Content First, Branding Second, Platform Last
In the end though, the technology will fade into the background, as it should, and content will dictate whether the technology platform is a useful means for delivering public radio’s public service.
The idea that “content is king" is certainly not new. But people tend to forget it when they make statements such as, “public radio will reach younger listeners with this new technology.”
Technology can't change demographics. It might change who's available to listen to a program or feature but it will not change who will like it.
No matter which platform public radio uses to deliver its content, the nature of the audience will always be shaped by the editorial and social values embodied in that content. Programming that appeals to well educated, societally conscious individuals isn’t going change in its appeal and attract individuals who are less educated and driven largely by personal wealth goals just because it is now in the form of a podcast.
Technology can increase the reach and frequency with which public radio content is exposed to potential listeners. This is where branding comes in.
Once limited to radio frequencies, the public radio brand must now be portable. It has to mean something good in the context of iTunes, search engines, and blast e-mails. It has to create the desire to click your link over all the other available choices.
This is easy if you’re NPR, but what is the brand of a typical public radio station? What does it represent? If I’m a consumer, what do I know about you before I click the link? Why is that important to me?
Public radio has to work these things out. I do think that NPR is on the right track with the idea of Trusted Space. In a much more competitive media environment, our strong editorial processes and how our funding mandates accountability to listeners will matter.
They will matter more than being non-commercial because, in case you haven’t noticed, many of our commercial competitors use underwriting-like announcements in their web content. On-line, our underwriting looks and sounds a lot like their advertising.
The integrity of the content is the foundation of the public radio brand. This is something the industry should work on promoting collectively.
Individual stations and producers will still want to further develop their own brands based on their specialized content, but all of public radio would benefit from a coordinated strategy to communicate that public radio is different, and better, because of how editorial decisions are made and how it is funded.