Charity TV advertising on a budget

A television advert can take your message into the living rooms of potential donors. But the ads - and getting them aired - are expensive. Alex Blyth asks the experts how to do it without breaking the bank

Remember a Charity TV campaign
Remember a Charity TV campaign

We all know how powerful television adverts can be. They can enable you to communicate your message in a compelling way to millions of people.

If we had the money, we would all use television adverts for our charities. The problem is that, even with an ever-increasing number of TV channels, the cost of producing and airing an advert is often high and few charities can afford them. So here are five ways for you to get your adverts into people's living rooms without breaking the bank.

1. Good ideas cost nothing

Much of the cost of an advert is the production. But Ben Bannister, film director at advertising agency Typhoon CP, believes this need not be the case. "Good adverts come from good ideas, so charities should get their production houses involved early on and insist their adverts are kept simple," he says.

"A good production house should be able to achieve effects in-camera rather than more expensively in post-production. In those cases where the effect does have to be achieved in post-production, getting the post-production people involved early will help to manage both costs and scheduling."

Adam Shaw, co-founder of commercials animation specialists Rebel Rebel, argues that judicious use of animation can also help to keep production costs down. "The versatility and diversity of animation means there is an approach to suit all budgets," he says.

"Compared with live action television campaigns, animation enables charities to make something truly different for less money without having to compromise on quality."

2. Test everything

However much you spend on media and production, you need to make sure you have everything in place to maximise that investment. The important thing to remember is that even if you manage to make and show your advert for as little as £500, it is still a wasted £500 if, for example, the call centre is not geared up to take calls from potential donors.

The key is to test everything before it goes live. Test your advert on a sample audience and change it until it resonates. Test different media until you find one that produces the response you want. Then test your call centre to ensure it is absolutely flawless.

3. Collaborate

Simon Ringshall, a planner at marketing agency Touch DDB, offers this advice: "Generate innovative, participatory fundraising ideas that other brands and organisations can join in with, support and promote. Pool media-buying budgets with other charities and use these to bulk-buy media at a discounted rate. Join organisations such as Remember a Charity, whose members get cheap space in a bespoke Daily Telegraph supplement promoting legacies."

4. Use creative across several media

Finally, don't forget to reuse your advert. Derek Humphries, director of DTV, an advertising agency whose customers include Action for Children, the RSPB and the WSPA, offers this advice: "A compelling television advert can be exploited across so many other routes, especially online. It is now incredibly easy for anyone to put up video online. You do, however, need to make sure it has a clear narrative, decisive calls to action and a well-articulated need and solution."

5. Negotiate with channels

One positive aspect of the recession is that there is less demand from commercial organisations for television airtime, so many of the channels are willing to sell it to charities at heavily discounted rates.

The NSPCC, Dogs Trust, WaterAid and Action for Children have all reported in recent weeks that they have benefited from this trend. The NSPCC saved about 25 per cent on what it paid for the same space only a year ago.

Louise Dean, senior TV planner at direct response media company Mike Colling & Co, which has booked space for Cancer Research UK and Oxfam among others, says: "There are some great deals to be had, so it is important that your agencies are in regular contact with the sales houses. That way, as soon as an offer is available, you'll be the first to know.

"Have readily available creative and telemarketing in place so that you can react quickly - cheap offers are generally very last-minute and a lot of advertisers aren't able to take advantage because there is no call handling in place."

It's worth noting that cheap airtime might also be available outside a recession. For example, the period between Christmas and New Year is typically cheaper and some channels are always willing to offer discounts to entertaining and inspiring adverts.

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