Underwriting from other Educational Institutions
In July, 2002, a colleague asked about the policies of educational institutions allowing underwriting by potentially competing institutions on their university-owned stations. Following are the responses that were posted publicly to the U:SA Listserv.
- This was the original posting on the subject: WXXX has been approached over the years by various institutions who wish to run underwriting on WXXX. Our licensee set a policy several administrations back that requires us to decline such potential support. At that time, we did not have a good rapport with the faculty and many administrators who saw us as a nonacademic drain on finances. They also objected to hearing "promotion of other schools" on what the perceived as their own radio station. In the interim, we have done our homework. Our reputation is such that the same faculty want to associate their endeavors with ours. WXXX sets a public standard that reflects well on the University. The President points to WXXX's return on investment ($200K in University support protects $1 million plus in audience based support and other non-university funds.) In the last few weeks, a rash of other schools have again approached us and I am working to get the policy changed. The Vice President for Marketing and Development (my supervisor) is in favor of allowing the acceptance of such gifts. We are looking for information to support this request to the President and her Advisory Council. If your licensee allows underwriting by potentially competing institutions, could you share that information with me? It would also help to know if this is a significant revenue stream and if there is any local faculty fallout.
- KXXX accepts underwriting for events that other colleges and universities in the area are putting on. In fact, we have a trade agreement with another station if their university concert series features acts that our audience would be interested in. But we would never accept underwriting for another university's academic programs.
- My impression is that we are here to serve the public interest and convenience and that our licensee accepted that role when they applied for and received a license. Where serving the interest of licensee converges with serving the interest of the broader community, we surely should do that. Not accepting a donation from a legitimate organization which provides a valuable service to the public, is non-controversial in the minds of listeners, and enhances our ability to fund our service seems odd to me. KXXX is not the mouthpiece of our Community College. It is a service for the general public owned by the college and funded by the college, the community, and CPB. The long-term survival of KXXX depends, in my view, on being indispensable to the community, on being part of the community, on being a pillar in the community. And, personally, I have no problem accepting underwriting from another radio station.
- We accept underwriting from other colleges and institutions, however the underwriting may not promote formal academic enrollment. So, we end up with announcements about plays, lectures and other events to which the public is invited. We have accepted some underwriting from correspondence schools.
- We've aired PSAs for years about what's going on at other institutions - concerts, plays, etc. Seems like the public ought to know about that. We've also accepted underwriting for a number of years. Some from peer state institutions mentioning enrollment time; some from smaller area private colleges mentioning their MBA or other academic programs. I heard a couple of comments on campus leaning toward the negative - more surprise than anything else, I think - but nothing in the realm of policy has ever been discussed, that I'm aware of. More recently we've been getting underwriting from several departments in our own institution! I guess the circle will be complete when our institution starts underwriting on other stations. Maybe on NPR...
- A couple of years ago a faculty member from our Business School complained to the Communication Services Department on campus (they purchase radio time for them) about KXXX promoting other university business schools. We determined that we certainly would not tell our educational underwriters that they could not help pay for our programming but we would limit the number of spots from the same organization in a single day to six. Any more than six, we decided, would seem like the underwriter owned KXXX. That policy seems to appease everyone so far. I do believe that universities and schools in our area are complimentary institutions and not competing institutions. Plus our university gets all the credit while other universities/schools help pay for it. We just received a $50,000 yearly contract for underwriting from a community college in our area. (This is almost as much cash as we get from our institution.). We also accept underwriting from other nearly public radio stations and commercial television stations.
- I am curious about this issue: What is in the PUBLIC's interest? The WXXX stations often run announcements about what's happening at other state-wide institutions--concerts, plays, lectires, etc., just as part of our service to the public which is presumably interested in these events. I really don't think the University sees those other institutions as "competitors."
- While we may tend to look at these rather simply as revenue opportunities, it's another chance to view ourselves through the lenses of our employers. When another university purchased underwriting on NPR, we heard indirectly from our president who wondered how those imaging message got on our air (we're in the metro). When I explained the dimensions of that other university's purchase with NPR (not with us) our administrators were taken aback. More recently, we had a limited run of spots for a small institution about 100 miles from us. I was unaware of these in advance, and when I heard them figured it wouldn't be long before a call came from our University. I wasn't disappointed. When the same university came back several months later wanting to make a bigger buy we declined. Higher education has become a hugely competitive business where enrollment matters. Traditional bricks-and-mortar institutions are wary not only of their local competitors but also Internet-based instruction and satellite programs of otherwise distant universities. Universities are learning to be marketers, to pay attention to branding and imaging. Even if yours is a one-college town your supervisors are going to be very protective of that college's image and community standing. One of our stations' key values to our licensees is as well-respected representatives of our institutions in our broader communities. Listeners may or may not closely associate us with our host institutions, even when our call letters mimic universities' identities, but university administrations invariably do. With due respect to my colleague, the fact that the courses promoted aren't offered on our campus is of no consequence. To a university administration there is no good reason to draw attention to another college or its programs when it could lead a prospective student elsewhere. Do you accept underwriting from other radio stations promoting their service to your listeners?