Thursday, April 26, 2007

Where Can We Get More Feet?

Commenting on yesterday's post about public radio shooting itself in the foot, a colleague suggested that public radio's solution will be to ask, "Where can we get more feet?"

Yet another colleague asked if I was feeling cranky. No, not really.

At issue is the high volume of fundamental mistakes cropping up at stations across the country. They include:

  • Stations replacing strong programs with weaker ones for "political and diplomatic reasons." Sometimes strong programs are dropped in favor of weaker programs that can get short-term foundation dollars.
  • Stations dropping almost all on-air promotion to accommodate more underwriting instead of raising underwriting rates.
  • Stations having outside firms redesign their websites without fundraising staff involvement, resulting in up to 50% reductions in web pledges during fund drives.
  • Stations cutting direct mail budgets to save money, even though every dollar spent on direct mail is returning five to ten dollars in net revenue.
  • Stations increasing spending on non-programming, non-fundraising activities at a rate faster than audience or fundraising growth.
The mistakes are bad enough. They are made worse when sagging audience, missed fundraising goals, and slow revenue growth are blamed on listeners, underwriters, donors, and imaginary competition. It's as though the default assumption is that the station had a great plan that was executed to perfection only to be foiled by some outside circumstance.

A friend in commercial radio sales once put it this way:

"If you miss your sales quota in commercial radio three quarters in a row, a fire breathing dragon comes into your office, chars your to a crisp, gobbles you up, and poops you into the dumpster out back. Miss your sales quota three quarters in a row in public radio and you get a federal grant and three years to study the problem."

Public radio's future audience and revenue growth is under its own control. We know what we need to do to succeed. The industry just has to refrain from administering self-inflicted wounds.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ready, Fire, Aim!

Perhaps the reason public radio's growth has slowed to a crawl is because the industry is constantly shooting itself in the foot.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

National Campfires and Audience Diversity

The reign of personal media technology is putting out the national media campfires. Instead of getting our news from a few sources such as the big three networks, we are all now getting the same news but from many, many different sources.

No news in that, really. But it is an essential point as public radio struggles with audience diversity issues.

If it was folly 15 or 20 years ago to talk about an individual station or network program diversifying its broadcast audience, it is an even greater mistake today. There are too many media choices. Pulling current listeners, let alone new ones, to the same source at the same time is becoming increasingly difficult.

This was especially apparent with the Don Imus and Virginia Tech shooting stories. If you survey the people you know, chances are very good that they tracked these stories differently than you did. There might be a little crossover in news sources and channels, but they probably got their information from a largely different set of web sites and cable networks in addition to NPR.

This speaks to public radio’s need to think about serving diverse audiences, not diversifying its audience. It’s an important distinction. The idea of a truly “national audience,” people hearing the same thing at the same time, is fading away.

The goal now is to reach different people across different channels at different times with ideas and content that still has the power to bind those individuals into a community. It’s a tremendous new opportunity to achieve public radio’s audience diversity goals. Those goals can only be met if we remember that the challenge is not about technology and backroom operations but what we choose to communicate for the public good.

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