Public Radio Program Directors Conference in Cleveland. This week, it's the NAB in Philly.
I'm expecting a different experience, but I'm hoping for a few similarities.
PRPD, run by Arthur Cohen and a very engaged board, uses its conference as both a teaching and social opportunity for the public radio system. The event lasts longer than the NAB, but it is well-paced, and provides a great contrast of seminars, panels, events, presentations, as well as parties and tours of local high points (The Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame was part of the social agenda).
The PRPD conference featured a nice mix of big names from both the public and commercial radio sectors because it is about learning, and being exposed to new ideas, as well as proven best practices. The sessions tend to be packed, and even the socializing opportunities are filled with debate and discourse about the business.
But the biggest thing you notice at PRPD is that it's about programmers, because in public radio, content is indeed king... and queen. Yes, public radio is going through the very same economic crises that are impacting commercial stations and companies. It is every bit the hardship for them to send PDs to this conference as it is for commercial radio to send its managers.
And yet, they do. It was an amazing phenomenon for Paul and me to present our second annual Public Radio Tech Survey to hundreds of programmers, eager to take in the data, and get home to put it all into practice.
That's my wish for the NAB. I am hoping to see full rooms, busy hallways, and lots of chatter and noise this week. But I would also love to see roomfuls of programmers, strategizing ways to keep content front and center, amidst the ongoing crisis to keep radio afloat economically.
In the last few years, the Program Director - the protector of the product, the last line of defense, the content czar - has been minimized and pushed aside by the demands of the sales department. There's a fine line between trying to fend off revenue initiatives that may be damaging to the brand and being labeled as "sales un-friendly." Too many PDs have either had to cave in and hope for the best, or earn a reputation for being out of touch with the modern-day demands of commercial radio.
It wasn't that many years ago when programmers were the kingpins of radio, but today, consolidation has eliminated many jobs, forcing clusters to cut back on programmers. The end result is that multiple stations are being guided by just one person, often someone who doesn't even live in the market.
This may lead to short-term savings, but a long-term atrophying of brands. And it will also take its toll on the number of clever, and innovative people who make programming their goal in college. There are fewer jobs, and worse, less demand for creative programming concepts. One thing will indeed lead to another.
So, while public radio is fraught with many unique challenges - a PPM system that may be less-friendly than diaries, having to generate audience revenue in horrendous economic times, and focusing on local while paying for the best network programming - their programmers are engaged, motivated, educated, and ready for the next challenge.
And you can see it in their Net Promoter scores. This is a scale that many companies use to measure the degree to which fans are willing to recommend the station to others. We have learned - the hard way - that billboards and TV spots are great when you can afford them. But the real measure of whether a product is worth you time is when a trusted friend, colleague, or family members gives their enthusiastic thumbs-up to a station.
In this context, the differences between public and commercial radio are palpable. Net Promoter scores run nearly 30 points higher on the public side - and it has less to with no commercials, and more to do with great, well-prepared, and intelligently delivered content.
That's because when you have to rely on the audience to write checks and provide a credit card number in order to sustain you, it's a whole different game. Public radio has its issues, to be sure, but they have always understood the content principle, which is why so many of their personalities and programs have become successful podcasts.
Fresh Air's" Terry Gross, one of the best NPR programs, on our Summit agenda. Terry is a world-class interviewer, and Summit attendees will have a chance to learn from the master.
Let's hope there are more than a few programmers in the room.