WASHINGTON: Last year's terrorist attacks drove a sizeable cadre of new listeners to National Public Radio - people searching for a reliable news source with maximum integrity and minimum hype. One year later, the network has tapped Fleishman-Hillard as its first agency of record in an attempt to make those new listeners part of its everyday audience.
Now 32 years old and heard on nearly 700 stations nationwide, NPR experienced a 19% jump in listeners in the 12 months following September 11, 2001.
The network believes most of those listeners came to NPR simply by roaming the dial in search of a responsible voice.
"They're looking for news they can trust," said director of public and media relations Jessamyn Sarmiento. "Many who find you in that way stay with you, but we're going to reach out to those people and make sure they stay with us."
Specific details on how they will accomplish that are still being considered, but the retention of Fleishman is considered the first step in the process.
No RFP was issued for the account. NPR had worked with the agency before on a project basis in 2001.
NPR has been trying to increase both the size and diversity of its audience for several years now, a search that has yielded relationships with a number of national and DC-based PR firms, including Ketchum, Fleishman, and McKinney & Associates. Internal data from 1998 showing that its audience was overwhelmingly white led the network to court more diverse audiences, while other data showing it was reaching only a small portion of its target demographic spawned a more precise outreach attempt. The latter effort was spearheaded by Fleishman and its ad shop Greer Margolis.
Increasing the diversity of NPR's audience will be among the tasks assigned to Fleishman. Sarmiento cited one of NPR's newest programs, The Tavis Smiley Show, as a launch point for that portion of the campaign.
"He's definitely playing a part in bringing new audiences to NPR," she said of the African-American Smiley. "His show is being picked up in mainstream markets like Seattle, LA, New York, Dallas - places in the heartland.
We'll build on that."
Fleishman will run the campaign out of its DC office, though all 34 national outposts will have a role to play. The Los Angeles office will take a special role as well, helping to launch NPR West this fall. The campaign is being led by SVP Jon Haber and VP Devon Scanlon.
"NPR is a leading voice in broadcast journalism, and we're very excited to work with them," said John Graham, Fleishman's chairman and CEO. "With so many avid NPR listeners in the Fleishman family, there has been tremendous interest in working with this new client."