While the boundaries between public relations and other marketing
strategies are becoming increasingly blurred, PR has barely exploited
one of the fastest growing marketing tools.
The spectrum of telemarketing skills basically encompasses anything that
involves the phone in dealing with customers. But PR agencies have left
much of even the strategic telemarketing to specialist bureaux and
This is in spite of the fact that telemarketing is an increasing
component in integrated marketing campaigns and, as agencies turn to
pan-European and global markets, it can be the most cost-effective
channel to reach diverse and multi-cultural audiences. With phone prices
coming down and increased global switching to call centres worldwide,
telemarketing is more of an economical option than ever before.
Simon Roncoroni of telemarketing consultancy Leiderman and Roncoroni
says: ’Agencies are only just waking up to the largest market service
business in the UK. We generally only get involved with them when our
clients tell their agencies to get in touch with us and some agencies
answer the phone themselves for their clients’ campaigns.’
Michael Hope of consultancy Michael Hope Partnership adds: ’PR agencies
tend to leave it all to the direct marketing agencies and, often, they
will only use telemarketing themselves after the horse has already
bolted, in areas like crisis management and product recalls.’
This inevitably means that strategic marketing opportunities are being
missed. Natalie Calvert, managing director of consultancy Calcom Group,
says: ’There is an enormous branding opportunity which has not been
taken up by PR agencies, largely because of a lack of knowledge of the
The phone has been viewed from the operational, rather than the
’Public relations has traditionally been more involved in editorial and
awareness campaigns but now PR is going into everything a client does on
the marketing side and it should look at the total mix.’
Calvert notes that a major benefit of the phone is that everything is
’Marketers can account for their spend. You know immediately whether you
are getting good or bad results.’ Sally Penn of ADS Telemarketing adds:
’You can test different propositions and scripts. You can also segment
and measure the market and review what happened, increasing the value of
the PR message.’
The advertising industry has been a big user of telemarketing to link in
with campaigns. Jeremy Sankey, new business director at direct marketing
specialist Grey Direct, explains: ’We use the phone as a response medium
with television advertisements carrying a freephone number. There is
more blurring with PR as we take on targeted marketing campaigns.’
Perhaps the area outside crisis management, in which PR has most used
telemarketing, is customer care and information lines, adding value to a
product by providing further information, encouraging regular use and
providing additional information on the company and its products.
Simon Roncoroni of L&R is a specialist in this area. ’Competition has
increased for packaged goods and the need for brands to add the service
dimension is important,’ he says. ’Consumers are increasingly demanding
access to manufacturers and brands are using the phone as their primary
service channel rather than through retailers and letters. It’s
convenient for the consumer and helps build up data.’
Roncoroni works closely with Helen Fenwick, assistant external relations
manager of Lever Brothers, on many of their leading brands. Fenwick
explains: ’We have created a dedicated customer care team with L&R
because in an area like detergents there is a vast amount of product
competition and we have to differentiate from other brands through
customer service. Phone lines let us get closer to consumers and build
brand loyalty. We don’t use a PR agency but work direct with L&R.’
Burson-Marsteller claims to have set up the first fmcg care line service
with its in-house Flora phone line for Van den Bergh Foods. It’s an
expanding service according to account director, Tara Jenkins. She says:
’We have trained operators on diet and nutrition, receive 700 calls a
week on the Freephone number and have expanded it into 21 brands for Van
Sponsorship of information lines can also present a useful opportunity
for agencies’ brands. Munro and Forster intriguingly tied its client
Zovirax in with a premium rate phone line run by the Ski Club of Great
Cold sores often make their appearance under the ultra violet light of
the ski slopes and Zovirax sponsored the information line which gives
winter weather conditions for skiing and provides Zovirax with a name
check. Munro and Forster was able to tie the Zovirax line number into
the Club’s ’Fit to Ski’ leaflet distributed to travel agents, airport
pharmacies and other outlets.
In campaigns which require ’live’ operators, telemarketing services are
only as good as the people it employs and the training and support they
receive is crucial. Clients need to have either good in-house
departments or bureaux with staff empowered to make decisions according
to the nature of the call, not just working to a script. Sally Penn
points out that it is important that generic care lines are not
robotically scripted and that operators are able to give refunds.
There are many horror stories of bureaux sticking to rigid guidelines
and offending customers, such as the apocryphal operator who happily
told people phoning up for life assurance that they were too old.
Selecting a bureau can be a difficult matter for clients. Natalie
Calvert says: ’There can be great differences between bureaux. There are
over 150 and anyone can set up so you must look at their previous
clients, technology, calibre of their people, the type of work they have
done and their statistics.
Michael Hope, of the Hope Partnership, adds: ’You have to be
The good quality ones are usually members of the DMA. If they are
cheaper you have to ask why.’
There is a danger when clients devolve areas like customer care to
bureaux that this crucial side of their operations becomes removed and
complaints and feedback regarding quality of service do not filter back
to the organisation.
There is also the question of whether customers might resent talking to
a bureau - if they find out.
Hope says: ’It does not matter as long as customers are able to speak to
somebody who can answer as the company, though sometimes of course a
regional accent can give it away. It can be better in-house because you
have more control.’
Compared to the US, penetration of customer care lines in the UK is
Steve Jack, business development manager at the bureau InTelMark, says:
’On the customer care side there is a lot of work being done in the fmcg
care and promotions area and we are expanding this work into other
product groups. But many are still not using care lines. Only 25 per
cent of top brands in the UK use them, compared to 80 per cent in the US
so there is some way to go.’
As the costs of international calls come down global and pan-European
telemarketing is taking off. Hope says: ’The UK is leading the way in
Europe, advising on the creating and running of pan-European and
international call centres for customer care and sales.’ For example,
the Merchants Group designed and implemented a centralised pan-European
help desk for the networking and imaging systems group Textronix.
Merchants uses its Milton Keynes centre as a help desk covering 33
countries with ten languages. A caller from Germany can be greeted by a
native German operator in Milton Keynes so that the caller can think
that they are making a call to a German destination.
Clearly telemarketing can cost-effectively overcome the problem of
servicing culturally diverse and distant markets. As agencies
increasingly service integrated pan-European and global audiences, PR
and telemarketing are becoming natural partners.
ANSWER: THE END OF THE LINE FOR ANONYMOUS MACHINES?
You ring up for information and an automated call system gives you a
list of options - none of which you want.
It’s a familiar scenario and all grist to the mill for those who say
that technology is limiting our choices rather than expanding them. But
automated call systems are not intrinsically evil, it’s all in the way
that you use them.
Alex Green, managing director of automated call systems specialist
Broadsystem, says: ’It all depends on which type of service you’re
providing. For simple transactional services, automated systems can cope
fine. But where customer care is involved, using an auto service can
annoy and a live option is always needed.
’We’re seeing more hybrid systems now with automated systems skimming
off customers and giving a live option.’
Simon Roncoroni, of telemarketing consultancy Leiderman and Roncoroni,
points out that automated systems can offer a much higher capacity for
campaigns involving high volume peak surges such as responses to phone
numbers shown on TV and for voting systems such as the ITV debate on the
monarchy and Eurovision.
It is estimated that pounds 99 million worth of inward telemarketing
calls go unanswered. Natalie Calvert of consultancy Calcom Group points
out that automated call systems are a necessity to stop that from
But she adds: ’In the UK companies often just use automated systems like
an answering machine, not adding any value for the customer.’
Roger Farrow of automated bureau Telephone Information Services says
that automated call systems are more accepted in the business sector but
consumers need to be treated differently. He says: ’You need to ask
questions in the way people think. The younger end of the market is more
open to automated call systems. It’s just like automated banking
machines. Older people took longer to get used it and for a while there
were queues at cashiers and unused machines. Now it’s the other way
round.’ Automated services with a live or follow-up option appear to
work best with consumers. Julie Flexen, associate director of agency,
Munro and Forster says: ’It all depends on what information you are
For instance, we provide pre-recorded messages by doctors on indigestion
for Warner-Lambert’s Zantac 75. Callers can leave a message and someone
will follow up. Automated lines do have their place, but we are always
sensitive to the fact that callers may want to speak to a person.’
Improvements in voice recognition systems could mean that consumers will
soon be able to truly interact with automated systems with little need
for a live option. It remains to be seen whether this advance represents
progress or whether it will simply alienate consumers further.
CASE STUDY: WHEN CHARITY BEGINS AT THE PHONE
With the National Lottery making life difficult, charities are seeking
to maximise their earning potential and charity donation lines have
become one of the most cost-effective ways of keeping in touch with
donors and collectors.
But the use of charity donation lines raises the highly sensitive
question of charities paying for professional telemarketing services.
Charities are caught in the Catch 22 situation of wanting to be
professional and maximising donations yet not wanting to dilute income
by paying the market rate for these services.
The experience of Help the Aged shows that paying for professional
telemarketing can be worth it. It uses the services of charity bureau
National Telephone Team.
Helen Wright, head of HtA’s direct marketing, explains: ’Last year we
raised pounds 170,000 through telemarketing and paid NTT pounds 55,000
for the service but that pounds 115,000 profit is completely new income
that we didn’t have before when we were relying on direct mail.
’Donors are fully aware of the situation since we follow DMA guidelines
and all people contacted are told that the bureau is phoning on our
behalf and that we are paying for their services.’
Comic Relief is one of those biennial events where everyone seems
prepared to rally round and provide their services free. Telemarketing
consultancy, the Merchants Group was one of 33 call centres in the UK
donating its services. PR manager, Kathy Dipple says, ’We had a themed
seventies night with staff, clients and volunteers all helping on the
phones. We took 14,700 calls during the six hours of the programme and
raised pounds 284,000.’
The RNIB has been improving its internal telemarketing skills. Telephone
appeals manager Steve Rowley says: ’We have used the phone
professionally for five years and over the last two years have developed
it so that last year 50 per cent of our income was derived from it. We
use it for cold calling, ringing up people to ask the if they will
volunteer to sell raffle tickets. Last year we got 80,000 new volunteers
Some charities like the British Heart Foundation use phone lines for
information rather than donations. Public relations manager, Caroline
Hamilton says: ’We have automated lines providing information with
various caller options. This is working well though there are some
people with older phones sometimes that cannot use it.’
CASE STUDY: INTELMARK GETS ITS TEETH INTO STERADENT
We’re looking after our teeth better these days so there are fewer
falsies around. While this is good news on the dental health side, it
creates a challenge for Reckitt and Colman’s leading denture wear brand,
Steradent, to maximise sales in the market since, of the 16 million
denture wearers, only six million use a specialist cleaner.
R&C’s PR agency Holmes and Marchant wanted to find a way of talking
direct to denture wearers and build up brand loyalty. The agency started
its Steradent Information line from its own offices but as it became
successful it brought in telemarketing specialist, InTelMark.
InTelMark set up an information line to advise denture wearers on the
care and cleansing of dentures. Working with H&M, the call number has
been used across a range of media - on pack, advertorial, point of sales
leaflets and TV promotions.
Charlotte Hudson, account manager at InTelMark, explains: ’We have up to
90 people answering calls. This has to be a live service because denture
wearing can be a taboo subject and if people have the courage to ring
up, a machine could dent their confidence.’
Call handling is geared to whether the caller is a denture wearer or
dental professional. For consumers there is a sample request service,
general dental information and recommendations and information are
Non-users are sent a sample, coupon and a guide, infrequent users a
coupon and guide and frequent users a guide only since R&C does not wish
to subsidise frequent users.
Over its first year the line took about 3,500 calls and during this
period sales increased by five per cent against an earlier decline of
0.2 per cent and 500 dental practices have now signed up for a regular
monthly sample service.
Follow-up telemarketing to gauge the efficacy of the campaign indicates
a significant rise in purchase and usage behaviour. Telemarketing has
now been expanded to include Brace Mate, a new oral care product for
removable brace and retainer wearers.