We recently held a voting round for our Currently Curious series, in which we ask readers to submit their questions about public media. Out of the three questions we selected, the winner was: “What’s it like inside the call centers that handle public media pledge drives? How much do they cost stations?”
The question came to us from Andrea Silenzi. Silenzi works now in the for-profit media world as the senior producer of Mike Pesca’s Slate podcast The Gist. But she’s a veteran of several public media stations, which left her with fond memories of the volunteers who came in during fund drives to answer phones and take donations.
In an email, Andrea wrote:
During pledge drives, I would always chat up volunteers for feedback and ideas. … Every time I work in membership funded media, I’m amazed by how much energy I get from seeing the volunteers every year. I understand logically why some stations hire a call center… but it feels like the end of an era in public media?
So to find out what it’s like inside a call center, we need to find one to visit, right? I envisioned a trip to a nondescript office building in the suburbs, where I’d immerse myself in an environment of cubicles and tedium and emerge with a David Foster Wallace/Pale King–esque chronicle of the life of a call-center employee. Bring it on.
But after a few calls and emails, I learned that, unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The wrinkle is there may not be any actual call centers to visit. A call center can now be completely de-centered.
Employees of these “inbound telemarketing” companies take calls in the comfort of their homes — and they can work anywhere. So when a donor calls to make a pledge, the person who answers could well be a guy in his pajamas thousands of miles away from the local station, not a pastry-chomping good Samaritan in a phone bank set up steps away from the studio. And they’re getting paid in real dollars, not donuts.
I told Andrea what I’d learned. She replied, “I don’t need to know what kind of coffee they serve in the call station cafeteria to have my question answered.” (And I totally would have nailed that detail.) “The names, best practices, reputations and fees of these companies paints an interesting picture for sure.”
We’re on it, and soon we’ll deliver a closer look at these questions. But while we’re getting started, we’d like to hear from you. Do you work at a station that uses a call center, er, “inbound telemarketer”? What are the pros and cons of working with one? Maybe you’ve had an experience as a donor whose gift was handled by one of these call takers, or maybe you’ve even worked an inbound telemarketing gig yourself. If any of these situations apply, email me at email@example.com and share the details.
You can also submit your own question to Currently Curious in the form below. It could be investigated in a future Current story.