What does public radio sponsorship cost?
August 22, 2007 4:40 PM   Subscribe

How much do sponsors pay to underwrite a public radio show?

Do you know how much a specific public radio show, local or national, charges its sponsors for underwriting? How much per episode or per season? Or how much for a mention at the top of the show versus the bottom of the show (or the middle)? I'm looking to collect a broad spectrum of anecdotal evidence that I can draw general conclusions on. Mentioning the number of markets the show is carried in or its audience size will help. If keeping the show anonymous makes it easier for you to divulge the information, then by all means please do so.
posted by TurkeyMustard to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people would call the nearest PBS station and ask. Some would even consider asking the underwriters themselves.
posted by RussHy at 5:11 PM on August 22, 2007

I worked with an NPR station multiple times (the last being a few months ago), and the open rate was around $600-700 for a specific show or popular daypart. The pricing was done on a per-spot basis (all radio I've done has been), so that $600 got you one mention one time during the show/daypart. You couldn't specify top/bottom, etc. That was the open rate though, so (I presume) most people paid less than that. You would buy a flight of spots for a specific time period (i.e. 8x/day for two weeks, etc). Or, if you wanted to focus on a show, maybe you'd buy a few spots on a specific show for whatever amount of time. The final pricing depends on a few factors, including the scope of the campaign. Another thing impacting price might be if there was some sort of joint promotion or partnership, in that case you might get free/heavily discounted spots, etc.

This was in a fairly major metropolitan market with a highly educated market base. At least one of the local shows was carried nationally (talk show). You can probably just call up a few stations and request media kits. Not sure if you'd have to convince them you're a prospective underwriter though. Probably. I think being able to go through a media kit might help you out a lot, even in terms of just how underwriting works. Plus it's more useful to have concrete data for the questions you're asking, rather than broad anecdotal information (because hell, I could be totally making all of this up right now).

On preview, call the nearest NPR station, PBS is TV. I didn't make anything up, FYI.
posted by ml98tu at 5:20 PM on August 22, 2007

Response by poster: If it was as easy as just calling, I would. But I'm in a competitive position, after a fashion, and I can't make myself known until later. I can't have them going, "WTF is he doing asking for that?"

Besides that, it's many days of calling and mailing and I need something to start with soonest.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 5:35 PM on August 22, 2007

I (through work) sponsor a short (5 minute) local book review show with our rural but large (geographically) local affiliate. It runs us $1800 a year and for that we get mentioned twice a week when it runs in the middle of the morning news, Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
posted by Toekneesan at 5:57 PM on August 22, 2007

I think that this is going to vary widely based upon the show, its audience, its time slot and so on. When you use the word "underwrite", are you talking about giving a producer enough money to launch a show or keep a show going? For example, Select Comfort (Sleep Number Mattress people) and Toyota are the underwriters of a Prairie Home Companion. VW is one of the underwriters of This American Life. These companies aren't paying for promotional spots. They are actually ponying up money for the production of the show ongoing over time.

So, to clarify, is underwriting really what you are referring to? Or promotional spots?
posted by jeanmari at 6:15 PM on August 22, 2007

Most media outlets post their media kits online, try searching your local NPR stations website to see if they do.
posted by kanemano at 6:16 PM on August 22, 2007

jeanmari -- "underwriting" is the generic term for public radio promotional spots. It is used to distinguish them from advertisements, which cannot run on public radio. Ads can contain things like comparisons to competitors, calls to action, and prices, none of which can air on public radio.

I think you'll find that stations sell local underwriting in the manner described by ml98tu. If you're buying national underwriting, ala VW on This American Life, you're much more likely to be making a big buy.

I produce a nationally-distributed public radio show myself, and when I have sold underwriting on the show, it's generally been on a loose CPM basis, with a CPM around thirty or forty bucks or so, iirc. There's a lot of variables, but that's an approximate number for you. (By the way, my email's in my profile if anyone's looking to buy ;) )

My experience is that you won't have trouble if you ask for a media kit from places. I've done so a few times, without even lying about it :). My general experience is that public radio people are pretty nice.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:19 PM on August 22, 2007

Okay, we're confusing two separate types of underwriting. There's the type of underwriting that acts like commercial spots do - they're on during breaks, they air only locally, and are usually (though not always, especially depending on the market) for local organizations. Most of them are indie bookstores advertising their in-store promotions, or similar deals.

ml98tu has it pretty much down, but in my experience, that's the drive-time pricing for a major-market station. For the 10,000 watt station in middle-of-nowhere, Iowa, pricing is probably *much* lower. Also, that's for a :15 spot.

And then there's long-term underwriting. This is the stuff like at the beginning of the "On Point" billboard, or what you hear Frank Tavares say during the :40 and :58 breaks in NPR talk shows. For any show that goes nationally, the prices are going to be much more. I'm not sure, exactly, how much, but for underwriting that goes out during All Things Considered, you're reaching an audience of about 12 million people, so you're laying out some cash.

on preview, Damn, YoungAmerican. Way to beat me to the punch.

You should listen to YoungAmerican, both what he's saying, and his show, because it's awesome.

And I'll nth the calling - if you want to know about network shows, I'd just call the NPR switchboard, and ask the operator who they think you should be talking to.
posted by god hates math at 8:36 PM on August 22, 2007

WAMU in DC offers "day sponsorship" as described above on the day of your choosing for $500.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:10 AM on August 23, 2007

My local NPR station lets you be a "day sponsor" for $120 (usually $10 a month debit from your account).

What this gets you is multiple mentions throughout the day (you don't get to pick slots) for one day.

I often sign up for this donation/plan during their pledge drive.
posted by sourwookie at 7:32 AM on August 23, 2007

(Oh yay! YoungAmerican I really like your show.) Yes, thank you. What I was trying to get at (although it was late and I was tired) is that there is two types of underwriting as GodHatesMath also pointed out. I was trying to determine which (long-term or short-term) the OP was referring to. Because (as you know) the dollar amounts are much different.
posted by jeanmari at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2007

(Ugh, never post on Mefi while kid is catnapping. You get interrupted.) The OP's question seems to ask about both kinds of underwriting and I was trying to get more information.
posted by jeanmari at 9:38 AM on August 23, 2007

Response by poster: As I wrote in the question, I'm interested in the underwriting that supports individual shows, not the whole station.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 9:58 AM on August 23, 2007

I produce (or will until 5 pm today) a public radio show. With us, it's $150 a show, but we try to get a longer commitment so the sponsor can understand that people won't rush to the product from the get-go.

There is also full program sponsorship, which is usually arbitrated and means that the sponsor gets flagship status.
posted by parmanparman at 10:59 AM on August 23, 2007

Turkeymustard, yes. There is long-term underwriting of individual shows (years) and short-term (days or weeks) underwriting of individual shows. Both seem to be called "underwriting". That is what I was trying to determine. I have contacts at WBEZ in Chicago and could possibly do some research for you.
posted by jeanmari at 2:49 PM on August 23, 2007

Just to clarify, my comment was for corporate underwriting on a local station, not as an individual donor (day sponsor) or corporate support of the production costs for a specific show. The cost for one "ad" if you will, though there are rules and regulations to make it less commercial as YoungAmerican points out.

I read your initial question as referring to underwriting promotional spots for a specific show, as in, you want to make sure your "ad" runs during Marketplace or All Things Considered. I did not initially read it as the facilitation of the production/maintenance of a particular program. I wonder if the funds one pays to run an "ad" during a particular show go towards supporting that individual show or the station/NPR in general?
posted by ml98tu at 3:02 PM on August 23, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks, Jeanmari, for your offer. I have a couple of contacts at WBEZ, too, but if they don't pan out I may take you up on your offer.
posted by TurkeyMustard at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2007

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