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NPR, WGBH, Acquire Sales Organization

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NEW YORK ( -- Think of it as "All Ads Considered." National Public Radio and WGBH Boston agreed to acquire National Public Broadcasting, a national sales organization dedicated to selling and underwriting sponsorships for public broadcasting programs. Now sponsorships for all programs on NPR, and all local PBS affiliates will be handled under one roof.
With the acquisition of NPB, public braodcasting for the first time has a single digital sales network.
With the acquisition of NPB, public braodcasting for the first time has a single digital sales network.

NPR CEO Ken Stern will act as chairman of the board of the new sales entity, with Jonathan Abbott, chief operating officer and president-elect of WGBH, also serving on the new board. NPG CEO Robert Williams will retain his role under the new organization.

A first for public broadcasting
Mr. Stern said the acquisition marks the first time public broadcasting has had a single digital sales network. "It doesn't change the portfolio of what's out there, it just makes it easier for corporations and agencies to interact with public broadcasting," he said.

Buying sponsorships on public broadcasting varies across each of the platforms, Mr. Stern said. PBS, for example, typically sells three to four sponsors per show twice a year, comprising clients such as Kellogg, Subaru and Clorox. NPR, on the other hand, sells 10 different 10-second sponsor breaks during an average hour, with marketers like Acura, UBS Investment Bank and Mastercard on board.

"People are really sponsoring NPR less for particular shows and mostly during particular [dayparts], like morning drive time or early afternoon," Mr. Stern said. Most-requested NPR shows include "Morning Edition," "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me," "All Things Considered" and "Car Talk," he added.

Diverse client base
NPB, which sells and "The News Hour With Jim Lehrer," also boasts a diverse client base comprising categories such as travel, consumer electronics and automotive.

The road to successful revenue growth has been an admittedly rocky one for Mr. Stern. In 1999, his first year with the company, NPR reported about $19 million in sponsorship revenues. In 2000, the number grew to $31 million.

But the cost of covering the attacks of Sept. 11 brought 2002's total down to $18 million, leaving NPR in a rut to recover its ad dollars. "We decided we need to expand our sponsorship staff and some better, quantitative research to describe the values of sponsoring NPR," Mr. Stern said. As a result, NPR's ad revenues rose to $46 million this year.

Today's acquisition puts the combined assets at close to $80 million, he added. "Like us, [NPB] has been uneven, but I believe their high-quality organization will meld well with our staff. Each brings to the table the best of both worlds together."

Sales staff
Mr. Stern said the 20-person NPR sales staff will retain current duties under the new organization for now, but may take on larger client portfolios going forward. Mr. Williams said the same is true for the NPB staff, but there is potential to sell sponsorships across all the properties in the future.

"Philosophically, the overriding vision is figuring out how to marshal the various assets into packages that work for marketers who want to partner with the institution [of public broadcasting]," Mr. Williams said.
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