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  April 27, 2012
Always Be Closing...


"ABC...A - Always...B - Be...C - Closing...Always Be Closing" ~ Alec Baldwin in Glen Geary / Glen Ross

I enjoy driving around town on weekends. 

It’s not because there is less traffic on the road (although there is).  No, I like driving because it gives me a chance to listen to the radio...specifically it allows me to listen to my favorite weekend radio shows on NPR / PBS. 

Yes...I happen to be one of those homespun geeks who actually like radio shows with some interesting, educational and/or thought-provoking content.

I enjoy listening to radio programs such as "Car Talk", "Wait Wait...Don’t Tell Me", "This American Life", "A Way with Words, and "A Prairie Home Companion".  I find them to be a bit corny at time but still highly entertaining. 

It’s not that conservative AM talk shows, classic rock music, and/or sports call-in shows aren’t entertaining because they are to some people (or else they wouldn’t be on the air).  This type of programming just doesn’t appeal to me much.
I suspect the reason that I’m not generally drawn to these shows doesn’t have much to do with the actual content but rather the seemingly endless stream of commercials, political ads, promos, and public service announcements, stealing time away from the actual program.  In some markets and time-slots, it’s not unusual for a radio station to play up to 20 minutes of ads each prime-time hour. 

Commercial radio is designed to be a for-profit venture and advertising pays the bills.

In contrast to a commercial radio station, public broadcasting doesn’t air advertisements.  Their content is relatively interruption free. 

They do, however, beg for money from their listeners for a short period of time a few times each year.  This time is called "pledge week".

During pledge week, local station employees take to the air to ask their listeners to show their support of the radio station by sending in a donation and becoming a contributing member.

The announcers will extol the virtues of publicly supported media.  They will explain that public radio provides actual content rather than just a host who moderates listener discussions about sports and politics.  They will offer up bribes in the way of tote bags, t-shirts, coffee mugs, music CDs, and other novelties and tchotchkes for donations.  
Pledge week is a time when a public radio station bows its head and holds its hat in front of its listeners and begs for reprieve.  It defends its very existence as an alternative to commercial radio.

Public radio has been around now for 41 years.  Over the years it has honed it skills at walking the ultra-fine line between guilt, praise, and extortion.  They have become experts at asking for money from its listeners.
Marketers and professional sales people can learn a few things from these experts.  During every pledge break you will hear the following pleas and sales pitch:

-     Public broadcasting is selling memberships not sponsorships.  They want you to believe that when you decide to financially support public broadcasting you are joining an exclusive club.  They will tell you that members of their club are more intelligent, more affluent, more interesting and open minded (no one wants to believe that they are closed minded), and more worldly than those people who listen to commercial radio. 

-     Big donors (also known as "customers") are born from little donors.  PBS will take any and all donors.  They tell you that even by sending in $5 (the price of a cup of premium coffee), you are doing your part to support the local PBS station.  They know that once they broken your barrier to buy, then it’s no longer a question of yes or no but rather a question of how much.  It’s a long-term strategy that turns one-time customers into long-term patrons. 

-     Donors like to be recognized.  By announcing the donor’s name over the air they have publicly acknowledged them and make them feel as though they are important to the station (regardless of the amount of their donation).  It also helps to encourage others to follow the lead of the other people in the community.  Your friends and neighbors are donating so it must be a good thing.  

-     Guilt works!...just ask anyone who knows a Jewish mother (How many Jewish mothers does it take to screw in a light bulb?... none... they’ll just sit there... alone in the dark... waiting for your phone call).  The public radio station will tell you that you’re getting something of value and that you need to pay for it.  Listening to the station and not becoming a member is tantamount to stealing.  They will tell you that all your friends and neighbors have contributed...why not you?  They continually play to your sense of fairness and doing what is just and right. 

-     Why doesn’t public radio give out gifts like gift certificates to restaurants and spas instead of coffee mugs, tote bags and t-shirts?  The reason is that once you use the certificate, it’s gone...there is no reminder sitting on your kitchen counter that you are a supporter of public radio.  When you wear your t-shirt or use your tote bag, you are a walking and talking billboard that advertises to the world that you support and listen to public radio.  Donation gifts are really just marketing tools that continue to pay dividends for months or years. 

-     Public broadcasting will make it very easy to make a pledge (operators are here waiting for your call right now).  They have convenient payment plans that will cost you only pennies a day.  They take checks, cash or credit cards.  They have toll-free numbers.  You can donate on their website.  So simple...so easy. 

-     There are VERY persistent.  They understand that repetition of key value statements to their audience is the very essence of marketing.  They will interrupt programming in mid- sentence, if need be, to ask for your support.  The message is loud and clear...during EVERY pledge break. 

-     They are always closing the deal.  "Pick up the phone right now and call to show your support".  This phrase is repeating over and over throughout each pledge break segment.  There is a call to action.  Do something and do it now. 

I do donate to my local PBS station.  Not because I get a gift...not because I feel guilty...not because I want to be a member of their exclusive club...not because I want to feel superior to those people who don’t listen to public radio...

The main reason I donate to public radio is because frankly, I don’t like listening to commercials.  I like having an alternative to commercial radio so I donate in order to keep them in business.

Spring pledge week is now thankfully over...

Every once in a while, it pays to listen to what someone is doing rather than what they are saying.  

Next time pledge week rolls, take a moment to dissect a pledge break to see if there are some tips you can use on your next sales call...

It may give you a new reason to think of PBS as educational...


Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope to be your intelligent source of overcurrent protection products.

Jim Kalb

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