May 25, 2020


Cities and towns across the country are beginning to open back up, and we are entering a new phase of COVID-19 recovery, to varying degrees. For public media underwriting, this next phase brings evolving market factors – and opportunities – to which sales teams must adjust. Here’s a quick update on what Greater Public is hearing from station sales professionals across the country as they continue efforts to sustain sponsorship revenue in the months to come.

Business Categories

  • Home Services: stations are seeing some uptick in categories like home improvement, landscaping, gardening and specialty services (i.e. gutters, lawn treatment), given the attention consumers are now giving to home and garden as they spend more time at home.
  • Professional Services: with many companies now supporting a virtual workforce, cyber security firms are emerging as prospects.
  • Political: regardless of economic recovery scenarios, many agree that political advertising is coming back, and likely in a big way given the current climate and the limited in-person campaigning taking place. As it does in any other presidential election year, this will put pressure on commercial inventory in ways that can play in our favor. Public media may be able to leverage traditional advertisers getting bumped from commercial stations, or those wanting to escape the political clutter, to help make up some lost revenue. (Also, consider this refresher about underwriting with candidates, campaigns and PACs.)

  • Education: there may be emerging opportunities in this category given some of the significant disruption to the admissions process many institutions are grappling with. Consider that:
    • There will likely be no international students.
    • Students are opting to stay closer to home; a drive away instead of a flight away. Some may not be going back, instead opting for schools closer to home. Some may opt out completely until things go back to normal.
    • Schools that are 100% online will really need to differentiate from those going back to in-person classes (even if in-person will be in a limited capacity).
    • Some higher-ed organizations that had existing online programs pre-COVID may double down to differentiate themselves.
    • Google search tip: type in “Universities located in [your market]”. This returns a list with filters to apply about programs offered at each institution. This may give you some non-traditional prospects as a sort of “sub-category.”
  • Healthcare: there is significant disruption in this category, which will likely impact marketing decisions. Consider that: 
    • Telemedicine is on the rise, and will likely become mainstream.
    • Medical research funding is going to COVID-19, while other health research may be on pause. This may impact fundraising messaging from these institutions.
    • There are reports of consumers opting out of hospital visits for ailments/illnesses for which they should be seeking treatment.  Hospitals don’t want this.
    • Elective surgeries – a primary source of revenue for hospitals – is coming back slowly.
  • Performing Arts: most agree this category will be the slowest to come back. It’s variable by market and can be complicated by even more uncertainty for touring artists/shows, which represent a good amount of entertainment sponsorship for some stations. Touring artists are facing the prospect of navigating different guidelines for each city/venue they visit.

National: Finally, consider the increased importance of local messaging for some of the traditional national advertisers. National advertisers haven’t really needed to do this before in the same way that they do now, and research supports the fact that more brands and companies are pivoting to mission-based and cause-related messaging in the wake of COVID-19.

IAS_PivotGraphic courtesy Market Enginuity’s “We’re Built for This” campaign

Audience Loss

The Worrying

Many stations report concern about the loss of ratings during drive-time, and its corresponding impact on revenue, given the work-from-home situation. There is also worry about audiences coming back at the same kind of volume that existed pre COVID-19. Even with many businesses opening back up for employees to return, there will likely be a significant percentage of workers continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future. 

The Promising

At the same time, markets continue to see a surge in digital. One station reported seeing a ranking increase even as ratings went down. So there may be a good “share” story there for other markets as well. Mindshare is also conducting regular research into Americans’ media attention span, and the latest numbers show how usage across most media is starting to decline the further we get into the pandemic. The exceptions are radio and podcasting, which are growing (along with listening to music, playing video games, and watching live TV). Here’s the latest graphic as of 4/24/20:


Graphic courtesy Mindshare

FY21 Budget Planning

The FY21 budget process is a work in progress for everyone. Specific market factors (e.g. how is the local government handling it?), the election, and the possibility of a second COVID-19 wave in the fall make budgets hard to predict. 

The following is pretty representative of how sales teams are planning at this stage. 

FY21 overall looking something like:

    • Worse case: down 30%
    • Probable case: down 20%
    • Best case: down 10%

Some stations are budgeting by quarter, establishing drivers for each quarter as it relates to those business categories which ordinarily account for the majority of revenue for the station. For performing arts for example, one station is starting out with the assumption that the category will be 75% down for the first two quarters, and then 50% down for third quarter and 25% down for fourth quarter, to account for a phased return to normal in that category. Other categories may shake out differently.