Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Marketers: Save Public Media – and Build Your Brand, Too!

So are you underwriting any podcasts or programs on your local public media outlet yet? If not, you're missing some great opportunities to do well while doing good.

My wife works for Community Action Partnership of Sonoma County, one of the many charitable agencies facing possibly significant cuts in federal funding. (President Obama specifically mentioned the Community Action Partnership network, started by President Lyndon Johnson as part of his "war on poverty, as one of the programs it would pain Obama to cut.) The Sonoma County CAP agency hosts the local edition of the annual LunaFest fund- and consciousness-raising festival of short films by, for and about women. Funds are shared between the Breast Cancer Fund and local charities chosen by the local hosts. For LunaFest Wine Country, the local beneficiary in 2010 was Sonoma County's Sloan House Women's Shelter.

As in past years, my wife's agency surrounded the showcase of films with auctions of locally produced goodies, VIP events and tickets, and other trappings typical of such charity events.

All well and good. Except that pre-event ticket sales weren't that great in recent years.

At around the same time pre-event publicity was gearing up for the 2010 edition of LunaFest Wine Country, KRCB-FM, my local public radio station, was having a pledge drive. The team there had previously come up with an "Activist" membership level – $200 for a year, payable monthly via credit or debit card. It buys you membership and attendant goodies, AND a professionally recorded and produced public service announcement, broadcast 10 times during morning and evening drive time.

(Morning and evening commute hours are when radio listener levels tends to be highest, for those of you too young or otherwise distracted to understand how radio works, to paraphrase Firesign Theater's "Nick Danger, Third Eye," itself stellar radio theater. You're welcome.)

But all of the announcements I'd heard ended with wording along the lines of "This announcement is brought to you by a KRCB listener." So I asked if I could have an announcement about LunaFest Wine Country recorded, produced and broadcast, ending with something like "This announcement is brought to you by KRCB member DortchOnIT.com."

And the fine folks at KRCB-FM said "Yes." And they did it. They also mentioned the ticket sales Web page I built for the event at BrownPaperTickets.com, a "fair trade ticketing company" I first heard of on KRCB-FM. The station also invited the event organizer and the host of our VIP event to appear on two other locally produced programs, adding to the reach of my 10 "Activist" spots.

And LunaFest Wine Country pre-event ticket sales were better than they'd been in years. And I got some great local publicity that I'm in the process of turning into business and additional charitable opportunities. And all in all, it was probably the best money I have ever spent and perhaps will ever spend on marketing myself, given the combination of business publicity and good will.

Right now, even as I type this, public media funding from the federal government is in danger of being completely eliminated. If your local stations are anything like mine, which basically run on shoestring budgets, this could mean a sudden reduction in funding of anywhere between 25 and more than 45 percent, according to published reports.

Are you working? Imagine if your income were suddenly reduced by 25 percent to 45 percent. If you're paid weekly, this would mean between one and two out of every four paychecks, gone. You'd probably have to make some pretty serious budget cuts and some pretty hard choices. That's what public radio and television stations across the country are contemplating right now.

(Even if your local stations are pretty flush, their abilities to produce local content could take a serious hit. As could their incentive to produce investigative programming that questions or challenges the federal government and/or corporations that are or could become major donors. And besides, I think you might appreciate living in a country governed by people who see real value in helping to fund the sharing of culture, fact-based news reporting and local events and organizations. But maybe that's just me.)

Anyway, there's a local public radio or television station near you right now, trying to deliver value to its constituents while fighting for funding every day. And the people who consume the content those stations deliver are likely customers or prospects you're already pursuing…or should be. And public media underwriting opportunities are numerous, affordable, locally targeted and highly appreciated.

So tune into your local public media outlet(s) if you don't already. Find a podcast to sponsor, or a program to underwrite (and/or to appear upon). Take out an ad in the station's program guide, in print or online. Your brand will benefit, and you'll feel better. (And if you need more specific guidance or advice to pursue these opportunities, I know a guy who'd be glad to offer you a complementary initial consultation...)

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