What’s Past Is Prologue: What We Can (and Can’t) Learn From the Last Recession

Membership, Corporate Support, budgeting, Major Giving, General Management, COVID-19

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We are all looking at our budgets. How will 2020 end? And what assumptions should we make for revenue in 2021? To borrow a quote from screenwriter Willian Goldman, “Nobody knows anything.”

We are far from the end of the story about how the COVID-19 pandemic will affect our lives, our communities, our economy, or our public media organizations. As we all prepare our worst-case, bad-case, and less-bad-case scenarios, I can’t help but look back at how public media weathered the Great Recession of 2008.

I have no doubt that all of you have done due diligence on how your individual organizations performed from 2008-2010+ for clues on how to imagine things unfolding. For a system-wide perspective, Greater Public analyzed relevant station data from our Benchmarks reports from the recession years, and we’ve gathered insights from several other data-minded colleagues at national organizations.

Public Radio Individual Giving Tells an Optimistic Story

Based on data from a consistent group of 47 public radio stations that participated in Benchmarks from 2008-2011:

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Opportunities for Leadership: Three Ways Public Media Can Improve its Essential Service as a Result of COVID-19

General Management, leadership, philanthropy, COVID-19

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Across the United States, public media newsrooms are doubling down on their efforts to inform local communities about the dangerous unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’re setting up remote reporting and broadcasting capabilities, adding reporters to their teams, and ramping up the flow of information to ensure timeliness and accuracy. 

Will public media also use this opportunity to address known challenges and accelerate change? And, if these strategies are successful, will public media have positioned itself more favorably in the minds of journalism funders? Here are three opportunities—for public service certainly, and for revenue, potentially—that the pandemic opens to public media newsrooms.

Serve the Full Community

Public media has long touted its “grass tops” service to affluent, educated audiences. But in recent years, this audience focus has become a significant liability for public media among grantmakers considering local journalism support. Gaps in the reach of news and information are increasingly well documented, showing that communities of color, immigrants, and low-income people are not reflected by or reached through legacy news, including public media.

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Why We Need to Talk About Whiteness in Public Media (And Why It’s So Hard)

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, diversity & inclusion

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I bet you read the byline of this article and quickly, implicitly thought, “this person is not white.”

It’s okay if you did. You’re right. And that is not a racist thought.

Now, if your second implicit thought was, “Well, I don’t have to pay attention to anything they say,” well, then, maybe we have some unpacking to do.

In my first blog post for Greater Public, I wrote about unconscious or implicit bias – what it is, how it affects our decision-making, and therefore, how it affects the marketing and fundraising at public media stations.

Today, at the risk of being trolled by people I don’t know on the Internet, I want to talk about Whiteness and why it’s crucial we begin, as a country and a planet, to be able to talk about Whiteness whenever we want to talk about race.

It is curious to me that we try to address racial disparities and diversity while trying to avoid talking about this construct humankind invented called Whiteness. It’s like trying to talk about climate change without talking about greenhouse gases. (Which I suppose some people are trying to do, but I don’t think it’s going very well in terms of leading to sustainable solutions.)

Perhaps, because race is a social construct, we think we can justifiably avoid this conversation. For a period in the 1990s, social science took great strides to show that there is no biological determinant of race. This was during the same period when Tiger Woods rose to fame, a dark-skinned man with African American and Asian heritage, whose father proclaimed on The Oprah Winfrey Show that Tiger’s race was “the human race.” Proclamations like this led us to believe that perhaps we had accomplished Martin Luther King’s dream and we, as a society, were finally able to judge people by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin.

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Proof of Performance Promos May Help You Gain Trust and Grow Audience

elections, Membership, General Management, Audience Engagement

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For many of us, Impeachment coverage has dominated our broadcast schedule and made it difficult to get all of our underwriting spots aired. But the special coverage has also highlighted what public media does best, bolstering support for our services. A report out in mid-December from the Radio Research Consortium shows that NPR member stations with full-time news formats saw an 18% increase in listening. 

At KUOW in Seattle, Arvid Hokanson, director of audience, noticed the increased listening in his weekly broadcast and stream data and recognized an opportunity.  

“If people are tuning in more now,” says Hokanson, “we should capture them.”

His goal: Connect the station’s coverage of this historic moment in listeners’ minds with an awareness of the singular value of the service.

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The Paradox of Bias in Marketing and Fundraising

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, marketing, diversity & inclusion

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Bias is a tricky thing. 

We all have it, and sometimes that’s okay and sometimes it’s not. 

For marketing and fundraising professionals, this nuanced understanding of bias is even more important because cognitive biases are so often used in marketing and fundraising efforts to nudge potential donors into giving. But without any examination of the unintended consequences of such efforts, our tactics to get more donors or more dollars can reinforce harmful stereotypes. In addition, the demographics of the United States are changing, and public media needs to represent and engage new audiences if it wants to survive. 

So let’s break down what bias is exactly, and how we can use it responsibly and ethically.

Harvard professor Mahzarin Banaji beautifully sums up her decades-long research on implicit bias as “the thumbprint of culture on the brain.” In brief, implicit bias occurs because our brains are powerful machines that process millions of data points outside of our conscious awareness and make meaning out of that data in lightning fast time. It’s how we slam the breaks when we see a red light without “thinking” about it. But it can also lead to a “gut” feeling that a person is “bad” and we don’t realize that it’s because of the media images we’ve been fed about a certain race or culture. Implicit bias has gotten re-branded as unconscious bias in popular culture (despite the inaccuracy of the name, as many of our biases are triggered subconsciously, not when we’re asleep), and has come to be short-hand for the type of bias that leads to discrimination.

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Why Public Media Is Worthy of the Biggest Asks in America

Major Giving, General Management

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Public media has one of the most lofty and optimistic origin stories of the American 20th century. The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967 proclaimed that all Americans have a right to non-commercial, educational programming on their TVs and radios. For democracy to flourish, the public must be informed and enlightened; the task of fortifying the minds and hearts of citizens must not fall to private interests alone. 

Not unlike like the public education system, public broadcasting is available to all. Our services have also thrived thanks to ongoing support from millions of Americans. We understand that financial support from individuals is proof of our importance to our communities, but access to public media is not limited by membership. Our mission to serve the common good has remained universal in its scope.

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Leading With Influence and Persuasion in Public Media

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, General Management, leadership

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Leadership roles in public media are often very challenging and complex. Whether you’re a GM, a PD, marketing director, underwriting director, or membership director, we are all responsible for creating strategies and painting a vision. However, when leading a team, creating consensus and alignment is not an easy task.

My go-to source for enhancing my ability to persuade people without coercion, is a book titled “The Art of Woo.” The authors Mario Moussa and G. Richard Shell both teach at the Wharton School. “Woo” refers to the ability to “Win Others Over.” It’s this ability to persuade, according to the book, that allows us to achieve our business goals.

Develop Trusting Internal Business Relationships

Woo is basically relationship-based persuasion: a strategic process for getting people’s attention, presenting your ideas, and obtaining approval for your plans and projects. Face-to-face meetings are the best way to develop trusting relationships. Such settings enable people to catch nonverbal cues such as voice-tone, body language, and emotional emphasis.

Cultivate Self-Awareness 

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The Great Major Giving Pivot

Major Giving, General Management, leadership, philanthropy

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Whenever I talk to leaders in other nonprofit industries about fundraising for public media, they tell me how lucky we are. They understand that our supporters - the people who love and give to public media - are truly the stuff of envy. Our fans proclaim their adoration on tote bags, in dating apps, in conversations with friends and family, and by becoming members. More than half of public media donors are sustaining members; they give year after year. This percentage is head-and-shoulders above the share of sustainers that can be claimed by other nonprofits. Not surprisingly, overall retention among public media donors is also significantly higher than the national index.

Public media has nearly perfected the model of raising money from a large swath of people who love what we do. Our central strategy has historically relied on the fact that our supporters engage with us everyday, all day long on our airwaves. When we want them to give, we don’t have to go far to get their attention. We simply go on-air and ask. These donor interactions are straightforward and transactional. And they deliver.

Like I said, the stuff of envy! Of course, our greatest strengths can conceal our greatest weaknesses, or, as I see them, our greatest opportunities.

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How Michigan Radio Uses Instagram to Cultivate Audience Engagement

instagram, Membership, Social/Mobile, social media, General Management, Audience Engagement

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When digital director Jodi Westrick was hired at Michigan Radio, she knew her new station was excellent at telling stories with audio and website content. Her goal was to expand the reach of those stories to new and different audiences.

Westrick and her team began synopsizing the station’s reporting on the Instagram platform using single images, slideshows, and video. These Instagram posts link back to the full stories using instructions to “visit the link in our bio.”

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Great Sales Managers Are the Result of Great Training

training, Corporate Support, General Management

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I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review Daily Alert titled “Why New Sales Managers Need More Training” by Andris A. Zoltners, Prabhakant Sinha and Sally E. Lorimer. The article really resonated with me, especially when they mentioned the Peter Principal where “companies promote their best salespeople to become their worst managers.”

I was that person - a top salesperson who wanted to be a manager - and then quickly learned that I was not good at it! The things that made me great at one thing were not the skills needed to be a successful at the other. Fortunately for me, I worked for an organization that offered strong mentoring and training, and so I was able to acquire the skills to transition into management.

In smaller public media operations, the above scenario plays out every day: A sales manager retires or steps down, the station scrambles to get someone in place ASAP, and the first place they look is internally. Who is our best rep?

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