Inconsistent branding strategies make it increasingly difficult for viewers to see the connections between PBS, the programs it distributes and the local stations that air them.
PBS convenes a meeting with station communications execs at Braddock Place this week to discuss how to rectify the problem, a remnant of age-old tensions over what public TV should call itself.
The pow-wow follows up on a study by the branding strategy and design firm Interbrand, which concluded that the profusion of public TV brands undermines the PBS brand’s ability to raise money from viewers and sponsors. Interbrand noted that cable competitors and successful nonprofits focus on national brands.
The consultants estimated that the PBS brand is worth $5.4 billion, based on their assessment of its ability to secure loyal donors and influence funding decisions in the nonprofit sector.
“With the Interbrand study we learned that we have to do a consistently better job of cobranding,” said Lesli Rotenberg, senior branding v.p. “It needs to be simple and very clear to people the association between stations and PBS.”
PBS dropped its “Stay Curious” branding campaign last fall after two years and introduced the present “Be More” campaign, but many major-market stations have held back from adding it to their local promotions.
“Fish,” a “Be more” spot that depicts a goldfish emboldened by a PBS nature show to leap courageously from its bowl, won a 2003 Primetime Emmy for best commercial—unprecedented recognition for a PBS image ad. PBS just delivered a new package of image ads to stations with the promise that this campaign—unlike “Stay Curious”—is here to stay.
The new “Aura” spot showcases PBS as a source for ideas that can inspire and unite a diverse community and the “Potato” spot touts PBS for taking on hot issues that other media won’t touch.
Buying into “Be More”
A separate study that PBS commissioned this spring examined the effects of full-scale “Be More” campaigns by two state networks and turned up evidence that the new branding tagline builds esteem for public TV among viewers and makes them more willing to support stations financially.
In an evaluation by the research firm Communicus of Santa Monica, Calif., three-quarters of respondents, which included public TV members, infrequent viewers and frequent non-member viewers who were aware of the “Be More” message, said that they appreciated the value of public TV.
Nearly half told researchers that the “Be More” message made them more likely to watch public TV. One-third said the tagline would motivate them to make a donation. Iowa PTV and Wisconsin PTV participated in the Internet survey.
“What we are doing is a full buy,” said Michael Bridgeman, Wisconsin PTV’s director of promotion and design. When PBS unveiled the campaign last year, the network began using the “Be More” tagline in all its in-house promotions, including pledge fulfillment spots, print materials and program guide.
The campaign is a “very useful umbrella” that works in different media, Bridgeman said. “At its best, it expresses what we hope is true about us—that we do make a difference. There is a fundamental validity to the message that we can support, and it comes through in our programs and through outreach.”
Previously Iowa PTV used different taglines for its various audiences and decided to adopt “Be More” as its “one consistent brand across the board,” said Jennifer Glover Konfrst, public relations manager. The network launched the positioning campaign with outdoor advertising, giveaway items and a new on-air look. The tagline “really spoke to what we asked our viewers to do,” Konfrst said.
Neither Bridgeman nor Konfrst could make a cause-and-effect connection between their local positioning efforts and increased viewing or donations, but they think the message is making a positive impression. “This is about creating an environment and mindset that will support the idea of giving,” Bridgeman said. “At the very least we can say that it’s not hurting.”
The Communicus study tells Rotenberg that the positioning campaign can boost fundraising results. “We can’t isolate increases in viewing and donations,” she says, “but—based on what we’ve learned in this study—the effect is positive. It increases viewers’ appreciation and likelihood to support.”
The primary goal of PBS’s promotion plan is to “answer the question of why stations deserve support,” said Rotenberg. “By getting a positive message out there, we’re building loyalty and usage.”
Write it in blood
The “Be more” campaign is getting less play in major cities than smaller markets. Communications pros at several big stations said they haven’t adopted the new tagline for their own promos. Execs at three major-market stations told Current that promoting their stations’ local brands is the main focus of their efforts, although they do air the “Be More” image ads.
The spots created by the Minneapolis ad agency Fallon are “beautifully produced spots that add a lot to our air,” said Barbara Goen, senior v.p. of communications at KCET in Los Angeles. “We use them regularly and co-brand with our ‘Infinitely More’ tagline.”
The station’s recent branding research in Los Angeles found that KCET has the strongest resonance with local viewers. “We felt that [KCET] was our strongest advantage,” said Goen. “We are in an overlap market, so it’s very important to be distinctive from other [public TV] stations . . . We want our brand to speak specifically to our audience.”
Communications execs at KERA in Dallas and WVIZ in Cleveland—both of which want audiences to think of them as sources for both PBS and NPR programming—also are focusing on building recognition of their local brands.
Others say their hesitation stems from PBS’s decision to drop “Stay Curious” so quickly.
“We felt it was just starting to connect and then there was this abrupt change to ‘Be More,’” said Frankie Black, assistant director of communications at Houston PBS. The station, which incorporated the PBS brand into its local i.d. two years ago, isn’t “totally buying in” to the new campaign, although it does broadcast the “Be More” spots.
Rotenberg promised that PBS is sticking with the “Be More” tagline for more than five years. “I would write it in blood,” she said. The “Stay Curious” tag was too intellectual, she said. “We were reaching for something that grabs your heart and mind and is broad enough to sit with every single program on PBS.”
One size may not fit all
During an expanded meeting of PBS’s Communications Advisory Committee this week, PBS and station reps will discuss how to co-brand in ways that will clarify the relationships between PBS, stations and the content they deliver.
“We have to take this from the viewers’ perspective and make it friendly and clear to them because today it is not,” Rotenberg said.
Rotenberg and Judy Braune, branding v.p., don’t have a solution to propose to station reps but want to brainstorm possibilities with them.
They may not propose “a one-size-fits-all solution, but one that can accommodate different licensee types and situations,” said Braune. She hopes to develop recommendations to share with all stations by the end of the year. “It will be a totally collaborative process along the way.”
The answer must be “something that at the end of the day people will know they’re watching a PBS station and these are the services that are provided to them,” Braune said.