Q&A: Kelly Mcculough, General Manager PBS

By Nonprofit Marketing ArizonaApril 22, 2016
Kelly Mccullough
Kelly Mccullough

Q: What’s the biggest change in public broadcasting you’ve seen in your time PBS? 

A: It’s now a multiplatform world. The title of my Rotary speech is “this is not your father’s PBS.” We are much more than just good ol’ Channel 8. We are 3 channels (HD, Life, World), online, mobile, in schools and in the community.    

The multiplatform world not only affects how we produce, package, repurpose and distribute content, it also effects how we fundraise. We do so much more than just pledge drives — which account for only about 20 percent of our annual operating revenues. We do lots of direct mail, telemarketing, e-fundraising, sponsor sales, mid-level giving, major giving, studio rentals, production services and more to generate much-needed revenue. 

Q: Where do you see PBS in 10 years?  

A: Continuing on the path we’ve been on for a few years… embracing new platforms, establishing new and more local partnerships, and producing more local content. The key theme here is local.  

It recently occurred to me that Arizona PBS is the greatest producer of local PBS content of any PBS station in the USA (sans sports). Not national productions like Nova, Masterpiece, Great Performances and the like, but rather uniquely Arizona productions such as … Cronkite News, Arizona Horizon, Check Please Arizona, Arizona Collectibles, Books & Co., Horizonte, Arizona Wildlife Views, ArtBeat Nation and so many more. See Local Programs drop down. We are also a leading producer of classical performance audio programming with our KBAQ production studio, now known as  

Central Sound at Arizona PBS. And, Arizona PBS is a leader in education outreach. We are an exemplar PBS station relative to PBS Learning Media with nearly half of the 65,000 teachers of Arizona registered and using this valuable education resource.  

Q: How has Netflix and other streaming TV affected public broadcasting?  

A: Well it certainly doesn’t help that there are even more content platforms that could detract from our primary TV services. Having said that, I think other channels are affected much more so than PBS due to the unique nature of our content and our relationship with our viewers. We treat them as citizens, not consumers.  

Viewers are certainly embracing content-on-demand, but they are also rediscovering over-the-air viewing (the TV antennae) whereby one gets typically 80 percent of what they watch via the main TV networks and they get the rest via the internet (Netflix, Hulu, etc.). I think it’s cable and satellite that are in trouble. 

Q:  What’s your favorite PBS and Non PBS show on TV right now? 

A: PBS: Just one? Nah… how about Nova, Frontline & American Experience. Non-PB: Sports, mainly MLB and NFL. 

Q:  Top 3 things a nonprofit should do to raise awareness? 

A: Grow your social media. Deploy your staff and board into the community. Seek out community partnerships. 

Q:  Top 3 things you do to garner more donations. 

A: Build a clean and robust database of donors and prospects from as many sources as possible – phone system, emails, etc. Develop a strong retention program… thank you calls, compelling events, e-communications. The fewer donors you lose, the fewer you have to acquire just to stay even. Get you and your board out there in the community to tell the story. Seek out others who are interested in your mission. 

Q: Worst program you did? 

A: Do you mean worst fund-raising program? If yes, then the answer is many. We failed with affinity marketing programs (several). We’ve had many a direct mail appeal perform poorly. We’ve had unsuccessful events (thankfully, not many). The key with all such efforts is to test, test, test …and as importantly learn, learn, learn. 

Q: Most effective marketing campaign elements to date? 

A: Synchronized multimedia appeals via… on-air, online, e-communications, direct mail, telemarketing, etc. Synchronized message and creative, offers and appeal/s…especially over time. Our recent Newman’s Own Foundation Challenge grant was a terrific execution of this and succeeded mightily. 

Q: What do you gain from being on community boards and networking so much? 

A: I’m always looking for new partnerships of which there are three types. Content – people who have expertise in specific topics. Promotional – people who would help or be interested in promoting specific programs and/or projects that we undertake. Revenue – people who can or know others who might make a financial contribution to specific programs and/or projects. I rarely know who I might meet or even bump into at such events and I can usually identify at least one good connection (or reconnection) at nearly every meeting.