The client’s perspective

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting administers federal funds to 1,500 public radio and television stations across the nation. Public TV and radio stations in turn use CPB grants to create and distribute “non-commercial, high-quality content and telecommunications services.”

By late 2016, CPB was operating in a rapidly changing landscape. The recent loss of the Public Telecommunications Facilities Program (PTFP), which funded replacements of aging broadcast equipment, meant many TV and radio stations had been delaying critical refreshes of aging equipment. As the broadcasting environment and technologies rapidly changed around them, many CPB member stations had to make choices about whether to completely modernize or to continue replacing outdated equipment in a more incremental fashion. For CPB to be able to help, it first needed to get a handle on the state of technology affairs among the many public radio and television stations it served.

CPB turned to Eagle Hill to conduct a comprehensive technology assessment to gain the necessary insights.

A new view

The assessment took the form of a survey, shaped and scoped in partnership with an advisory panel. The panel, chosen by CPB, included general managers, chief technology officers, and members of affiliated national organizations—people who could both shape the survey and influence their organizations to complete it. These initial meetings helped Eagle Hill understand the necessary context to build a survey and outreach plan that would get meaningful results.

Working closely with the advisory committee, we developed an online survey that we distributed to approximately 1,000 public radio and 170 public television licensees. We knew many of the smaller stations did not have the in-house capacity needed to complete a highly technical survey, so our survey allowed for anecdotal responses as well as quantifiable ones.

Because the survey itself was voluntary—and would take several hours for respondents to complete—Eagle Hill knew that clearly communicating a strong value proposition to recipients was key to gaining their participation. With excellent input from the advisory panel, we developed a multipronged communications strategy that clearly articulated the expectations and benefits to our target audience. We leveraged public media organizations to target their membership; placed articles and interviews in trade publications; sent physical postcards and emails; and made follow-up phone calls. Throughout the survey’s fielding, we tracked response rates and followed up where appropriate.

With excellent input from the advisory panel, we developed a multipronged communications strategy that clearly articulated the expectations and benefits to our target audience.

In addition, the team established a comprehensive support structure to encourage completion. We actively monitored and responded to comments about the survey on a public radio blog and created a virtual helpdesk to answer questions and smooth obstacles to participation.

Unconventional consulting—and breakthrough results

Respect was key to our success. We viewed every one of the stations we contacted as a client in its own right, and interacted with them in the spirit of collaboration and with respect and gratitude for their time. The result was an unprecedented high rate of participation and a wealth of valuable information.

We received completed surveys from 92 percent of the television stations and 73 percent of the radio stations we contacted—nearly two times (1.8 times) our initial target.

Eagle Hill cataloged information on more than 60,000 pieces of equipment, and mined extensive data on stations’ equipment and finances to build a clear picture of the technology and infrastructure issues facing public media today. Thanks to the expanded scope of the survey, we also captured considerable qualitative data around adoption of technology trends, financial security, business maturity, and potential skills and workforce challenges. Armed with this information, we developed 14 recommendations related to improving long-term strategic planning, collaboration, collective purchasing, and staffing at the individual station level.

The executive summary and report provided stations and public media national organizations with valuable insights and a platform for dialog with each other while educating public media stakeholders and funders on the most pressing issues facing the industry. It also provided quantifiable data to build a strong business case for future funding requests. Ultimately, it has become a foundational document for creating a more sustainable public media system.

We developed 14 recommendations related to improving long-term strategic planning, collaboration, collective purchasing, and staffing at the individual level.