Study evaluates strength of public radio’s “halo” for sponsors

By Ben Mook

ATLANTA — The positive associations that public radio listeners have with corporate sponsors and underwriters are as strong as ever, according to a report unveiled July 11 during the Public Media Development and Marketing Conference.

Results of the 2013 NPR Underwriting Research project, presented by radio analyst Paul Jacobs, showed that the so-called “halo effect” that companies gain from public media sponsorships is unchanged since 2010, the last time researchers looked into it.

A 2003 NPR study first identified the power of public radio sponsorships to influence listeners’ perceptions of the quality of the companies who pay for them.

“We’re seeing absolutely no decline in how your listeners feel about you,” Jacobs said. “Despite the fact we live in a time of media fragmentation, one of the constants you have is that your audience loves you.”

“You have something that money can’t buy — your listeners trust in you so much that that trust transfers to the companies that sponsor you,” Jacobs told the audience at the PMDMC Thursday. “Your credibility rubs off on your sponsors.”

The study was conducted from October to November 2012 in collaboration with three stations: WFYI in Indianapolis, KPCC in Los Angeles and WLRN in Miami. The 140 participants were evenly split by gender. Twenty percent were members of their local pubcasting station; the remaining 80 percent were not.

Participants listened to commercial advertisements and sponsorship messages and registered their like or dislike by turning a dial. Researchers also convened focus groups and interviewed some participants one-on-one.

Restrictions on the content and length of noncommercial sponsorships appear to be helping public radio, Jacobs said, as commercial broadcasters add more and more commercials to their breaks. He played video clips from focus-group sessions and one-on-one interviews to highlight his point.

“Commercial radio seems to yell at me,” one Indianapolis interviewee said.

“They come off as sponsors, not advertisers,” one Los Angeles interviewee said of the companies running spots on KPCC.

Session panelist Lori Zoss Kraska, corporate support director at Cleveland’s ideastream, encourages development officers to highlight the study’s findings as they talk with clients about the effectiveness of pubradio sponsorships.

“This truly is the best piece of information that you have in the toolkit,” she said.

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