Innovative Underwriting Ideas Being Used by Stations During COVID-19

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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Stations and the businesses that support them are moving into a new phase of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. These are some ideas that are gaining traction for underwriting, as shared in recent Zoom roundtable calls with station cohort groups.

Client Stewardship

  • Conduct short Zoom calls with your top two clients to say thank you. These don’t have to be more than 15 minutes. Ask your GM and the station underwriting rep to join you, and invite the CEO and marketing manager from the client side as well. This is a great vehicle for client stewardship and can keep top clients feeling special and engaged. 

  • Ask your board members to reach out to top clients to thank them for their support. This can be done by phone, email, or Zoom. One station shared that this worked extremely well in the case of one accounting firm. The thank-you call did not involve an ask, and this went a long way for said firm, which had been receiving a lot of extra requests during the pandemic.

Content Marketing 

  • Consider conducting professional development seminars via Zoom and inviting current and prospective clients to attend. One station sales manager worked with the station’s VP of news to recruit a guest speaker from a local university to talk about business recovery. They offered the seminar as a virtual Zoom event to their list of current and prospective clients. Fifty businesses RSVP'ed and about half of them showed up for the call, which was offered at 8:30 a.m. Almost all attendees stayed the full hour. The underwriting rep opened and closed the call, and worked in some soft-sell language about the value of underwriting on the station. The station recorded the call and made the link available to attendees and others. The archived recording also offers opportunities for additional client touch-points as an exclusive content marketing tool. The station is planning another session in the near future, most likely around digital marketing. This strategy has worked well as a cultivation and engagement tool for new and current clients. 

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Public Media Audiences

  • Leverage social media platforms to post content that can engage current and prospective clients. One station is writing and posting client-facing articles about the station and advertising trends in general, and posting them on LinkedIn where prospects and current clients can see and share the content. This has worked well to amplify the value of public radio underwriting and generate some leads. 

  • Get in the car and drive to your new and long-standing underwriters to take a picture of their business (from the appropriate distance). Post a picture of the business on Facebook or other social channels and thank them for their support. One station said this worked really well for clients as the pictures generated many shares and likes. In one case, a local nursery new to the station increased their business so much that they now have a waiting list. This approach has the added advantage of amplifying community businesses without some of the copy considerations that come with traditional underwriting mentions on social and digital platforms. 

Board Member Sponsorship

  • Your board members care about the local economy and want local businesses to survive. One station shared that a board member is fronting a $1,000 underwriting campaign on behalf of selected local restaurants in danger of closing, in order to build business for these local restaurants without these businesses having to invest marketing dollars themselves. When you think of your board and your corporate supporters, what local businesses make sense for this kind of program?

Categories and Discounted Packages

  • Each phase of reopening brings with it certain business categories to focus on. We’ve evolved from essential businesses to home improvement, gardening, commercial cleaning, financial, and HVAC services as people spend more time at home. The next phase has brought in retail and professional services as businesses begin to reopen. 

    Many stations initially offered discount packages aimed at existing underwriters to keep them on the air, and then evolved toward “back-to-business” packages to re-engage lapsed underwriters, and special midday rotation packages to leverage the surge in midday listening seen by many stations as a result of work-from-home. There is also the potential impact of political advertising on the horizon, and the uncluttered alternative public radio offers marketers during an election year.  

Virtual Archived Event Sponsorship 

  • Consider working with music partners and sponsors to package and offer virtual musical festivals on behalf of presenters who have cancelled for the summer. Several classical and AAA stations have had success packaging virtual festivals built from a mix of archived recordings and new virtual recordings. These are being offered to existing clients who are expanding their support as a result. There are rich opportunities to work with partners to recreate summer festivals online and solicit funding, as well as to think creatively about niche audience packages. For example, one station created a Pride package for sponsors in the month of June. Others created packages around Father's Day and July 4th. 

Unused Event Sponsorship Dollars

  • Companies have unused event sponsorship money in their budgets from seasonal, now-cancelled events that could be tapped by public radio. Review sponsor lists from local music festivals from last year, and assume many of these companies planned to sponsor live music events this year. The best sources for information are community relations and communication directors of companies. 

Connecting Members and Local Businesses to Support Local Artists

  • Consider opportunities to leverage donor support to benefit your underwriters. Your listeners and donors want you and the local businesses that support your mission to survive the pandemic. One AAA station asked local recording studios to donate studio time so that the station’s members could vote on which local band should get the free recording studio time. This was a way to feature local artists during a time when many are out of work while engaging donors as well.

What’s working for you? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below. 

Public Media Audiences

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