Check any blog, Facebook page or website dedicated to LPFM and you'll see dozens of posts asking for help getting funding, queries about the Byzantine FCC regulations (and how to overcome them), and floundering for ideas on how to attract community dollars when you aren't allowed to "advertise" or promote local businesses OTA.
Successful stations have somehow managed to answer these questions, generating enough revenue to stay alive and provide their communities with the superlative mix of eclectic and hyper-local broadcasting that is the dream of LP-FM. If you ask them how they did it, while the stories are filled with similarities, there are also dozens of different tactics and creative ideas that would seem to apply only to them. Trying to come up with ideas that will work for your LP and community can be daunting and frustrating, to say the least.
Although it's true that each market, city, and local demographic is unique, with different needs and interests - not to mention levels of ability to support local stations - I don't believe there is anywhere you can't make LP funding a reality, with a little bit of creativity and some elbow grease.
Don't Forget the Basics
Before any "out of the box" funding methods, make sure you haven't forgone the typical ones. Convincing local businesses to have their name associated philanthropically with your station is oftentimes easier than you'd think, just ask!
Approach local businesses and explain your mission with no apologies, no mumbled acknowledgements that you can't offer the same exposure "big-time" commercial stations do. Forget that. Be proud to be LP. Sell sponsors on your vision, not your numbers.
More than anything else though, whether you put up billboards, do fund drives, plaster your car with stickers, show up at local events dressed as the station mascot, are tossing out buttons and hats like they were tootsie-rolls; whatever it is you do, GET OUT THERE. If you're walking into businesses with a hand out and the typical response is a raised eyebrow and "WYL who?" then go back to grass roots. People need to know you're there and broadcasting for them before they will be interested in supporting you. In short, be present in your community, be visible and vocal and everything a local station is supposed to be.
Ensuring your community can see you is just as important for an LP-FM as it is that they hear you!
There's a nearly infinite number of way to get the word out and get sponsors, and we couldn't possibly cover them all. Many won't even be possible in your community, but it's important to consider all options. If nothing else, hopefully some of the items here will give you an idea you wouldn't have had otherwise, or alert you to options you didn't know you had. Remember, Determining what won't work can be the first step in figuring out what will!
Social media: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Pinterest ...
- Facebook has calls to action, Twitter allows for links and pictures; social media is good for sharing, so look into how you can share easily and often
- Make sure you include donation links and easy one-click ways that your community can support you - some stations generate more sponsorship revenue from individuals than they do from businesses, at $5 and $10 a pledge
- Use something like IFTTT, Buffer, or Zapier to automate and schedule your social media interactions
Local news: Newspapers, your local cable station, and even ::gasp:: other radio stations!
- Local media is typically starved for items to fill space. News outlets will write a story for you, or publish one that you write about yourself gladly and at no charge.
- Have a list of friendly outlets at hand and let them know anytime you do anything of interest - tower up, first broadcast, station supporting local events, you've decided to play all Christmas music starting in June to beat the rush ... let people know!
- Cable TV can also be a great place for finding listeners, as much of the demographic overlaps
Signage: Billboards, handmade signs on roads, LED lights on the bank time and temp sign - anything that might get someone to turn the dial your way
- Anyone old enough to remember Burma shave? Guess what, it still works!
- Banks, sports arenas, high schools and many other places now have electronic billboards that can easily have your call letters added. If they want money, offer air-time or a sponsorship "barter" deal.
Sponsorship, Partnership, and Advertising
That's right, I said advertising. Remember, anything you do off air in support of your station is legit. Selling web space, mobile app banners, T-Shirt space or anything else is OK so long as it isn't being done over the air. So what ways are other stations leveraging that with local businesses and organizations? Here's a few:
Membership Dues: Set up formal memberships and give local organizations and individuals the opportunity to join.
- Schools: High Schools and colleges in particular love the opportunity to get their students on-air, and if students are on-air, that means parents are listening! Not only that, but become your local district's primary OTA source of closings during the winter months for guaranteed tune-ins!
- Churches: Broadcast Sunday's messages live, and use the recording for a special worship hour later in the week. Dues can be adjusted for the number of hours programmed.
- Businesses: Local businesses can become dues-paying members and let the owners or staff come on-air to discuss a topic of expertise. You have to be careful it doesn't turn into an hour-long OTA advertising spot of course, but this is a great way to get dues and programming at the same time.
- Board Members and DJ's: It stinks riding on the backs of your "volunteers", but creating a specific dues expectation helps you have a consistent and repeated income. Just don't forget to make it good when things are going well! In that vein, you can even let on-air members defray their dues if they are able to capture sponsor dollars or perform other work for the station in barter.
Local Events: Show up at events, and use them for sponsorship opportunities.
- City council, town hall, and other political meetings: You can come as a news outlet, but use the time and space to tell people what you are about and indicate your need for support. Bring handouts as well as a hand out, and get the politicians on the mic - they love to be involved (and talk), so let them!
- County and City Business organizations: You are a local business too, so this is not only a great way for other small businesses to find out about you and your sponsorship options, but for you to be visible and learning more about the community you support.
- Anything seasonal: Fairs and carnivals, Halloween store sales, President's day events, parades - even if you don't get anything directly getting your station known can be a windfall in itself.
- Get a Booth: If they won't sponsor you, they may be willing to give you booth space for little or no money (remember, even that can be written off at tax-time as a donation by the organizers). Just make sure you're visible and vocal and have tons of informational handouts with easy links to find out more or become a sponsor.
Partnerships and Revenue Sharing: If you can't get "donations" up-front, what about offering as a local business you help each other out? Decide the numbers beforehand, but make it as simple as possible and remind them that this, too, is tax deductible.
- Store grand openings, special sales: It's true that you can't advertise, do calls to action, or offer comparative language over the air, but you can let people know how exciting it is to be there, what music you're playing live, and doing "man-on-the street" type interviews to get people stopping by.
- Boy Scouts having a Christmas tree sale, Girl Scouts selling mints? Why don't you offer to show up and DJ for the event, play Christmas or candy-themed music and promote the heck out of it (legally) on-air? And all you ask for is a small percentage of their take that day ...
- Other charities: Food pantries, churches, support groups, half-way houses and many others have special events that they would pay for your station to DJ at, generate interest in, and share in their donations.
- Other events: Look around and see what's happening - you don't always have to be creative, just jump on the bandwagon of what is already there!
Make your own events: If there's not enough news to report, then BE the news!
- Concerts: Arrange with local bands to get together and show off their talents! You can charge people to attend, sell T-Shirts or CD's; there are a lot of ways to monetize.
- Contests: Like concerts, contests are a great way to get people excited, and generate revenue. You can charge for attendees, have a processing fee for entrants, sell station products, and more.
- Car, Bike, and Boat Shows: My station, WRLR, did an entire day's worth of programming ON A BOAT, in the MIDDLE OF THE LAKE. That's right, thousands of dollars of irreplaceable electronic equipment coasting across a busy waterway ... but we generated lots of hype, got some great sponsors, and made sure that people knew who we were!
- Raffles: Raffling an hour of "be the DJ" time is a slam dunk, but what about other ideas? Raffle a live show from local business, changing the station to your name for a day, special anniversary and birthday raffles where a DJ follows the winner around playing mood music during their date or special event ... the possibilities are limitless, and when the amount is small everyone loves to take a chance!
- Station Traditions: This may be "year 1" for the station, but creating a repeating event that people can count on, look forward to, and are willing to support can make a huge dent in your income. Music marathons,
The Internet is Your Friend - Tubes and All
A final word about getting out of the box - and your studio: Get on the 'Net! Use it for extending your local sponsor offerings, but also to take advantage of other revenue streams too. Just because you're a community station doesn't mean you have to restrict yourself to local sponsors. It is completely legal to make revenue from ad links and banners on your website, mobile apps, and more.
Banner ads and web blocks on the web, or via a low-cost customized app like RadioLive!, for example, can be great ways to extend your reach. Local sponsors love ads that they know are going to be seen primarily by local listeners - not to mention that they are tax-free! Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Link directly to the phone GPS with directions to a store
- Company website links
- Start a phone call or chat with the business
- Contact form or survey
- Coupon links, either printable or downloadable
- Special deals if the listener shows the business your station playing on their phone
- Promotions, contests, partnerships and all the rest mentioned in the sections above!
Other Universal Advertising
- Google Adwords and other generic advertising API's such as Admob
- Affiliate revenue from Amazon, eBay, or anything else you can think of - even web providers like Dreamhost often have revenue sharing programs you can be part of
- Promotions, contests, partnerships and all the rest mentioned in the sections above - but anywhere your Internet stream reaches, not just locally
Is That All There Is?
There are a metric tonne of ways that LP's and local stations are increasing revenues that aren't mentioned here; share your successes and ideas in the comments below so others can hear about them too! LP-FM is made up of a great group of people - while we may not have two pennies to rub together between us, I can guarantee that everyone will appreciate your 2¢!