Last night, I went to volunteer at the phone bank for the KTEH pledge drive. KTEH is a local PBS TV station. It was one of those, “I’ve never done it before; wonder what it’s like, I’ll go try it.” They have pledge drives five times a year. In order to entice people to pledge their financial support, they offer ‘gifts’, so the more you pay, the better the gift. And often it’s a gift that’s a tie-in to a particular show, a high-brow Happy-Meal toy.
The only time in my life I really wanted something from a pledge drive was when KQED offered a Sesame Street sing-along LP. I was probably 6 or 7; and easily persuaded my mom to cough up the dough. I think we still have the album somewhere.
To be honest, I usually surf away from PBS channels when they do pledge drives, because the pleading and cajoling in the extended break in programming is irksome, and not half as entertaining as some of the commercials you might see on conventional channels. “How many people could there be who would actually call in?” I thought. I noticed some volunteers had brought a book. “I wish I’d known to do that!” thinking there would be extended breaks to sit and knit or read.
In this particular case, the pledge drive was going to take place during an “Eastenders” marathon (a BBC soap opera that’s been running for 20 years which I’ve never watched.) They told us it would be a 6 – 11 PM shift, and dinner/snacks would be provided. In this case, it happened to be from Britannia Arms (very apt): bangers and mash and veggies that were not as overcooked as I dreaded. (KTEH also solicits food from various restaurants to feed the volunteers.)
We showed up, got a brief orientation where the coordinator explained what we would be asking and filling out on the forms from the pledge callers. The pledge drive is actually broken up into breaks, where we would rotate spending 20 minutes in the break room, going to the studio 10 minutes before the actual pledge break starts, so that we can settle in before the camera rolls. As the “Eastenders” episode closing credits rolled, the hosts start talking up the viewers to call in as well as promoting the pledge gifts, during which we take calls. So we’re only taking calls for about 10 minutes, until it’s time for the next episode to start airing, and then we ‘switch’ off the phones and go back to the break room to hang out and nosh. The irony is if a caller decides to call when the episode is airing, there will be no one to answer the phones. The caller would have to call back later.
Even with a couple dozen volunteers, the phone did feel like it was ringing off the hook. Most people who called in were older folks. And even then, I was surprised that most were pledging at the $120 levels to get one of the various “Eastenders” books, including one called “Tiffany’s Secret Diary.” Apparently it’s nothing like Laura Palmer’s.
The T-shirts ran out quickly. The mugs and mouse pads at the $60 level moved slowly. Some minimalists simply declined any gift.
Most of us have so much clutter in our lives, do we really need another mug even if it’s a tie-in to our favorite show? I don’t know how many of these things are available in stores though. Unlike the music/dance shows (i.e. a Riverdance DVD or an Andre Rieu CD), there is no Eastenders DVD or CD soundtrack
If you want to satisfy that urge for fifteen seconds of fame, become a phone bank volunteer during these pledge drives. Once in a while, the camera will show the volunteers busy answering phones: So you could be on TV, without having to subject yourself to Simon Cowell’s acid tongue.
In both the studio and the break room there’s TV monitors that show what’s being broadcast, as well as the time (in 24 hour clock/military standard!) In the break room there’s also a schedule written up of when the volunteers go to the studio, the actual pledge break start time (to answer phones), pledge break end time (stop answering phones) and go to the break room. We were supposed to do 6 pledge breaks, but since we met the goal of $15,000 in pledges, they cancelled the last two pledge breaks, so that the viewers at home got to watch their last two episodes without interruption. (It also meant I could get home in time to watch “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel.)
So word to the wise: if you pledge early (and generously), they may cancel the later pledge drives, so you can watch TV in peace.
The woman sitting next to me was English. It must have been a kick for callers who got her, because if they are “Eastenders” fans, they probably appreciate someone with a British accent taking their call.
They also advised us to bring a jacket because it could get cold in the studio. I thought that was strange, because I’ve heard that it usually gets hot in the studio, but that must only be when you’re under the focus spotlights, i.e. if you’re the host or guest on a show. For the phone bank grunts, it’s well lit, but yep, it got chilly. I was glad I had my jacket.