‘Now we have to brag’
CPB plan: no good deeds will go unknown
Originally published in Current, July 23, 2007
By Jeremy Egner
Roughly two years ago, CPB President Patricia Harrison spent the better part of her first months on the job traveling the country, visiting stations and realizing just how little she knew about the system she’d been appointed to lead.
“I began to discover for myself, at a core level, how much you do beyond the broadcast,” Harrison told a ballroom full of station people July 13  at the Public Radio Development and Marketing Conference in Reno, Nev.
“My constant response was, ‘I didn’t know that,’” she said. “And I found that I’m not alone.”
Harrison’s realization that she and other friends and acquaintances knew so little about pubcasting’s various outreach and educational services was the genesis of a new national, customizable, multiyear, multiplatform campaign to boost citizens’ and lawmakers’ awareness and appreciation of the system’s offerings.
CPB’s Public Awareness Initiative, described for the first time at the Reno conference, aims to fill such knowledge gaps and, in the process, make everyone from potential donors to Capitol Hill appropriators more enthusiastic about assisting pubcasting. The plan is to develop new training and engagement models that will strengthen stations’ connections to their communities while publicizing the system’s sundry contributions to civic life with an elaborate media campaign. CPB hired Washington communications firm Powell Tate Weber Shandwick, co-founded by Sheila Tate, a former CPB Board chair, to spearhead the publicity effort.
The corporation set aside $2.75 million for the Public Awareness Initiative in its 2007 budget. It will give $20,000 grants to up to 20 still-to-be-determined TV and radio stations to begin pilot efforts in September, according to a request for proposals released last week.
The plans are in such an early stage of development that officials declined to discuss the project beyond what Harrison said in Reno. CPB began advertising for a project director less than a month ago.
Though the project is still largely in gestation, Harrison, a career PR professional with experience in both corporate communications and public diplomacy for the U.S. State Department, has maintained almost from the beginning of her tenure that the system needs to do a better job of “telling the public service media story.”
“As you are connecting on a local level,” she said at last year's pubradio development conference in New Orleans, “we must tell this story on a national level, in a way that resonates with decision-makers and purse-string holders, influencers and average Americans.”
In Reno, Harrison mentioned the more than 20,000 personal essays that resulted from NPR’s This I Believe and the ongoing outreach efforts tied to Twin Cities PTV’s acclaimed 2004 Alzheimer’s doc The Forgetting as the sort of meaningful pubcasting contributions that deserve more attention.
“We’re already connecting in communities—now we have to brag about it,” she quipped, adding, “If you’re really doing it, it’s not bragging.”
CPB plans to build the initiative around the “mission, vision and values” theme that served as the basis for its successful Major Giving Initiative for public TV, which it plans to extend into radio later this year.
The awareness project aims to help stations build deeper connections in their markets by giving them tools, including community engagement models, board management training and market research.
According to the request for proposals, up to 20 stations will receive $20,000 grants to fund test projects between September and April. Each station’s pilot will last roughly four months—three months for activity and one for evaluation. The projects will begin in waves; as a wave of five stations finishes up, its findings will inform later projects.
Each participating station will designate a staffer to make decisions, give feedback and represent the station at relevant meetings. It will have to provide prime airtime for messaging and insert such messages in station outreach and development materials. The application deadline is Aug. 3.
The total cost for the project is unknown. In addition to the $2.75 million in Public Awareness Initiative funding included in the 2007 budget, CPB set aside $2 million for station outreach projects, $700,000 more than in fiscal 2006.
To build momentum and exposure for the initiative, CPB tapped Powell Tate to create a locally customizable marketing campaign.
The various print, broadcast and online components of the campaign will revolve around a flexible concept, My Source, designed to unify and showcase the many sides of pubcasting on various platforms, said Stephanie Bluma, Powell Tate senior v.p. In a print ad mockup, a smiling woman sharing her iPod with a smiling man illustrates how pubcasting was “my source for connecting with my neighbors on my block and beyond.” In a well-received radio test spot produced by Minnesota Public Radio, a listener proclaims that the network’s classical offerings are “my source for goosebumps.”
Online components could include social networking elements and viral newsletters, among other Web 2.0 features. The My Source material will be customizable and designed to be seamlessly incorporated into stations’ local promotional efforts, Bluma said.
The campaign will also seek “ambassadors” in communities, as well as celebrities with pubcasting connections or appeal—someone like piano-pop torch singer Norah Jones, who contributed music to Ken Burns’ The War—to serve as faces for the campaign, Bluma said.
Powell Tate will continue to focus-group the various concepts, which remain changeable and in early stages, Bluma said.
The firm craves feedback from stations, Tate said in Reno. The onetime press secretary for First Lady Nancy Reagan and the first President Bush was a CPB Board member for nine years and its chair from 1992 to 1994. Her firm’s co-founder, Jody Powell, was press secretary for President Jimmy Carter.
“We wanted to present something tangible for you to react to,” she said, “but this is by no means fait accompli.”
“This is just the beginning,” echoed Bruce Theriault, CPB senior v.p. for radio. “Please, talk to us. We need your feedback, we need your questions. If you don’t understand how it’s going to work for you locally, that’s a problem, and we need to address it.”
Web page posted Aug. 2, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Current Publishing Committee