September 13, 2022

The history of public media working with advertising firms could be described as “rocky” at best. It can also be a “love/hate” relationship depending on whether your station is getting or not getting any radio or digital buys from local, regional or national advertising firms. But, the fact remains that many of us in public media may not work on our local and regional advertising firms with the same cultivation that we give our local clients.  That’s OK, but what if we gave advertising firms in our market more attention, love and time to educate them on what we have to offer?

What if we actually cultivated them?

Advertising firms generally work with larger clients that have good advertising budgets. These are good clients to have in your list along with your direct clients and they can bill substantially more revenue. More revenue? Yes, please!

Here are five ways to win more from your local and regional advertising firms. If you are working with some national advertising firms, these ideas may work with them, too.  

1. Start with a good process.

First, call the highest person in the account you want on the air: the president, CEO or VP of communications. Have a chat with that person about your station. If you’re lucky, they are a listener.

Tell them why you think they would benefit from being a sponsor. And don’t forget to mention reaching listeners on smart speakers.

When they inevitably tell you that you’ll need to talk to the marketing director, Ask them if they would forward your email to them. The marketing director will definitely talk to you if your email comes from the CEO.

Next, pitch why the company would benefit from sponsoring your station. At this point the marketing director may tell you that they have an advertising firm that handles everything. Ask them who handles their account at this advertising firm or who is their planner. This creates the opportunity to warm up the account decision-makers before talking to the account’s advertising firm. When the account forwards your information to the advertising firm, the firm is more likely to listen to you as well.

It can also be a good idea to see if your own station’s marketing folks know anyone in the firm; people move around and stay connected through LinkedIn. Having a good process is key to success.

2. Ask questions that will help you be strategic.

When you call or contact the advertising firm and the account’s advertising account manager or planner, ask what they are focusing on for the account. Q4? Any particular creative talking points or initiatives? What’s important in the account’s upcoming campaign? The more you know, the more strategic you can be.

3. Have a relevant sponsorship idea.

Pick one or two things that are relevant and would be helpful to the account to sponsor. One relevant sponsorship idea is good. For instance, talk about reaching listeners on smart speakers or a podcast you have that is relevant to healthcare, or a sponsorship of Marketplace programming if they are a financial manager or institution. Then, pitch this to the advertising firm with your reasons why it would be a great addition to the account’s media plan. What are public media’s strongest selling points? Added REACH and lack of duplication.

4. Immediately position the possibilities.

Counter their “we can’t use our creative on public media” objection right from the start when you pitch them your sponsorship idea. Say things like “I looked at some of the account’s digital ads online (or billboard) and we can use all of that wording.” Tell them that you will make it easy to work with your station. Suggest that if they send you the “canned” radio spot they made for the client, you will listen to it and pull out all the wording you can so it will coordinate on public radio. Tell them you will send them the customized message so they can review and see what they think. They will love this, because they don’t want extra work or to have to figure out what they can and can’t say on your public media station. Make it easy to work with you.

5. Cultivate the relationship.

Don’t forget to treat agency buyers and contacts like a client. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Connect with them on Twitter.

Take them Thanksgiving treats, or write them a thank-you note, or offer to bring bagels or muffins in the morning for a “Breakfast and Learn” so you can tell them about your new sponsorship options, i.e. digital ads, podcasts, email or newsletter sponsorship options. 

Make it a fun capabilities presentation. This is one of the best agency presentations I’ve seen lately, by Suzanne Bond at Nashville Public Radio.

Also, don’t forget Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. This is a presentation that NPM is using to show agencies the great value of using NPR.

Don’t forget that agencies have a lot of turnover. Make sure you cultivate them regularly and be prepared to show them every year what you offer and how it works. Many of their new buyers are clueless about public radio and TV. They will become a good agency partner for you if you give them your attention. Don’t forget to add them to your sponsorship email lists. It will help you stand out from commercial radio and TV and win more business from agencies.