Life moves pretty fast in the world of public radio sales. But one thing remains constant: public radio still has a strong value proposition! This was the spirit of a discussion at the 2018 PMDMC, titled "The New Realities of Public Radio Sales." Marlene Schneider of Enginuity Workshop facilitated a conversation with Bryan Moffett of National Public Media and Millie Adan-Garza from Houston Public Media (HPM), as well as an audience workshop, to explore what we're facing nationally and locally in public radio sales.
What are marketers' challenges these days? (Hint: many of the same things that challenge us!)
Limited Time and Resources
Many potential sponsors are experiencing shrinking marketing budgets. Some stations commented that they had simply let a few of their smaller clients go to focus on prospecting for clients who can afford to spend enough money to actually generate results. Stations are looking beyond marketing budgets toward PR or corporate responsibility to find money. Others are inquiring about which other media a prospect is using in order to determine if they are duplicating efforts, which could free up dollars.
The most effective way to connect with a prospect or client is to truly understand the problems they face, so you can offer appropriate solutions. It is very helpful to know other players in the organization, not just the buyer, to have a sense for their bigger picture.
Creating Connection With Consumers
In spite of the rise of other audio and podcasts, radio as a medium remains very strong. Radio continues to reach significantly more people than any other medium in the United States; 47% of all audio listened to by audiences is broadcast radio. NPR is now reaching more people than ever before, topping 30 million listeners weekly.NPR stations have the highest drive-time ratings for newscompared to other news stations in 46% of U.S. markets. 86% of listeners agree that NPR is personally important to them.
It is fair to say that NPR is more relevant today than ever before as we consider the importance of connecting to consumers and the rise of purpose-driven brands. The voice-activated future is advantageous for NPR stations as 71% of smart speakers are tuning into more audio, which is bringing radio into millions of homes in a new way.
NPR has built a unique trust and connection with audiences and an environment where brands can do the same.
Keeping Up With Trends
New trends are universally felt to be a big challenge (and opportunity) for many sales professionals. Current key trends include:
Rise of voice assistants
Growth in audio/podcasting
Direct-to-consumer marketing (DTC)
At Houston Public Media they have focused heavily on digital since 2016 and have seen digital revenue grow from around $20,000 to well over $160,000. If your organization is not yet offering digital products, it is not too late to start. The results at HPM prove that, once you commit, revenue growth can be remarkable. Smaller stations often find that using a simple share of voice model for pricing is the easiest way to get started.
HPM cited over $314 million spent on podcast sponsorship in 2017. The station's four local podcasts enjoy high levels of engagement and allow sponsors to obtain a true media mix in one buy. HPM also uses podcasts as a conversation-starter, to get in the door with prospective clients and educate them about the medium. As public media outlets move beyond the airwaves to connect in more meaningful ways with listeners, we're more often using the phrase “on-air, online, and on-site.” Essentially, our underwriters should be everywhere our audiences are.
Many sales professionals struggle with station expectations around digital revenue overall. The most common problem is insufficient notification from programming about a new offering. How can you sell something with only a week’s notice, or less? Try to connect with your colleagues in content to help them better understand the sales cycle. This can be a challenge given the historic firewall between content and revenue, but ultimately you’re trying to work toward the same large goals. So if a station has a content or digital director, start there and work to build relationships and understanding that allow both teams to create and fund great content.
Houston is embracing the rise of smart speakers by posting in-depth information on their website to help their listeners understand how the speakers work and how they can use them to find Houston Public Media.
Stations face competition from digital music services such as Spotify and Pandora, as well as other digital platforms like Facebook. In many cases, these services offer self-serve platforms, (which Moffett challenged stations to try) that marketers like for ease of use.
When you encounter this, try focusing on the local connection and the human factor that makes radio important to listeners. The Halo Effect of public media sponsorship should be a key part of your sales pitch.
Your hard work at the client level means you should be able to offer ideas and solutions; remember to offer true customer service so that working with you is better than ordering ads online. The realities of public radio sales are always changing. If you view this as an opportunity, you’re on the right track!