Australian radio stations take their role in providing free public awareness campaigns seriously, but are they being taken for a ride by well funded charities asking for too much free airtime?
A recent survey of community radio stations by media buying house Spots & Space has revealed that some community organisations and charities have a sense of entitlement when it comes to expecting free radio air time. Stations have reacted against increasing requests by well-funded organisations to receive their advertising for free, especially where those organisations have already paid for a campaign on competing media outlets.
Spots & Space issued a discussion paper and on-line questionnaire to canvass the issue and develop a policy position for the broadcast of Community Service Announcements (CSAs). The buying house has more than three hundred partner radio stations, mostly in the community broadcasting sector.
More than 100 media organisations have already responded to the topic and Spots & Space has collected a significant number of written policy positions from stations, however there is no coordinated polity across all networks.
The response shows that media owners and community based media organisations are providing millions of dollars of support to not-for-profit organisations, community organisations, charities, the Arts and entertainment industries, disaster relief, and even governments. In 2011/12 the community radio sector allocated 1726 hours or an estimated $4M per week for charities and not for profit organisations.
Stations responding to the Spots & Space survey had a particular objection to campaigns that run as paid advertising on some channels and as a free CSA on others.
An organisation that is expecting a station to donate its airtime will, on occasion, have a negative, or even hostile reaction to a request for payment. The reaction can be especially negative if the organisation perceives that they have a ‘right’ to free airtime.
How and when CSAs are aired is a matter that is entirely up to the individual station. In the community broadcasting sector, CSAs are not categorised as advertising or sponsorship and do not count towards the station’s allocation of sponsored airtime per hour.
Local campaigns and campaigns that are delivered completely pro-bono from conception to broadcast are the best received by stations, according to information in the survey.
Impediments to achieving coverage include charities that make their approach through a third party fundraising organisation and the acknowledgement of third party commercial supporters in the CSA.
“We are encouraging stations to formalise and update their policy. This allows the media to get onto the front foot by giving a clear signal to public relations professionals what campaigns they will and will not support with free airtime,” Director of Spots & Space, Lee Hubber has told radioinfo. “Our aim is to collate the policies into broad national guidelines, that will provide clarity to the PR industry”
Spots & Space is asking stations to consider a number of important questions when formulating a policy on how to accept charitable campaigns. Some questions to consider are:
- Is the CSA going to air on other channels on a paid basis?
- Has the campaign been written, produced, and distributed by others on a pro-bono basis?
- Does the CSA acknowledge corporate sponsors?
- Does the CSA encourage listeners to spend or donate money?
- Do the radio station’s editorial guidelines require that CSAs be in keeping with your on air sound? If so should they be produced in-house?
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