SCPR Project Summary: Solving the Riddle of Native Advertising

Southern California Public Radio is a news organization whose mission is to strengthen civic and cultural bonds that unite Southern California’s diverse communities through radio and other interactive media. It reaches a monthly audience of more than 2 million people across platforms.

SCPR hopes to solve the riddle of native advertising for nonprofit news organizations. The team will create, within the legal limitations placed on public media, a scalable native underwriting convention that delivers value to both audience and the underwriter. The end framework would preserve public media’s common mission and values, while driving digital revenue growth.

The grant will enable SCPR to contract with a strategist for six months to design and implement a pilot native underwriting campaign. Sponsored content will appear in contextually relevant placements across SCPR’s digital products for both listeners and readers on mobile/desktop platforms. They will commit to beginning one sold campaign before the conclusion of the pilot program, although it may last longer.

SCPR feels that offering sponsored content packages to SCPR’s funders is the logical next step for monetizing its digital products, while keeping pace with private-market competitors. An outside digital marketing firm will work with SCPR staff and also a native sales consultant to develop the campaign, which will be with one sponsor.

Key concepts will include taking care that sponsor content is distinctly different visually from editorial content and that it is clearly identified as sponsor messaging. In details of design and execution, SCPR intends to follow the most explicit precedents set by other news organizations, including clear sponsorship marks in the URL, header and footer, overall design aesthetic, and body copy.

What knowledge will be gained from this experiment?

For fear of alienating its audience, public media has cautiously avoided monetizing its content in an overtly commercial manner. SCPR believes that the framework emerging from this grant will map out the common ground between the interests of its audience, underwriters, and journalistic principles.

At its conclusion, the organization will be much closer to determining whether sponsored content is a viable revenue stream for mission-driven, nonprofit content producers. SCPR hopes to apply this long term as an indicator of audience tolerance for first-mover behavior, of public media’s capacity for scalable network solutions, and the public media audience’s elasticity.

These lessons will inform the future makeup of SCPR’s sales team and will widen the opportunities for its Underwriting and Development teams to engage prospective funders.

Reviewers were most interested and intrigued in this engagement. Native advertising for public media and nonprofit news is a tricky area to navigate and the results of this experiment could have far-reaching implications for other nonprofit organizations. We feel it is worth a try, and SCPR has the capacity to do it.