May 13, 2021


Greater Public CEO Joyce MacDonald recently sat down again with Paul Jacobs, VP/General Manager of Jacobs Media, for the third in a series of conversations about disruptions to the public media corporate support landscape (go back and read Part 1 and Part 2). The discussion was designed to take stock of where we are a little over a year into the pandemic and to offer advice for sales teams working towards recovery:

First the good news: things are better than they were this time last year …

But, to state the obvious: they are still messy!

Here are a few tips from the conversation to help you continue to navigate through the uncertainty, keeping this guiding principle top-of-mind:

Just because things are beginning to resemble “normal” life, we are not going back to the way things were. If you are looking at 2021 through a 2019 lens, you are in trouble. 


Digital Acceleration

The shift to digital marketing that was taking place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic is now accelerating. This is primarily because many local companies had to learn digital as a survival tactic to literally keep their businesses open during lockdown. In doing so, here’s what they learned:

  • Digital marketing is not as hard as they thought, in fact it is pretty easy.
  • Digital marketing offers direct communication with customers, which they like.
  • Digital marketing makes tracking and testing possible, which allows for flexibility of messaging and spend in an uncertain business environment. Again, something they like.

As a result, they will continue using digital moving forward.

What does this mean for public media? 

  • Shift in marketing mix: Budgets will not return to the same structure as before the pandemic. Digital marketing is here to stay, in some cases at the expense of broadcast.
  • The public media Halo Effect may (temporarily?) be less important
    The emphasis on digital may also mean that our beloved Halo Effect, which consistently allows public media to differentiate our value, may not be enough of a value proposition now for many of our clients.That’s not to say the Halo Effect no longer delivers benefits. Its benefits have stayed the same: The goodwill public radio shares with its listeners is transferred to the sponsor via association and drives purchase preference and positive perception as a result. But the needs of the advertiser have changed.
    Long-time local sponsors have an urgency to their marketing right now. Image and brand lift are nice, but they aren’t necessarily going to help businesses make payroll.  So we must think differently about communicating our value in response to those needs.
  • The term “digital” is not helpful.
    It’s not about the value of digital, it’s about the value of our audience. So if our sponsors want to use the digital platform to reach our audience right now, fine. Give them what they want, and then work to highlight other platforms that can be used to reach them too. Sponsors should be everywhere our audiences are. So, let’s get away from using the word digital. It will feel just as dated in 10 years as does talking about radio right now. It’s about the content and the audience who engages with it, regardless of platform. We are not in the platform business. We are in the content business.

So what should we do? Here are a few practical ideas:

  • Conduct research with current clients to learn more about their marketing decisions and needs at this point in time.
  • Lead with audience not ratings. It is less about how many listeners you have than it is about who they are.  Don’t play on the same playing field as the commercial stations. Why would you want to be equated to them when we are better?
  • Get your baseline digital sponsorship opportunities up to speed, i.e. mobile, web, e-news, streaming. This means that you also need to take care to…
  • Ensure your backend is working as it should. If audiences can’t easily access your stream, stop streaming until you fix it.
  • Develop new sponsorship products. Create content opportunities around which you can sell sponsorship across platforms. Repackage existing content to distribute – and sell – in new ways (i.e. think NY Times and the NY Times digital crossword subscription).
  • Keep an eye on emerging technologies, like voice response in pre-roll for example, that will offer unique opportunities for sponsors to reach and engage with our audiences, and adjust/tailor messaging accordingly for more efficient results.
  • Consider new business models where it makes sense for public radio, but make sure you’re not creating solutions for problems that don’t exist in the first place. For example, does the new NPR podcast subscription make sense? Is the ability to skip “ads” on public radio podcasts really solving an actual problem, or is it a square peg in a round hole compared to commercial podcasts?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in the podcasting basket. Podcasting is trendy and thus a viable marketing asset, but it is incredibly hard to make money around local podcasts. Instead, look for ways to layer on additional impressions to create multi-platform sponsorship packages that include a podcast, the mobile app, the website, streaming, and broadcast ,etc. Bundle impressions to generate more dollars and deliver a better impact for the sponsor.