August 25, 2020


Once upon a time, early in FY20, many public radio stations were enjoying their best corporate revenue year ever. They needed more inventory to sell to keep up with demand, and to grow and diversify their corporate revenue and corresponding client and prospect lists.

Then, along came impeachment. 

Midway through FY20, the impeachment hearings were upon us, and with many sponsorship messages preempted for live coverage, stations struggled to make good on their existing and prospective sales. They needed more digital and off-air inventory to sell!

Suddenly, everything changed. 

Then, as the last quarter of FY20 approached, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted corporate support operations as never before. In an instant we were back to having more inventory to sell than we knew what to do with. We were forced to think creatively about tactics to keep sponsors engaged and on-the-air as listening shifted and the economy tanked, all the while thinking about new ways to support the small local businesses suffering the most in our respective communities. Stations couldn’t imagine they needed new inventory to sell!

But they did.

Now the need was for different kinds of inventory: sponsorship products which could help stations leverage their surge in digital traffic and bring local businesses into the fold in new, affordable ways. They did need new inventory to sell!

What better time for experimentation?

And that’s what many stations did: devise new products and packages that generated new lower-level leads and served long-time big-ticket sponsors. From social media listings to trivia quizzes, to virtual events, statewide news sales and video shorts, station sales teams across the system have stepped up to the challenge.  Learn more about some examples and experiences here and here.

Fail Fast and Move Forward

As you think about new ways to engage your underwriters, considers the “principles for innovation” shared by WBUR’s BizLab during the PMDMC Summer Series, which apply both in good times and in the more challenging:

  • Always start by getting to know your customer.
  • Run targeted experiments, small enough to allow multiple tests.
  • Be bold, fail fast, learn, and iterate.
  • After experimenting, pitch the concept, with data, to gain support for continuing.

You innovation as you identify, test, and launch new sponsorship products for your clients will be key to your success in these absurdly fast-changing times.