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Statewide Public Broadcasting Associations 14 Keys to Success in Tough Times
John Hershberger, Sr. Associate, BMR Associates
Statewide Association Leaders Roundtable
PBS Annual Meeting, San Francisco, June 2002 1

Back Off or Push Forward?

A flagging economy has left state coffers seriously depleted. At the same time, public television stations and their statewide associations are looking hard to expand sources of support to help pay the costs of operating in a new digital multicast world.

Should statewide efforts be put on the back burner until the economic climate improves, or should statewide public broadcasting groups redouble their efforts now with an eye toward a brighter state funding future?

We believe it is in the stations' best interests to redouble statewide efforts now.

Unprecedented Opportunities

With multiple digital channels, stations "bring more to the table" in building a case for state funding and other statewide initiatives. They have the opportunity to aggregate spectrum capacity statewide for a defined service (lifelong learning for instance). They have unprecedented opportunities and an unprecedented need to find long-term partners to help provide content and share costs of programming multiple channels.

Our research shows that stations willing to invest a moderate amount of time and money can expect to generate substantial and sustained support.2 Stations in many states (in addition to state authority licensees/state networks) continue to receive millions of dollars annually. All stations, including those that currently receive nothing, can expect to generate multi-million dollar allocations in time if they follow the Keys to Success listed below.

In many cases generating substantial new or expanded funding may require a two- to three-year effort, but the probability of success and the potential payoff in sustained future funding makes the long-term effort worthwhile.

BMR Research

BMR Associates is just completing a feasibility study to help California public television stations determine whether or not to re-establish their long-dormant statewide association and pursue state, federal and foundation funding, and to develop or expand other statewide joint endeavors.

As part of our research for this project we examined public broadcasters' recent efforts in New York, Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Pennsylvania and Texas. Additional conversations with managers in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Washington, Missouri, Kansas, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Illinois have added to our knowledge base of statewide group activity.3

14 Keys to Success

A clear pattern emerged regarding why some statewide efforts succeed and others fail. We found that success has less to do with economic conditions in the state than on station leaders' ability and willingness to work together effectively in their collective best interests.

We have developed a list of 14 Keys to Success--lessons learned by your colleagues from years of practical experience in 15 states. We also factored in research results and our own consulting experience telling us what it takes to build and sustain successful collaborations among organizations. Taken together, these 14 "ingredients" represent a powerful recipe for effective and rewarding public television station collaboration at the statewide level.

1. Invest enough. Commit sufficient senior level time, effort and resources to give the effort a strong chance to succeed. To succeed, collaborations must have strong, sustained leadership at the highest levels.

2. Set big goals. Make the goals of the organization large enough to outweigh the differences among members of the group. If the ROI is large enough, the parties can work well together in spite of their differences.

3. Adopt a long-term perspective. Don't let today's economic slump discourage your planning for a brighter future. Build the organization and relationships now so you'll be in a position to succeed when the fiscal tide turns. This requires a clear shared vision and commitment among group leaders that the goals can and will be attained in the long run.

4. Go Deep. Look for deep, long-term, systemic partnerships and collaborations with other institutions that have a statewide agenda (including some state agencies).

5. Be politically smart. Cultivate your area legislators and staff as you would your largest major donors. And, put them on the air.

6. Acknowledge life isn't fair. Don't be overly concerned about what some other station is getting as long as the overall equation works for your station in the long run.

7. See eye to eye. Meet in person at least twice a year. Make it an event worth attending-guest speaker, nice lunch/dinner. Include collaboration working groups-producers, programmers, engineers, and outreach and development managers.

8. Communicate with key stakeholders. Sell the vision. Inform and engage board members, staff, major supporters and others whose participation and understanding are needed to make the effort a success. Keep communicating and engaging on a regular basis.

9. Squabble Elsewhere. In conducting statewide business, leave behind your inter-station bickering for another time and place. Concentrate on pursing big common objectives.

10. Hire staff. Don't rely exclusively on volunteer efforts of a few busy managers. Hire an executive director--someone whose vision extends beyond funding from the state (probably not your lobbyist).

11. Anticipate Problems. Develop consensus on procedures and decision-making processes that anticipate the conflicts that are most likely to arise.

12. Diversify. Develop multiple funding and partnership initiatives and get other station people (programmers, producers, outreach, engineering) working together. Seek federal, foundation and corporate support and alliances, as well as state funding.

13. Look for business. Explore revenue-generating opportunities and implement if (and only if) they don't detract from the top priority activities of the organization.

14. Walk away. Collaborations require willing and engaged collaborators. After making best efforts to work together, if essential stakeholders are unable to collaborate, walk away.


1. Revised July 9, 2002

2. We know managers must choose carefully how they allocate their limited time and resources. We believe the potential return on investment (ROI) from pursuing state, federal, foundation and other forms of statewide support is more than adequate to make the statewide effort a high priority for stations looking for significant new revenue.

3. We did not examine state authority licensees/state networks.

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