Corporate Support Strategy in the Coming Year: Growing and Diversifying Audience

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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After a recent lively one-on-one conversation with Greater Public CEO Joyce MacDonald, Vice President and General Manager of Jacobs Media, Paul Jacobs, answered some additional questions from station colleagues across the system about corporate support efforts in the wake of challenges from the past year.

Q: What are some best practices for operating public media outlets?

Jacobs: While I don’t have best practices to offer specifically, I can tell you that what used to be a much simpler task has grown significantly more complex in the past decade. The onset of digital, the aging of the core audience, the diversity of America, and new competitors all make operating a public radio significantly more challenging. Given this, I offer these suggestions:

  1. Embrace younger, diverse staff members. All media outlets, including public radio, tend to rely on old experienced hands (like me). But we know Millennials and even Gen Z have much different experiences and outlooks. To position your station for the future, get them into the conversation.

  2. Research the audience. One of the greatest things about digital platforms is that conducting ongoing audience surveys and Zoom focus groups is a lot easier. I find too many public radio stations don’t take the time to get real input from their audience and miss opportunities to serve.

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How to Pivot Corporate Support to Meet This Year's Challenges, Part 2

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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After their first conversation about disruptions to the public media corporate support landscape due to COVID-19, Greater Public CEO Joyce MacDonald sat down again with Paul Jacobs, VP/General Manager of Jacobs Media to learn about his best advice as we move into the new year. 

Where we are: the wild ride continues

The roller coaster of a year has continued for businesses, consumers, and media companies alike. Last fall brought more uncertainty with colder weather, a rise in COVID cases and more restrictions. At the same time, the promise of a vaccine is a bright light taking us into 2021, and there is hope that by Q2 business and marketing may start to come back to an operational “normal” (although things will never be as they were).

Consider these trends and their long-term impacts, which are still unknown:

  • Consumers are moving out of big cities.
  • Two million women have voluntarily left the workforce.
  • Many small businesses - including those that are the bread and butter for public media - probably won’t make it.
  • Working from home is likely to be a part of business operations for the foreseeable future.
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Leveraging The CARES Act for Corporate Sponsorship

Corporate Support, calendar year-end, COVID-19

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Prospecting new sponsorship leads during this time is a challenging proposition. But the resulting necessity (and freedom) to think outside the box can also be a silver lining. Several stations report doing just that as they successfully prospect and secure sponsorships from new nonprofit or social-service-oriented clients. The prospecting they are doing is from a source that might not seem obvious: The CARES Act. 

Signed into law back in March, 2020, The CARES Act was designed to provide fast and direct economic assistance for American workers and families and small businesses, and to preserve jobs for American industries. Recipients in your area likely include many small businesses and a good number of nonprofits. For-profit businesses -- which presumably have marketing and other traditional business functions already built in -- may be more likely to spend their assistance right away. But that may not necessarily be the case with many nonprofits. Indeed, especially when it comes to social-service oriented nonprofits, many received an influx of cash and still have money to spend by the end of the calendar year.

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Tips for Making the Most of GivingTuesday 2020

Membership, #GivingTuesday, COVID-19

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More than any year in recent memory, GivingTuesday 2020 is taking place amidst historic and unsettling events: the pandemic, the U.S. elections, a racial justice reckoning, a recession, extreme weather, and more. Even as the world seems upside down, remember that generosity unites us, especially in tough times. In 2020, generosity has been one of the key ways that people have expressed their power, providing an antidote to isolation, fear, and division. 

On GivingTuesday, generous people look for causes that matter to them, and you want to help them understand why your station is central to their lives, particularly this year. Never has relevant, factual information from trusted sources been more vital. Public media stations are information first responders, on the front lines of facts, and critical local resources.

As you think about ways to connect with your community, there are a few core truths that are at the heart of successful GivingTuesday campaigns, as well as to the long-term resilience of stations.

Generous People Are Generous

This year, giving is actually up as people are looking for ways to help others and make a difference in their communities. We see no evidence of donor fatigue. To the contrary, the same person who advocates on behalf of a cause, volunteers, or responds to a GoFundMe for a friend’s cat who needs surgery is the same person who will likely give to your station.

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Using the CARES Act to Your Best Advantage for Year-End Giving

Major Giving, calendar year-end, COVID-19

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NOTE: The Coronavirus stimulus package that was approved on 12/28/20 extends the provision allowing individuals to claim a charitable deduction of up to 100% of their AGI into 2021 instead of ending in 2020. 

As we approach the close of this unique year, one important opportunity for your station to receive more major giving support should not be neglected. A goal of the 2020 CARES Act was to spur Americans to donate to “public charities” in light of the pandemic. For those donors with greater wealth there is a particularly beneficial provision that changes the charitable deduction maximum from 60% adjusted gross income (AGI) to 100%. 

What this means is that now the donors with the potential to give very large gifts have an extra incentive to do so. This isn’t a relevant opportunity for your membership donor but using it with your major donors and prospects could help you motivate your higher capacity donors to give before year-end and strengthen your financial bottom line for 2020.

Three ways to take advantage of this change:

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Underwriting Category Trends for Q4

Corporate Support, COVID-19

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With communities continuing to re-open/adjust across the country and schools back in session in some shape or form, corporate underwriting teams are keeping a close eye on changes to local business spending, working to identify shifting and new corporate sponsorship dollars at the start of Q4. Here are a few observations from the field:

Performing Arts

While the overall landscape here is still fairly bleak, a few markets are seeing a minor resurgence in performing arts dollars, with some local arts organizations working to market virtual or socially-distanced outdoor events throughout the fall and leading into the holidays. 


For the most part, museums and historic sites are back open for business in many markets, and many of these organizations are spending at pre-COVID levels. 


Several markets report an uptick in business from private or parochial schools, many of which are offering in-person education instead of virtual, and are looking to build awareness about these offerings. Private tutoring is also a growth area, as well as office supply stores since families, educators and professionals are stocking home learning/working spaces for the foreseeable future. Traditional bricks-and-mortar education clients are looking to market products and services that help them differentiate their virtual learning game.

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How to Pivot Your Corporate Support Practices to Meet This Year's Challenges

sales strategy, Corporate Support, COVID-19

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The disruption to the public media underwriting landscape caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been significant. These changes have opened opportunities to pivot how we do business in ways that could also have lasting benefits. Greater Public CEO Joyce MacDonald recently sat down with Paul Jacobs, VP/General Manager of Jacobs Media as part of the PMDMC Summer Series to discuss Here is some of their best advice to take on the challenges brought by 2020:

Pivot to … E-Commerce 

The businesses that support public media have been turned upside down, and the rules for how they can engage and message their customers are changing weekly. It’s as difficult for them as it is for us. Messaging has shifted from “come on in” to “go online.” E-commerce is the way forward and will drive companies’ marketing decisions and changing budgets for the foreseeable future. 

This includes holiday shopping in Q4. In fact, the holiday shopping season has begun! Companies like Walmart and Target have already said they won’t be open on Thanksgiving Day. Like many companies - large and small - they are shifting their selling points to digital. 

This means that those businesses without a digital plan are really scrambling, and that most likely includes some of the smaller businesses that buy local public radio. What can you do to help your local sponsors promote their e-commerce offerings and connect listeners to their online storefronts? Can you create a shopping guide for the holidays, a shopping app, or other specific sponsor-facing solutions? Check out this example from Louisville Public Media.

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A Tale of Corporate Support Sponsorship in FY20

Corporate Support, COVID-19, digital sponsorship

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Once upon a time, early in FY20, many public radio stations were enjoying their best corporate revenue year ever. They needed more inventory to sell to keep up with demand, and to grow and diversify their corporate revenue and corresponding client and prospect lists. 

Then, along came impeachment. 

Midway through FY20, the impeachment hearings were upon us, and with many sponsorship messages preempted for live coverage, stations struggled to make good on their existing and prospective sales. They needed more digital and off-air inventory to sell!

Suddenly, everything changed. 

Then, as the last quarter of FY20 approached, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted corporate support operations as never before. In an instant we were back to having more inventory to sell than we knew what to do with. We were forced to think creatively about tactics to keep sponsors engaged and on-the-air as listening shifted and the economy tanked, all the while thinking about new ways to support the small local businesses suffering the most in our respective communities. Stations couldn’t imagine they needed new inventory to sell!

But they did.

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Build Powerful Local Pitches to Raise More Money On-Air

Membership, pledge drive, COVID-19

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Out of adversity comes opportunity. 

Especially now, with most of your listeners stuck close to home, in extremely challenging times – the local reporting, culture and music sharing, and community building that your station has done in recent months holds even greater importance in people’s daily lives. 

Across the nation, at stations large and small, so much gratitude has poured in for the role that stations are playing right now. In most cases, this gratitude has also paid off with strong financial support. 

As the impacts of the coronavirus continue, and as the dramatic election season approaches, fall is the perfect time to make a strong case for your local station and its services in your local market, whether you’re on the ground reporting the news or providing essential music and culture to lift spirits and provide a respite in difficult times.

In a few simple steps you can make sure your whole team is prepped (and excited) to pitch the value of the vital work your station is doing – and will continue to do.

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Corporate Support Prospecting During the Pandemic

Corporate Support, prospecting, COVID-19

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Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve gotten used to social distancing and the alternate ways in which we now must communicate with new underwriting prospects: Zoom meetings, emails, and e-newsletters. The challenge is to stand out from all of the other media salespeople in your market who also are working to get the attention of the business owners and decision-makers that you’re pursuing.

When you need to get close while keeping your distance, here are ideas to establish and maintain connections and relevance while attracting new prospects.

Review what you’re currently doing.

What underwriting information are you sending to your prospects and how often are you reaching out to them? Position yourself and become a resource to your prospects. If you think you’re going overboard in your mailed or emailed communications, think about making your website’s underwriting pages the place for news, updates, and tips about underwriting, promotions, marketing, and advertising. Some businesses and prospects are knee-deep in alligators, so to speak, and don’t have the luxury of time. They may not have an annual plan right now. They’re doing what they need to do today. Make sure you provide them with information that can help them meet their challenges. All it takes is having one of your ideas or suggestions turn into a success for the prospect and you’ll have made a huge step forward in cultivating your relationship.

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