Audience Dialogue

Participative Marketing for Local Radio, Chapter 8
Funding from grants: sections 4-5

8.4 Corporate sponsorship

Sponsorship was described in chapter 6 - but that applied to ad hoc sponsors, who receive on-air publicity in return for their funding. There are also large sponsors, which are more like funding agencies. For example, you might be approached by the largest employer in your local area - let's say it's a steelworks. They say they admire your programming, and would like to support you financially.

Is this too good to be true?


The important thing is not to be swept away by their corporate generosity. You need to engage in detailed discussions, and it's probably best if these are not very formal: just a few of you, a few of them - and no lawyers. If all goes well, you then need a simple written agreement. "We will do this... and you will do that..." One page is plenty. Without this agreement, your listeners will have a right to be suspicious - of your motives, as well as those of the funding corporation. When you have the agreement (which is still only provisional) circulate it to your listeners, put it on your web site, and discuss it on air.

Perhaps the donor will ask for a seat on your board, offering to provide an expert on (for example) marketing. Perhaps they will donate office space, or a new studio.

Consider the disadvantages of the proposal. The more generous the offer, the harder it will be to criticize the donor in your programs. What if the reason for this seemingly generous offer is to forestall criticism? Multinational companies in developing countries often try to disarm critics by offering them well-paid jobs, with grandiose titles but little work - except not to ask difficult questions.

The donor's presence may deter other sponsors or advertisers. Will your community station come to be seen as the donor's station? Will this be a way for the donor to "buy" a radio station - which might not otherwise be possible for them? Why have they selected your station, and not another? This move is likely to succeed only if the relationship between the donor and the station is completely open and frank. You will have to work out how you can be sure of that.

In some countries, radio programs are sponsored by NGOs. For example, in Tanzania the United Nations Development Program sponsors a regular health program, covering its production costs. Programs sponsored by NGOs are usually trying to be educational - in this case, aiming at women to improve the health of their families. The best examples of this type of program occur when the NGO and the station producers work closely together, creating a program that meets the goals of both the station and the NGO, and also interests the audience.

8.5 Angels

In the theatre world, an "angel" is a private person (a rich one) who funds the production of a play, and stands to lose that funding unless the play is a success. Radio is a little different, and the risk is less. But a radio angel is more likely to want to influence the programming. Somewhere I read about a millionaire in the USA who offered a huge donation to the local public radio station - as long as it did not play music he disliked. Though this story may be apocryphal (I've been unable to confirm any details) it illustrates the hidden problems that can arise when funding arrives in large amounts.


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