Underwriting: Notes from The College at Brockport — SUNY 89.1 The Point
Success in selling advertising or sponsorships in radio or TV is, like any other product or service, very much tied to the public perception of your operation. Likewise, how much you are able to charge is predicated by many factors such as market size, audience size and demographics.
If you approach sales from the client’s perspective instead of the stations, you will have greater success. The goal of the client is to try to get more people in their store. You need to show that client how advertising on or off the air with your station will help that goal become attainable.
The most successful also make a long-term commitment to be the account representative for a client. This provides consistency and a level of trust develops between parties that is essential to an on-going relationship.
Lots of ground to cover here. If you are a carrier current, cable FM or Cable TV-only station, you are not restricted by the FCC in any way in terms of on-air advertising. YOU MAY, HOWEVER, BE RESTRICTED BY YOUR SCHOOL WHICH MAY HAVE INTERNAL POLICIES REGARDING ADVERTISING SUCH THINGS AS BARS, STRIP CLUBS, ETC.
You also may be restricted by your school from soliciting some businesses because other areas of the school are already working with that company or business. Every school is different, so check with your school officials to be sure before getting started. Alumni Relations, Athletics, Marketing office or the Administration would be logical places to ask.
If you are a non-commercial FM operation, the FCC does regulate what you can do on the air. These restrictions, along with any additional ones your school has, may not be in effect for your student newspaper. Seems unfair, but the newspaper doesn’t need a license to operate.
The easiest way is to remember the 6 things you can do on the air rather than all the things you can’t. They are:
Name of business
Address (street and/or website)
Hours of Operation
Product Line (such as pan pizza, deep dish, take –out, etc.)
Logo Phrase (if it isn’t a call to action)
Anything more than the above six items in an underwriting announcement is called ENHANCED UNDERWRITING and may result in a FCC fine of $1,000 per time the announcement aired.
Also, the announcement may not contain any qualitative descriptions (best selection/widest variety), price references or adjectives (best, convenient, discount). If in doubt, send a sample script to one of the CBI officers for a look over.
Any money collected by the station via underwriting MUST go directly to the station. On air, you are not permitted to raise funds for any organization other than the station itself.
Think for a second of all the things at your station that are sponsorable:
On air — Newscasts Off-air — -Giveaway Items
Weather Staff Shirts
Sportscasts Web Site Banner Ads
Events Calendar Booth/Tent Remote Setup
Movie Reviews Community Event Sponsors
Game Broadcasts Coupon Sheets
This list is virtually endless. The most important thing to remember is to NEVER, NEVER give anything away for free. If you don’t charge a business for putting their logo on you website or for sponsoring a weather forecast, then you’re telling that sponsor that the feature isn’t worth anything.
If your station is doing a sales remote at the local pizza shop with call-ins from the parking lot with free pizza certificates given to the first 10 cars with the stations bumper sticker on, you need to charge the business a fee for your stations appearance. To do otherwise is known as STRAIGHT TRADE. Once you do a straight trade with a client, you will rarely if ever get any cash from them ever again.
The first meeting between a station account executive and a business owner should not involve a sales pitch. You are just there on a fact-finding mission — known as a Customer Needs Analysis or CNA. Questions to ask could include:
Describe your primary customer
What is your yearly advertising budget?
How much of that do you spend on print? TV? Direct Mail? Radio? Web?
What is unique about your business?
Where do you want this business to be in 5 years?
Who are your main competitors?
What products are your best sellers? Your slowest?
Do you have peak times of the year for this business? What are they?
By gathering the information and setting up a follow-up appointment, you can come up with a plan of how advertising on your station will help his/her business get more customers in the door.
Target the business to a certain style of music show or time of day that matches up best with her/his customers. A local fast food joint getting the most store traffic after 10pm may not want to advertise in the morning. Or maybe they do if the owner told you during the CNA he/she wants to beef up the lunch crowd.
Spec spots are also very successful in completing a sale. A spec spot is a tape of what the client’s on-air announcement might sound like or look like should they purchase a schedule of announcements with your station. In many cases, just the fact you took the time to produce an announcement about their business will impress the owner enough to sign a contract. For non-commercial stations, it also reduces the mystery of underwriting.
Once a contract is signed (you do have numbered contracts, don’t you?), the work has just begun. As the account representative, you must service the account. This means regular calls to the client to make sure they’re happy or if they want to adjust the copy/music/voice or something else about the announcement. To sign a client and ignore them shows that you really only wanted their money and you don’t care about the success of the business or if the advertising worked. If this happens. It’s almost guaranteed they won’t sign on again in the near future and be an even tougher sell next time.
Once you’ve established a client list and it’s time to graduate, the last few months of your tenure should include a transfer of the account for the upcoming year. This includes a meeting with all the necessary people to make sure the client is comfortable and up to speed with the changes.
You need a regular policy of billing, collection and late charges. Try as you might, some clients will be deadbeats. Your student government may have lawyer representation that could act on your behalf with a quick letter to non-paying clients that will usually shake the money loose. Some think that, because they’re dealing with college students, they can get away with not paying their bills. A regular, unwavering policy of billing on a specific day each month and x number of days to pay will increase your stations profile in the business community as a group who knows how good business is conducted.
Numbered contracts with multiple copies is essential for your protection. Without being too specific, we once had a client who had one of our staff members lift his file from the sales office — good thing we had two other copies of the contract in different locations so we had proof of the agreement and the client did finally pay up.
SALES PROMOTION IDEA (2 EASY/2 INVOLVED)
If your station is making a PR appearance at any local sporting event for a halftime promotion, get in touch with a local distributor and charge them a fee to have your staff hand out product samples after the event. You supply the people, you get the publicity and you get the money. (Note: check with athletic dept. for permission and never hand out before/during the event — they end up scattered all over the venue)
If your station makes regular appearances at any local fairs, festivals or carnivals during the year, charge a sponsor to put their logo on your station staff shirts to offset the cost and maybe make a few bucks. You get low cost/free staff shirts, make money and the client gets the exposure of your staff wearing the shirts and the public attending seeing their logo at the events.
BACK TO SCHOOL COUPON SHEET: Get permission to have a flyer in the Orientation Folder which is given to every new student when they walk on campus for the first time. Divide an 8 ½” x 11” sheet of paper into 8 (number doesn’t matter, just make sure all coupons are equal in size) sections. Any client who signs a minimum value contract for advertising/underwriting to be run in the next few months gets a free coupon on your sheet. If the minimum contract is $450 and you sell all 8 coupons, you make $3,600 and the client is one of the first businesses all the new students are exposed to when they first arrive in town. Most campuses restrict businesses from advertising so you become one of the only advertising vehicles. (Note: make sure you don’t have any competing businesses of the sheet, put expiration dates on the coupons and check with the client to see how many coupons were redeemed)
PROM PLEDGE: Contact local schools to get the dates of their proms and permission to set up in their school during lunch. Make up a one-sheet PROM PLEDGE statement sheet on your letterhead with sponsor names/logos at the bottom. Sell packages to a local limo company, flower shop, tux rental place, restaurant and whomever else you can think to tie in. Register everyone who signs a prom pledge sheet to win a prize package — one per school. The flower shop may want you to hand out discount coupons to generate traffic. Remember if you’re non-commercial; if it’s off the air, underwriting rules don’t apply.