Not Business as Usual, and We Are Not Alone
May 12, 2023 by Joyce MacDonald
After their first conversation about disruptions to the public media corporate support landscape due to COVID-19, Greater Public CEO Joyce MacDonald sat down again with Paul Jacobs, VP/General Manager of Jacobs Media to learn about his best advice as we move into the new year.
The roller coaster of a year has continued for businesses, consumers, and media companies alike. Last fall brought more uncertainty with colder weather, a rise in COVID cases and more restrictions. At the same time, the promise of a vaccine is a bright light taking us into 2021, and there is hope that by Q2 business and marketing may start to come back to an operational “normal” (although things will never be as they were).
Consider these trends and their long-term impacts, which are still unknown:
First the good news: Our content and mission have never been more important. News is front and center, and music is a much-needed escape. Amid the chaos of COVID and an election year, people are craving a calm and predictable environment. That type of environment defines public radio. We offer what people want and we can position public media to meet the moment.
That said, for the businesses that support us, especially for retail and events-oriented companies, the picture is bleaker. The premise of the traditional business model has changed from “come in” to “go online.” The explosion of e-commerce is here to stay and if local businesses can’t compete digitally they are at a disadvantage. And when business is bad, businesses spend less, and the value proposition for public media sponsorship becomes harder to articulate.
Embrace the disruption, and … pivot. There has been a ton of change for consumers, businesses, and media companies in a relatively short period of time. And so we have to change the way we talk about our value. How can we provide a different solution set to our clients that helps them navigate the disruption? What can we do differently to help them? Consider these ideas:
Continue to lead with our audience; the size, loyalty, and quality of our audience continues to be unmatched. Present access to our audience; it continues to be a valuable differentiator for public media, as does our brand and alignment with the local community.
At the same time, understand that radio is not a growth platform. We need to be in the platform business, not the radio business. When we can move our audience to other platforms in addition to radio, suddenly our value is more, our revenue potential is more, and our business model is much more likely to sustain over time on our terms. Speaking of …
One of the more challenging aspects of public media in the current environment is our lack of “new.” From a sales and content perspective, we need new products to sell and around which we can meaningfully engage our audiences and corporate partners. The digital space opens doors to be able to do this, and we need to double-down on digital and think differently about the way we leverage our own talent and package and promote our content.
Consider MSNBC, for example. MSNBC has totally reinvented the way they think about their talent and their products. Chuck Todd is not just the host of the longest-running weekly broadcast news program; he now also hosts a daily cable show and a podcast. Chris Hayes hosts not only a nightly cable news show, but, pre-COVID, had added events to his portfolio. Rachel Maddow is an author and a podcast creator in addition to her nightly show. The network worked with talent to reimagine their roles, and to create new products around them. They then brought in the sales team to generate revenue. What is the public media version of this? The focus must be local. In 2-5 years, we may be the only true local media companies left. And local matters to our audience, community partners, and particularly to younger, Millennial consumers. Obviously this is a big-picture conversation and one that must involve management, content, digital and sales teams.
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