Start a Conversation: On-Air Pledge in a Multi-Platform World

This is a post with more questions and observations than answers.  However, it’s a conversation we need to have now, because it may affect revenue and membership in the near future.

In a world of smartphones, connected cars, Alexa*, apps, podcasts and other methods listeners have at their disposal to tune in your terrestrial or streaming station or content (and more urgent to this author, tune away), what will be the impact on on-air pledge?

A lot has changed since the landmark Audience 98 research study by Audience Research Analysis nearly 20 years ago, which reported:

6 in 10 public radio listeners did not think pledge drives were getting easier to listen to (but at the time the same percentage of core and current givers kept listening during pledge drives)

76% of study respondents felt that pledge drives were becoming more prevalent

Those who felt drives were getting easier to listen to were more likely to stay tuned in during pledge drives, as did those who were more loyal to public radio in general

Conventional wisdom has been that half our audience leaves when we are doing pledge drives.

Audience 98 came along before technology made it easier not to only switch away from station pledge drives, but to switch to a station airing the content stations preempt during pledge.   That means the 50% who used to tune us out during pledge drives—and, quite frankly—the other 50% who can easily get what they want elsewhere (especially if they are ‘paid up’—such as Sustainers)—have the choice to bale on our pledge drives at their fingertips (or, in the case of Smart Speakers, with one quick voice command).

I acknowledge the findings from the Public Radio Tech Survey by Jacobs Media, Edison Research, and Nielsen that all report robust terrestrial radio listening, especially to public media stations.   Smart audio devices such as Alexa and Google Home appear to be contributing to the increased consumption of audio by device owners, according to a newly released study by Edison Research and NPR.  That is good news when we are not in pledge. Click here to see the report summary and download your own copy.

Given the ease of ‘tune-around, tune-away’ at home and now in the car, pledge drives risk chasing even our most loyal audiences to other excellent choices.  If your station is experiencing decreased participation that cannot be traced to the growth in the Sustainer file or market factors around which you have no control, how are you maintaining the audience through the period considered by listeners to be our worst programming?

Let’s go back to Audience 98 for ideas to make pledge drives more appealing.  They included shortening drives and producing drives that sound better.

In the next post I’ll discuss some of the methods stations are using to engage listeners and raise money (and participation) in a technology-drive climate where public media stations and content from different time zones have become our direct competitors during on-air pledge.

But first: what are your ideas?

*Edison research reports that 7% of Americans have Alexa or Google Home smart speakers, roughly 20 million households.

Barry NelsonComment