Thursday, July 30, 2009

Everybody But NPR...

Just about everybody in public radio but NPR is raising money directly from listeners.

PRI is doing it. So is American Public Media. Independent producers are doing it. Stations that produce national programming are doing it, including a few that are adamant that NPR should stay out of their markets when it comes to raising money from listeners.

Some of these national appeals are a straight request to donate to a production such as The Splendid Table or The Kitchen Sisters or Marketplace. PRI takes contributions from listeners at its website and occasionally asks them to give there during PRI underwriting credits.

Some appeals are for money to cover new media costs. This American Life has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars using new media – emails, Facebook, and spots at the top of podcasts -- to support its podcasting service.

Good for them.

Public radio can only benefit from finding more ways to solicit listener contributions, including NPR asking for money directly from listeners. The business model, how NPR charges stations for programming, has to change to make this work. But it can be done and everyone can benefit.

This is not a popular position with stations but stay with this, please.

NPR Can Help Get Lapsed Donors Back

Public radio’s annual donor retention rate is only 60%. Put another way, the current approach to fundraising fails to retain 4 out of 10 givers each year. That’s 1,000,000 givers per year.

At an average annual gift of $80, public radio stations are failing to renew $80,000,000 in support annually. The number could be even higher when lost additional gifts are factored into the equation.

With direct fundraising NPR could help keep as much as 25% of that money in the system each year, with most of the money going back to stations along with the names of the renewing donors.

Remember, these are donors who did not to renew despite 4 to 10 direct mail letters from the station, maybe a telemarketing call, email appeals, and hearing numerous fund drives. This is found money.

NPR Can Help Get Additional Gifts

Research shows that public radio givers will support multiple stations in a market, provided they listen to and value both stations. Listeners who give to more than one station typically will give equal amounts to each station. They don’t want to hurt one to help the other. It’s one of the benefits of having a societally-conscious audience.

That behavior will play out nationally too. Many people who give to stations will gladly give to NPR without reducing their support to their station. If just one percent of NPR’s weekly Cume makes a contribution of $80 to NPR annually, in the form of an additional gift to public radio, then the industry has $24,000,000 million dollars in new gross revenues.

Yes, some givers, but not many, will choose to only give to NPR, but there are ways to compensate stations for that money and to help stations get even more donors.

NPR Can Help Stations Acquire New Donors

This is the obvious approach. NPR can leverage its brand and economies of scale to conduct direct mail and email acquisition campaigns. What seems cost-prohibitive to many local stations is very affordable on a national level. All that’s needed is a model for making sure that all boats rise together.

And that’s the crux of the matter. Public radio has the wrong discussion when it talks about who should be asking for money. That’s a no-brainer. Everyone who can ask efficiently and effectively should be asking. This American Life is proof of the power in national fundraising.

The harder part is figuring out how the network and stations work together to share in the growth. That requires new business models and trust and the new business models are actually pretty easy. It’s just math.

Trust will only come through experience. That’s why the industry must move forward with some experiments now. Any one of the above suggestions will do. Success for all will breed trust. Nothing less will.

Until then, public radio is muffling its single most powerful fundraising voice at a time when it is getting harder to be heard. There’s no sense in that.


Note: The This American Life national fundraising effort was through the program's producing station, WBEZ, not it's network, PRI. All contributions were to WBEZ.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Grow the Audience:Defining Inclusiveness

In 1997, NPR published a major report, funded by CPB, on reaching more Black listeners with public radio. Twelve years later the industry is still trying to figure out how to do that.

One of the top goals of the CPB-funded Grow the Audience project is Inclusiveness. In public radio, that means achieving greater ethnic diversity.

It's been pointed out that targeting an audience by physical characteristics is an odd thing to do given that public radio is an industry focused on the mind. Yet that's pretty much a requirement that goes with receiving federal dollars. The problem, of course, is that physical characteristics say nothing about what people will find interesting to listen to on the radio.

The Grow the Audience project tries to address this by adding the demographic filter of college education to the ethnic demographics since education is a strong predictor of whether someone listens to public radio. That filter, however strong it is, is not a useful as it might appear.

Three decades ago, when researchers first learned that level of education was a power indicator of public radio listening, far fewer Blacks and Hispanics had college degrees. The educated "market" was predominately White and full of baby boomers coming of age.

The college educated population is very different today. It is not only more ethnically diverse, it is also more culturally diverse. This is quite evident when analyzing the educated population, particularly in large markets, using research tools like Scarborough or MRI.

College educated Black, Hispanic, and White consumers make very different media choices. They hold a different mix of jobs. Their political-affiliation profiles are different.

It is a mistake to assume that ethnicity, even filtered with level of education, is a sufficient starting point for reaching the goal of Inclusiveness. Those two demographic characteristics are not precise enough research tools in an increasingly complex media marketplace.

The listener's mind matters more.

If public radio is to become more inclusive it is going to have to address the issue of cultural diversity in its programming and management, locally and nationally. Inclusiveness must be defined by personal, social, and political interests and values.

Do that right and the ethnic audience numbers will fall into place. Stay the current course and twelve years from now Grow the Audience will look like just another failed academic exercise.

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Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Best of Public Radio: The Lighter Side

A funny fundraising show hosted by two news guys?

You bet.

The second installment in the Best of Public Radio fundraising series will be available this month and its hosted by All Things Considered host Robert Siegel and NPR Justice correspondent Ari Shapiro.

The Best of Public Radio is a turn-key on-air fundraising special for public radio stations. It requires very little effort on their part to broadcast the show and raise money from listeners.
The program features the humorous side of public radio including segments from Car Talk, A Prairie Home Companion, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, This American Life, and Whad Ya Know.

Unlike last December's inaugural program, this Best of Public Radio show goes beyond web pledging and includes a toll-free number to provide listeners with more ways to give. Station results are expected to increase up to 300% for the same investment they made in December.

Stations can use The Best of Public Radio as a stand-alone special, as part of their fall fund drives, or both. This project is part of a collaboration among NPR, PRI, APM, DEI, Public Interactive, John Sutton & Associates, and Jay Clayton.

More details are coming in the next few days. If you have questions, please write or find John Sutton, Jay Clayton, or Sonja Lee at the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in San Diego.

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