing of research data from PledgeTRAC

Originally published in Current, May 13, 1996

A system of analyzing and enhancing the effectiveness of on-air pledge drives, pioneered by TRAC Media Services with a consortium of stations, soon will become available to stations throughout public TV.

CPB's Television Future Fund is expected to back an expansion of the PledgeTRAC system with a grant of close to $1 million, according to David LeRoy, TRAC codirector. [In June, CPB announced a two-year grant of $917,000.]

Details of the grant are still being worked out, but the project's goals are to bring together a book of rules or the "best practices'' of PledgeTRAC stations, test them, and share the findings through teleconferences, seminars and presentations at conferences, LeRoy said. The project has to become self-sustaining within two years.

Pledge a "definable problem''

About 10 public TV stations are PledgeTRAC consortium members, and have shared the costs of developing the new methodology. The project involves two different systems: a break analyzer that charts the volume of calls responding to different on-air appeals; and a pledge automator, through which volunteers enter demographic information from callers into a database.

PledgeTRAC "provides instant feedback on what's going on on the phones, the volume of calls and what arguments are getting the most responses out of the audience,'' explained Jim Lewis, senior v.p. for Oregon Public Broadcasting, a PledgeTRAC founding station. "We have an immediate look at what premiums are making the phones ring.''

"It is a very valuable tool,'' Lewis said. "It's really the very first time that science has been applied to pledge drives.

"Without equipment like this, you're kind of flying blind,'' said Brett Kelley, pledge director for KPBS, San Diego. "I can't imagine now not knowing this information.''

While all PledgeTRAC stations have improved their pledge performance, at least three--Wisconsin PTV, San Diego's KPBS and Sacramento's KVIE--recently have achieved significant gains, according to Patty Thaxton, TRAC programming v.p.

But the most impressive increases have come for KLVX, Las Vegas, a station that last year contracted out its program scheduling to TRAC. Thaxton has extrapolated PledgeTRAC findings from other stations in designing KLVX's last three on-air campaigns, which soared 254 percent last August, 140 percent in December and 161 percent in March.

"We are showing that pledge is a definable problem that you can research, draw conclusions from, and apply to the rest of the system,'' said Thaxton.

In addition expanding PledgeTRAC, the Tucson-based ratings firm is following up research it conducted last year for PBS, "Who's Watching, Who's Pledging?'' The study gathered ratings data and demographic information about audiences for four pledge programs in March 1995, and challenged several old "pledge myths'' about which viewers are most likely to pledge.

The next phase of "Who's Watching ... ?'' will gather similar data early in the August pledge drive, quickly analyze it and disseminate the findings to stations, according to Jon Abbott, PBS senior development v.p. The information will allow stations to adjust their appeals accordingly.

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. Related news: Advances in the pledging arts help stations boost member contributions.

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