WETA’s Demographic Overlay Discovers Members who Activate Passport Skew Younger

When participating PBS member stations began rolling out Passport, the new member benefit that gives station supporters extended online access to an on-demand library of quality public broadcasting programming, they realized many of these members didn’t quite fit the typical demographics. These members jumped at the chance to get access to a streaming, on-demand programming library—Passport offers more than a thousand hours of episodes—but introduced a new set of questions.

wetalogoNamely, who exactly was the Passport audience? And once they joined the service, how should stations stay in touch with them?

Washington D.C. member station WETA-TV first introduced Passport with a soft online launch December 15, 2015. It followed that with additional marketing in January. As new members began coming in, Brandon Hemel, WETA’s Senior Director of Data Strategy and Management, took an in-depth look at the station’s Passport members. This deep dive began with a snowstorm.

On the weekend of January 23, a record-breaking blizzard pummeled the Mid-Atlantic, dropping two feet of snow on Washington. The city came to a virtual standstill around the time Season Six of Downton Abbey premiered. This made the team at WETA curious. “We wondered if the storm and people being in their houses was affecting Passport,” he says. Sure enough, he noticed an increase in the number of members.

Hemel downloaded the membership file and began browsing the numbers. “Strangely enough, I started recognizing names in there. There were people I knew in my age group,” says Hemel, who is in his early 40s. “Working in nonprofit, we know our average age group for our members is closer to 70 than to 40,” he says. Noticing members of his cohort prompted Hemel and his team to dig into the analytics of the list.

The results surprised them, prompting a further exploration of the demographics of Passport-activated members. Based on more than 13,000 activations between December 15, 2015, and June 30, 2016, here’s what WETA found:

Passport members are younger than other members.

The average age of activated members is 61, with non-activated members averaging 69. The percentage of activated members increases as the age category drops. “When we looked at age when they had their first gift date, based on when they activated Passport, we saw a much younger age group,” Hemel says. Those making their first gift to the station online through pbs.org or weta.org to get Passport averaged 47 years old.  By contrast, those who made their first gift and activated Passport through on-air pledge drive averaged58 years old.  WETA members who gave their first gift before Passport launch and subsequently activated Passport were a mature 64 years old. “People were going online and they were 11 years younger than the new on-air pledge drive Passport donors and a whopping 22 years younger than our non-activated members.”

New Member Activations with Age of Member
New Member Activations with Age of Member
Activations By Age First Gift Prior to Launch
Activations By Age First Gift Prior to Launch


Though age matters, other demographics don’t.

Women were slightly more likely to use Passport than men, but “it didn’t make much difference compared to when you looked at our demographics as a whole,” explains Hemel. Just like gender didn’t matter, neither did net worth or time on file—unless their first gift occurred after the Passport launch. In this case, 33 percent of members’ first gifts were due to the on-demand service.

Passport raised the average gift and response for lapsed members.

Across four acquisition/lapsed direct response mail efforts, the response rate was slightly down for acquisition but up for lapsed members, with an overall average gift that was higher than expected. “We’re seeing people who’ve been lapsed and then come and activated [Passport],” says Hemel. “They weren’t currently supporting but have come back because of the Passport offer. Reactivation of lapsed members is key to ensuring a strong fundraising program.”

When Passport is promoted, activations spike.

For instance, the Roku streaming media player wasn’t supported by Passport at the initial launch. When it was added to the app over the summer—and that news was shared via an email promotion to active eligible members—activations spiked. “As the tool becomes more available on platforms, we’ve done a push each time,” Hemel says. “That’s helped us get more activations.  Likewise, whenever we do an email promotion with new news around Passport, we see a spike in activations”

These demographic findings have led WETA to change a few of their usual strategies. They’ll be doing direct mail testing for lapsed and prospective members with a test-specific message designed for younger audiences. “We’re also thinking about messaging on-air during pledge breaks,” says Hemel. Most marketing has revolved around Passport programming, but the station is considering an explanatory “how-to” approach that might appeal to older, unactivated members. “Are we better with two kinds of messaging regarding Passport? We’ve seen some spots from other stations that tell how to get there. We get a fair amount of call-ins from people on how to activate, so we think we might need a little more around that [approach].”

WETA now realizes that the variety of groups might require multichannel strategies to get them to activate Passport, from standard direct mail and pledge drives to digital acquisition for younger demographics. What about your station? Have you seen any surprises in your Passport demographics?

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