President’s Annual Report to the Members
September 15, 2011
In a year of great uncertainty and many pressures for all of us, PRPD has achieved a great deal with our limited resources and staff. Our budget is based almost completely (90%) on membership dues and conference revenue – a fact that keeps us independent, accountable only to our members. It also risks the vicissitudes of your available resources so we are heartened by the strong, continued support of the membership. We take it as an indication that our services are meeting your needs but as always, actively seek your input when we miss the mark or might be able to improve.
For those who like their reports brief, here is a list of the projects, beyond our normal services, that we successfully implemented in the year since our last conference:
- Digital Media Knowledge – completely revamped and launched website section
- Developed and fielded Public Radio Programming Survey (news and info)
- Public Radio Technology Survey - improved and assumed sole sponsorship
- Midday Talk project with NPR Research
- Migration of the Local News Initiative to PRPD website
- Restarted MEGS - expanding to include middays and ATC
- Exploring a low-cost research model for determining "Sense of Place"
- Convenings of network researchers
Each year the PRPD board holds a retreat in January to set the organization’s program for the year ahead. The result is documented in our updated Strategic Plan. In addition to a more detailed and timed action plan (which we are monitoring quarterly), we updated our Vision Statement and added “Core Values” for our organization as follows:
Public Radio Program Directors (PRPD) is public media’s principle advocate for content. PRPD exists to support the role programmers play in providing the highest level of service to their audience. It leads, trains and provides resources to program directors, content managers and other programming decision makers including station staff and producers.
To create the future for our industry. It all starts with content.
Fundamental Core Value Statement
We inspire creativity and innovation with integrity in order to achieve continuous improvement in public service.
In the current economic climate, we have been very fortunate to maintain steady membership levels over the past several years. While some stations have had to drop membership for budget reasons, many have returned very quickly after resolving their budget issues. Station consolidations continue to be a challenge to our membership model – one membership per organization - resulting in minor erosion in our member count. However, because dues include an NFFS calculation, we are on still on track for a slight increase in net membership revenue in 2011.
New and rejoining lapsed members since the last conference:
Elizabeth Gomoll, Roseville, MN
KPBS, San Diego
Angel Livas, Washington, DC
Richard Shere, Weston, MA
Our financial situation remains very positive, with our midyear (July 1) balance sheet essentially equal to the same time last year. Having more than met our goal of having the equivalent of 1 year’s budget set aside for unanticipated emergencies, the PRPD board has carefully allocated a small portion of our surplus to achieving some of the initiative listed above. Since the bulk of our revenue comes in during the last third of the year, this has given us greater flexibility to act without risking the bottom line.
In FY 2010 (calendar), for example, we allocated about $75,000 from the reserve for projects but with strong revenue ended with a small ($9,000) positive balance. This year we project approximately $20,000 surplus, again after allocating $25,000 from surplus to special projects to invest in the Programming Survey.
Digital Media Knowledge Base
Recognizing the need for more robust and up to date knowledge about Digital Media, we hired Paragon Media Strategies to develop the recently launched Digital Media Section
of the PRPD online Knowledge Base. Rather than the traditional static content of many other parts of the Knowledge Base, this rapidly changing arena was designed to be dynamic, more like a series of blogs with indexes and word clouds to help you navigate to what you need. To make sure it stays fresh, we will continue our contract with Paragon to continually update the material in a rapidly changing environment. Our goal is to begin to apply this or similar approaches to the rest of the Knowledge areas.
Public Radio Programming Survey
The recent challenges to public radio, concerns about whether our traditional approaches to programming were still relevant and the sense that an independent evaluation of national programs was overdue, PRPD undertook a survey of news and information audiences with Jacobs Media using the methodology behind the Public Radio Tech Surveys. PRPD footed the cost, and 44 stations provided access to their listener databases and helped recruit nearly 28,000 listeners on air and online.
The final touches are now being applied to the findings, which will be debuted at a general session at the upcoming conference. Again, PRPD Members will have online access to result summaries and stations that participated will receive the results for their individual station after the conference. Unlike the Tech Survey, we believe that this does not need to run every year, but like all good research, it raises many additional questions we might want to investigate. We are also considering whether the model might apply to music stations.
Public Radio Technology Survey
This past year, PRPD assumed sole sponsorship of the PRTS project after partnering with NPR and iMA for the first two studies, This resulted in a much deeper interaction with Jacobs Media in design and presentation of results better adapted to ease of use. We greatly increased the amount of data shared with participating (paying) station and adopted more user-friendly infographics in the report.
The rapidly changing digital environment revealed the overwhelming impact of mobile technology, music services (particularly Pandora) as well as the big increase in adoption of digital by older public radio listeners. Non-participating PRPD members also saw the results in a webinar and materials are available in the member section of our website.
The dynamism of technology shifts dictates an annual survey, so we are planning PRTS 4. This year we will likely move it just after the first of the year, allowing us to detect any shifts in technology use/ownership emerging from the holiday buying season. It will also move it out of the very busy fall fundraising season.
Midday Research Project
At this time last year we had just launched an experimental year-long study, in collaboration with NPR Research, and have been fielding periodic audience surveys progressively addressing aspects of the midday local talk shows of two stations, WOSU and WBUR. Based on the results, we have worked with the stations to evaluate the shows, make adjustments, and test audience reaction to the results and readjusting through the year.
The project team, NPR’s Ben Robins, Scott Williams (KJZZ/MEGS/PDW) and me, worked both electronically and in site visits, with the stations’ programming leadership and show staff to begin to understand the complex dynamics of local talk. We still have a finally audience survey to do, but we will be presenting a summary of our experiences in a conference session on Thursday, September 22 at 11:00am. Soon thereafter, supporting materials will be posted to our website.
Local News Initiative
We completed the transition of the LNI back to PRPD from NPR, which has generously provided seed funding to keep this project alive. In the past year, our focus was on moving the important project material to the PRPD website, the abovementioned Midday project and restarting the MEGS
training process. We have also designing and will shortly be testing (with Strategic Programming Partners) a survey instrument aimed at helping stations get a better handle on the Sense of Place of their own communities at a more affordable cost than the original focus group method. Once we have completed limited preliminary testing with a few stations, we hope to refine the research and, if effective, share it more widely.
In April, we held our first new MEGS workshop - in Tampa at WUSF. We have another scheduled in November in Las Vegas (at KNPR). While MEGS originally focused only on local Morning Edition presentation, we recognized that the principles apply more widely. Therefore, we have expanded MEGS to include Middays and All Things Considered. The Tampa workshop included at least one ATC host.
In addition, while not within the definition of “local news,” we are discussing how a similar approach might serve music stations - many of the principles apply across format. Network Researcher Convening
Last year, we reported an initial meeting with researchers from APM, PRI and NPR. We held one more of these meetings in December – adding a participant from the RRC and BBC. Again, we view this as a long-term effort aimed at sharing the sometimes overlapping or complementary efforts that often go unshared in the pressures of daily demands and in light of proprietary considerations. Not focused on short-term concrete actions, our goal is to maximize information sharing and help avoid unnecessarily duplicative efforts – as well as keeping PRPD up to date with knowledge as it is developed. Once these relationships are more firmly established, we hope to slowly bring other research players into our conversations as well. We also see this as valuable to PRPD’s contributions to public radio’s evolving relationship with Arbitron through the Public Radio Arbitron Team.
Attendance at Webinars for Members
continued to increase, as has access of archived recordings and materials. While most webinars are for PRPD members only, occasionally a topic is of such great interest that we open them to the entire system. With our Training Committee more focused on webinars than ever, we look forward to even more offerings and plan to eliminate our post-conference lull with a webinar scheduled in the first week of October.
Topics covered this year included:
- Making Relevant Content: Program Directors on Engaging Communities
- Effective On-Air Promotion in the PPM Era
- Making the Most of Facebook
- Weekend Programming: Strategies for Success
- PRTS3 - The Public Radio Technology Survey
- Latest Insights into Audience Pledge Drive Behavior
- Federal Funding Update : A Conversation w/ NPR's Mike Riksen
- Debunking The Myths From PPM
- What Everyone Needs to Know about Crisis Management and Why Does It Matter?
- Difficult Conversations: Communication in Crisis
- The American Youth Study
Our goal is to increase this output by 50% over the next year. Your ideas are always welcome.
As indicated in the Strategic Plan, we remain dedicated to keeping content and the role of programmers at the fore in all public radio conversations. PRPD continues to participate not only with programmers but also in regional meetings, other conferences, both in our system (i.e. PMDMC, AMPPR, iMA, PRNDI, NFCB, NonCommvention) and outside (i.e. SxSW Interactive, Arbitron Client meeting, Radio Ink Convergence). Through the big transitions at NPR, we have continued our collaborations and we continue to engage all of the networks at the programming level. PRPD has been part of the 170,000 Million stakeholder group and continues to be part of the Public Radio Arbitron Advisory Team.
A guiding force in all of our work is feedback from our members, especially the annual Members’ Survey. Look for the 2012 version of that survey at the end of the year and feel free to contact us as issues arise at your station or organization. Your input keeps us current and helps us anticipate needs to be ready when new opportunities arise.
Registration for the 2011 conference is the best in years, now over 500 and approaching the 2007 Minneapolis conference record. For the second time we worked with AIR (Cleveland was the first) and this time we have moved much further in integrating content rather than just presenting a separate track. We greatly appreciate their efforts both in agenda development and in helping bring a strong contingent of producers to Baltimore.
We also dipped a toe in the water with AMPPR, a first attempt toward PRPD’s goal to improve our offerings to music stations. The result is modest but we hope that our lessons will lead to greater collaboration with AMPPR and other music-oriented groups in the future. In another step in our desire to better serve music stations, I will help facilitate the classical format group meeting on Tuesday afternoon of the conference week and have been involved with planning the presentations there. We hope to be able to do more with Jazz and Triple-A stations soon.
In recent years, the cost of running a conference has escalated sharply. Some of this has been a conscious decision to invest more in attracting top-flight presenters but most comes from large increases in A/V costs, food and beverage (coffee is $75 a gallon!) and internet connection (sorry, still can’t afford ubiquitous Wi-Fi). As usual, the final determination of net revenue will have to wait until after the conference and associated bills clear later in the year. However, we do expect the net to be in the recent range.
As many of you know, we sadly lost our long-time conference planner, Peter Hamilton, to cancer this summer. The loss of his accumulated knowledge made the transition to a new planner rough but we feel back on our feet – with appreciation for extra effort by Dan Jensen, David Hollis and our new planner, Ellen Maiara. We also contracted more detail work and have worked to make the conference committee process less onerous on our board members. We believe that the results speak for themselves. Always striving to improve, we recognize that we’ve been fortunate to receive overwhelmingly positive reviews for recent conferences. We take seriously the challenge: “How are you going to top this one?” Hopefully, we have succeeded.
Arthur Cohen, President, PRPD