How Public Media Can Create Equitable and Inclusive Content & Marketing

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

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What does equity in media look like?
Are the materials we publish reinforcing or subverting stereotypes? 
How can I make sure I’m considering all identities? 

These are just some of the questions folks in public media have asked me since my original blog post on Whiteness in public media and my keynote presentation for PMDMC 2020. And it’s why I wrote my first book, Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives (Sept. 7, 20201, Berrett-Koehler, www.TheEquityBook.com). 

As I write in Equity, if bias is the thumbprint of culture on the brain, then media are the inkpad. Media are more than news and entertainment programs; they’re all the content we consume, from marketing and advertising to PR stunts and blog posts. And media are exceptionally powerful. 

As media scholar Christopher Bell explains in his 2015 TEDx talk,

In media studies, we spend a lot of time saying that media can’t tell us what to think, and they can’t; they’re terrible at that. But that’s not their job. Media don’t tell us what to think. Media tell us what to think about [emphasis added]. They control the conversation, and in controlling the conversation, they don’t have to get you to think what they want you to think. They’ll just get you thinking about the things they want you to think about, and more importantly, not thinking about things they don’t want you to think about. They control the conversation.

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Finding Ways to Meet Sponsors’ Needs During a Pandemic

event sponsorship, Corporate Support, marketing, COVID-19

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Greater Public spoke with Joyce Cotton, director of marketing and community partnership at WEDU/PBS TV. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Cotton has relied on many of the techniques she’s honed over decades in the industry, combined with inspiring new ideas for how to serve sponsors, her station, and the community. Here are some of the practices - old and new - that have helped her meet sponsors’ needs in valuable ways. 

Lean into Sponsor Relationships During Hard Times

Over the years, I have been involved in the Tampa Bay community which has given me the opportunity to have a greater understanding of the issues that are of concern in the local community. At the start of the pandemic, I realized that this was going to be a time of change and uncertainty for everyone. I was a natural at adapting and adjusting to change. We have a relatively small underwriting team and I handle most of the arts venues which were shut down immediately. So, maybe two thirds of my business was impacted. I reached out to each community partner in an email. I said, “I understand your situation, if you need help with something, just let me know. We are all in this together.”

Because of the relationship that I have with my clients, some of them reached out to me, including an area restaurant that’s long supported WEDU. They asked if we could produce a spot to let their customers know that, although the restaurant was closed, their chef was preparing family dinners for curbside pick-up. A family-owned catering company changed their on-air message to encourage the donation of catered meals to the doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers who were caring for COVID-19 patients in area hospitals. 

I am fortunate to have developed ongoing community partnerships. For example, since the opening of the Glazer Children’s Museum 10 years ago, we, along with our education department, host bi-monthly “Free Tuesday” events on-site that include PBS Kids activities, character appearances, mobile labs with iPads featuring PBS Kids games apps, take-home educational resources for families, and free books for the kids. We have 2,000 - 3,000 people at each event. The museum recently reopened with a Wild Kratts exhibit in March [of this year] and will have the Daniel Tiger exhibit opening in the summer. Although we are not hosting the “Free Tuesday” events due to the limited capacity, the marketing director contacted me about this natural tie-in to continue our partnership and the museum is recognizing WEDU PBS as a sponsor of both exhibits. They have committed a $10,000 cash underwriting schedule to promote the reopening and assure families that they can come back safely.

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WXPN's Virtual 5k Brings Surprising Results

event sponsorship, Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, Audience Engagement

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, events have gone virtual. From screenings to concerts and 5k runs, we’ve all been scrambling to figure out the best way to transition to this new model.

Last fall, WXPN successfully did just that, for its Musicians on Call campaign, in partnership with a national organization by the same name. The results were impressive, particularly when it came to participation. With approximately 200 more participating in its annual 5k fundraiser this time, many were listeners who lived too far from Philadelphia to join past runs, but were signing up now.

“We’re a big supporter of the local music community,” says WXPN’s Director of Marketing, Kimberly Winnick, who is responsible for raising funds for the program. “It’s one of the reasons we got involved with Musicians on Call. Our mission is to connect artists and audiences, and build, serve and engage the community. With a large community of local musicians and passionate volunteers, we knew we could build and sustain the volunteer staffing needs for this program. It’s a perfect fit for us.”

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Using Audience Personas to Guide Your Fundraising Activities

Membership, marketing

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Making up imaginary people may seem like a childhood game long forgotten, but media companies across the country are using the practice to help guide their work.

The idea behind audience personas or audience visioning exercises is to use a fictional person who is based on data and insight to guide product or project development. Check out this basic example created to think through a public radio website user:

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Public Media: Existing Within the Shadow of White Supremacy Culture

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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White supremacy is all around us. If you are aware of this, congratulations, you are on the road to recovery; the first step is admitting it. If you are struggling to grapple with this concept, know that you are not alone. This statement may challenge your inner spirit, causing denial and a sense of panic followed by a twinge of anger. I know this because I have felt it. These powerful, pessimistic feelings show up in our actions, and interactions with others, when merely the ideas of racism and racial bias are hinted at. This is how white supremacy wins every time.

Conversations around systemic racism in our society are far from new. Mountains of data, studies, and reports offer stark evidence that, in the United States, the systems we all rely on were intentionally designed to marginalize and oppress Black and brown people. Yet little progress has been made to change them. Why? Because white supremacy has been the standard throughout. We default to beliefs, actions, and characteristics that promote and uphold whiteness. If it’s not white, it’s not right.

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Leadership for the Now Generation

Membership, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing, leadership, diversity & inclusion

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We are experiencing a reawakening in America: A global pandemic and failure of our democratic systems. Nearly a decade of watching Black Americans murdered from multiple video angles. The Karens. Mask polarization. The psyche of America is crying out: When will it end? Enough is enough.

The overwhelming feeling is that few solutions - or even substantive conversation - have come from those in power. 

It’s no different in public media.

My heart aches when I see/read/hear so many of my media colleagues and particularly those in public media, who have expressed during these past few weeks their lived experiences inside of newsrooms and organizations as being made to feel less than or even invisible.

Those words come from a tweet that I posted back in mid-July. But it’s a statement I’ve been making for the better part of the last decade. These are years when my BIPOC colleagues have been speaking up about their experiences working in public media. Applying for c-suite roles and never being interviewed, being passed over while whites with less experience and questionable pasts get promoted, discovering that white colleagues in similar roles make significantly more, and enduring retaliation for speaking up or filing complaints with leadership or HR.  

While some diversity might exist at the bottom of our organizations, as you summit the peak of leadership, it’s snow-capped white. It's the public media version of a 1960’s lunch counter. It’s modern day segregation.

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Navigating Power and Privilege in Public Media

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

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The city where I grew up – San Antonio, Texas – was majority Latinx, but by no means unsegregated. The East Side was predominantly poor and Black, and much of the South and West Sides were poor and Brown. If you were an upwardly-mobile POC, you moved to the city’s whiter, more affluent northern suburbs. That’s where my assimilated, single mom – originally from the West Side – raised me, with help from her Mexican immigrant parents and, eventually, my SoCal Chicano stepdad. 

As a white-presenting mestiza (raised in white suburbs, no less) I am, in the words of Leslie Arreoloa-Hillenbrand, “both colonized and colonizer.” To be white-presenting is to live a duality: to both benefit directly from racism and be privy to the psychic pain it inflicts. It’s an eternally uneasy place to live.

When I was 31, I moved to Minnesota, and it was nothing short of culture shock. Exposed to people and cultures with which I’d had no prior experience – Somali, Hmong, Ecuadorian, Ojibway, Dakota – Minneapolis made me realize how diverse San Antonio actually wasn’t. New to me was the experience of feeling my whiteness so blaringly. 

Shortly after arriving, I landed my first job in public media as an administrative assistant at Minnesota Public Radio. At the time, I was one of very few ethnic minorities or people of color at MPR. There were a few – I bonded early with another Tejano colleague, a fellow Black assistant who eventually rose in MPR’s ranks, and a rotating-door of Latinx journalism fellows – but there weren’t many. At one point in my ten-year tenure, despite Minnesota being home to the largest Somali population in the U.S., the only Somali in the building was on the janitorial staff. New to me was the experience of feeling like the only minority for miles.

Minneapolis was also the first time I’d witnessed acute segregation. Months in, I learned that the city’s predominantly Black North Side was a kind of island, when three consecutive taxis refused to drive us to a friend’s house there. I knew San Antonio’s East Side suffered grave inequities, but I’d never heard it spoken of as if it were some dangerous other country. 

To be clear, racism and the inequities it creates are global; Minneapolis is not unique. But, for me, my ten years spent in the Twin Cities was eye-opening and oftentimes uncomfortable, even with the protections my whiteness afforded me. There were things I loved about the place, too, which made leaving – when I took a job in Texas – feel like the end of a failed marriage. On my last ride to the airport, I watched the buildings of downtown Minneapolis shrink in the car’s rear window and thought: Welp, we tried.

Last month, I sat in the safety of my Austin living room, phone in hand, watching video footage of a gas station burning two short blocks from my last apartment in Minneapolis. I felt a lot of things – sadness, anger, worry – but surprise wasn’t one of them.

* * *

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Five Steps to Creating Content Your Audience Actually Appreciates

Membership, Social/Mobile, Corporate Support, Major Giving, marketing

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Have you ever wondered how we bring you the insightful commentary and research you read on EDGE? The EDGE blog you trust doesn’t stand alone. It’s part of an ecosystem of content created by Greater Public, a nonprofit that serves the professional development of public media fundraisers. 

Creating quality content that people actually want can feel exhausting sometimes, especially when fundraising is your primary objective. Producing the very best blog on public media fundraising is possible thanks to our strong process for vetting, selecting, editing, and publishing content.

To help you streamline your work process and create better content for your members, we want to share the content creation process developed by our senior manager for content and projects, Ellen Guettler. These tips could help you increase engagement and warm feelings for your organization. 

  1. Figure out a problem that’s relevant to the audience you’re trying to reach.

    The easiest trap for any content producer to fall into is focusing on what you want or think is best, instead of focusing on your intended audience. Understand whom you’re trying to reach. Imagine how their day plays out, the obstacles they’re encountering, what’s slowing them down or keeping them from what they want. Content that doesn’t help people is just an ad, which can lose your audience’s attention very quickly.
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How KPCC’s Mission Statement Project Could Help On-Air Drives in a Moment of Change

Membership, pledge drive, marketing

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Every public media station is changing how they approach on-air fundraising in this moment. The drive structure, duration, and tone that worked so well a few months ago are being reassessed. What remains constant is the message of public media’s critical service, whose value is perhaps more important than ever. 

A recent project in the newsroom at KPCC in Southern California captured that value in a way that could serve other stations, particularly during this time of change for on-air drives. 

In 2019, KPCC newsroom leadership asked all reporters and producers to write mission statements for their work.

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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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