Online Sponsorship


You don’t need to have a Web site with a million page views or a popular podcast to develop online sponsorship opportunities. Sponsors want to connect with your valued audience across all platforms, regardless of the numbers. Online sponsorship may seem unfamiliar and not worth the small amount of revenue that it drives in the short term, but online advertising is the single fastest growing segment of the advertising market today. Web exposures are fast becoming an expected part of the total underwriting package, and your station is well-suited to deliver a high-quality audience across all digital platforms. Establishing this business now gives your station experience and the capacity to grow with market trends, while remaining relevant in the marketplace by providing sponsors with the exposure they demand. To launch a successful online sponsorship program at your station, you need to get management buy-in and create an online sponsorship plan.

Getting Management Buy-in

Your development department or Web department may initiate efforts to get online sponsorship off the ground, but if your senior management is not on board, it will be difficult to get the cross-departmental cooperation you’ll need. Not only is management buy-in important, but it must be communicated from the top down that online sponsorship implementation and success is a priority at your station. In most cases, online sponsorship revenue will represent incremental dollars at your station. This is a critical point to make when presenting to senior management. There are few managers that would willingly turn away the opportunity to drive additional net income for their organizations.


Creating a Plan

Consider placing your online sponsorship avails on the most-used portions of your site. Your home page is the obvious first choice, but stations seem to be divided over the issue of placing credits on their home pages. Many stations utilize this space as a sponsorship opportunity, while others feel that banners lend a commercial feel to their site. Some stations place their Web banners toward the bottom of the page, so that the viewer must scroll down to see them, thereby minimizing the commercial feel. After the homepage, consider the next most highly-trafficked pages of your site, which for many stations are their video pages, TV schedule pages, and search. Other frequently-sponsored pages include local program guides, news and feature stories, and event/concert calendars. Like any value proposition, you want to consider the best fit for the needs of your clients. While highly-trafficked pages are a good place to start, like with on-air sales, you’ll find that some clients may care less about reach and more about the quality of the eyeballs they are reaching. In these cases, you may want to consider offering content areas that get less traffic but that are highly targeted to special groups such as teachers or parents, and for which you can charge a higher rate.

Projecting Revenue

There are several sponsorship locations that you’ll likely sell exclusively to a single underwriter for a specific period of time: video streams, archives, podcasts, or e-mail newsletters. Here, it’s pretty straightforward. Pick a launch date, put together a package, and come up with a price for the term (monthly, quarterly, per issue, etc). Be ready and willing to adjust your prices to reflect marketplace demand – and don’t be afraid to shoot high. Within three to six months, you’ll have a much better feel for what the market will bear.

There are also other sponsorship opportunities available, like Web banners, in which you may choose to rotate several underwriters. These are a little trickier to project since traffic fluctuates and you won’t know how many sponsors you’ll have on board at a given time. Get a firm grasp on your potential banner inventory by tracking impressions and traffic trends over time, so you can anticipate seasonal increases and decreases. Then, identify an acceptable CPM range (cost per thousand impressions) and make a projection based on approximate traffic. Again, start modestly and be prepared to do some upward and downward revising based on your own experiences in the marketplace.

Resources Required

Every station is different in how they will approach online sponsorship. Some stations have large Web sites that are updated regularly by a sizable Web staff. Some stations have small sites that are run by a single Web technologist or, in some cases, by someone who spends half of their time serving another station function. Regardless of site size, your Web staffers will become important allies if you involve them early and often in the online sponsorship planning. When they have a direct voice in the process, it will increase the likelihood that they’ll buy-in, and ensure that your plan doesn’t get sidetracked or stalled when it comes time to deliver on your first contract. Be forewarned, however, that your Web is likely to be very busy and occasionally overwhelmed. If this is indeed the case at your station, factor in some additional planning time, but don’t overlook these critical colleagues. We can’t underestimate the need to develop a good working relationship with your Web staff, as they will ultimately be responsible for implementing your plan.


Sales Strategies

There is no single way to sell. The most important message is that your online sponsorship inventory should be quantified and sold, not given away for free as part of a broadcast buy, AKA “value add.” Giving it away for free now will be problematic when you want to, or need to, charge for it in the future. You will need buy-in from sales management to ensure digital opportunities are sold, rather than given away. Sales representatives uncertain about digital opportunities will be less inclined to push for dollars, and more inclined to use sponsorship locations as deal sweeteners.

Some clients will only be interested in your online opportunities; others will be interested in a combination of on-air and online sponsorship. Make sure that your sales team is adequately versed in online sponsorship trends and terminology, and that they understand the fundamental differences between the mediums they are used to selling (TV, radio, and Web).

A good sales person knows every opportunity out there. S/he listens to what a client wants and puts together an underwriting proposal that makes sense. A good rule of thumb is to find a way to incorporate an online component into every pitch you make - and charge for it. The idea here is that every client you’re speaking with wants to reach your audience, regardless of platform. Your audience is accessing your station in more than one way: they visit your Web site, they listen to and view your programs, they download podcasts and they sign up for newsletters. Allow your client to touch your audience, wherever they may be consuming your content.


User Experience

It’s important to keep the user experience in mind as you consider banner size and placement. Is it comparable to what listeners experience when they hear your station? Or to viewers when they watch your TV programs? Does it have to be? The Web is not linear like TV or radio, so you will want to consider the total environment as you develop your sponsorship plan. You will also want to be sure to choose banner sizes and placements that are going to be widely accepted by sponsors and agencies. Refer to the Internet Advertising Bureau’s Ad Unit Guidelines to see a list of the commonly used ad banner sizes:

Ad Serving and Trafficking Tools

Although you can always hard code sponsor images onto your Web pages directly, you’ll be well-served to implement ad serving and trafficking software for Web banners.


Most stations are creating online underwriting guidelines that keep the spirit of their on-air guidelines. This provides continuity of experience from broadcast to Web. Other stations are creating separate guidelines for their online activity that go beyond on-air restrictions. Guidelines can be lengthy or brief. Be as specific as possible in your guidelines - not only about what the messages can contain, but also the technical guidelines (Are third-party tags allowed? Is audio allowed? What are the animation limits and Flash parameters?).

Types of Online Sponsorship

Display Units/Banners

Most stations have launched their online sponsorship programs by offering Web sponsorship units to underwriters and prospects. Web sponsorship units generally come in one of four formats: banners, rectangles, tiles/buttons or skyscrapers.  They all offer your underwriters the opportunity to represent their products visually, and they allow your underwriters the potential for direct response in ways that on-air acknowledgements don’t.

Here are some decisions you’ll need to make about Web sponsorship units as you formulate your sponsorship plan:

Ad Unit Size(s)

The size and placement of sponsorship units is a critical decision. Sponsorship units, appropriately sized and placed, should be included in your site design from the beginning, so that everyone understands sponsorship is an important part of the site.

If possible, use IAB standards when determining the sizes of your banners, as these are the most common sizes created by sponsors and agencies. The unanimous feedback from stations placing sponsorship units on their site is: “put these on your most heavily trafficked pages and put them above the fold.”  You’ll have more impressions, create greater revenue potential and accomplish more for your underwriters by offering them visibility. The most common banner sizes are 160x600, 728x90 and 300x250, particularly if you are competing against commercial sites and dealing with agencies. Anything smaller may be difficult to sell in those environments.


If you’re selling on a CPM basis (cost per thousand impressions), current acceptable rates for guaranteed sponsorship units are anywhere from $10 to $25/CPM.  Rich media (that is, Flash or GIF animations) command slightly higher rates. Other variables include: the size of the graphical unit you’re offering, the location on the page, and the type of messages that you’ll allow. Again, you don’t have to sell CPM, but these are a good starting point for pricing flat rate opportunities.

If you’re going to go the sponsorship route, you can offer placement on a weekly or monthly basis. A number of stations are garnering $350-$400/month for annual contracts, rotating sponsors through their top trafficked pages. At $4,000+ a year, per client, you can see how this can easily add up to sizeable revenue.  In many cases with these kinds of clients, there’s not the kind of accountability with reporting. They’re happy to support public broadcasting and see their banners on a station’s home page.

To price these opportunities, start with your pageviews and the suggested CPMs. For example, if you can deliver roughly 50,000 pageviews per month, then start with a $20 CPM, and that would give you a value of roughly $1,000 per month. If you rotate four sponsors in that placement, you could price that at $300 each per month.


We all have good reasons to communicate with our viewers and listeners. It’s likely your station already sends at least one email newsletter currently. Some stations offer a number of different e-newsletters. Here are some decisions you’ll need to make about e-newsletter sponsorship units as you formulate your sponsorship plan:


Opt-in means that e-newsletter subscribers have expressed their desire to “opt-in” to receive your e-newsletter.  “Opt-out” means that people are automatically subscribed to an e-newsletter and that they need to op-out to stop receiving it. It may be that everyone who becomes a member of your station is automatically subscribed to receive your e-newsletters. In this case, your e-newsletters are opt-out.

Opt-in e-newsletters usually have a higher perceived value in the eye of the underwriter. Double opt-in, which means that a user has signed up and then confirmed their subscription, will garner an even higher rate. If your e-newsletters ARE opt-in, include that in your marketing materials. If they’re not, don’t call attention to the fact that they’re opt-out. Put your best foot forward, and reiterate that you respect subscribers’ privacy and follow best practices by always giving readers the option to unsubscribe to your e-newsletter.


Exclusivity, in Internet parlance, can also be called “Share of Voice (SOV).” An underwriter who wants exclusivity is getting 100% SOV, and you can charge a premium for it. One upside to offering 100% SOV or exclusivity is that once you’re sold, you’re finished for that period and you can move on to selling the next one – maybe even at a higher rate.

Type of sponsorship messages

Several years ago, the trend was toward graphics and HTML formats: “You must have a graphic in your e-mail newsletter, and the bigger the better.” But these days, with so many messages being filtered as spam due to excessive graphics, there’s room again to consider the text ad.

Subscriber metrics

You’ll need to know how many people are receiving your e-newsletters (distribution or circulation) and how many people are reading your e-newsletters (open rate).  If you’re doing targeted e-newsletters (e.g., book reviews), play up your qualitative strengths as much as possible.

You want a reasonable open rate (the % of subscribers that actually open your e-mail message); 20% or above is ideal. If your rate is falling below that, consider changing content or dropping the e-newsletter.


Create a calendar

Keep an internal calendar with the dates that e-newsletters are published, and make sure to meet the deadlines with graphic/link information for your sponsor’s message.  An editorial calendar may also help with your forward selling efforts.

Addressing unsold inventory

Consider filling unsold e-newsletter spots with house ads. Not only will this help you promote unique station events, pledge, or tune-in, but it has the added benefit of familiarizing your staff with the idea of sending every e-newsletter with a message (paid or house). It also serves to emphasize the value of this space.

E-mail newsletter server

Familiarize yourself with the limitations and/or opportunities that your e-mail list server provides. There are many providers available that can assist with your e-mail newsletters and manage your relationships. We've found that stations are currently using many different vendors system-wide.


If selling by CPM, you can generate anywhere from $5 for a text link only, up to $50/CPM for a skyscraper. If selling as a sponsorship (e.g., exclusive and long-term), you can charge anywhere from the top CPM rate to five to ten times that. Some e-newsletters will be worth more than others – particularly those with targeted content, breaking news, and higher than average open rates. Again, it’s simply what the market will bear. A good strategy is to start with your prices low, sell it out, create your market, and raise the price.

Audio and Video Streaming

Many stations are streaming either their entire station (a simulcast) or selected programs online. Here are some decisions you’ll need to make about audio/video sponsorship units as you formulate your sponsorship plan:

Credit length

Introductory credits usually range from name only to :30 seconds in length.  If your programming department has a leader (a first position credit), your underwriting credit may follow. Think about the proportion of credit length to the length of the audio or video stream – you do not want to alienate users with a poor listening/viewing experience.

Credit production

Do you have the resources to record an audio credit or produce a video credit?  Is the underwriting credit used on-air cleared for use in other platforms? These are questions that you will need to answer.


Credit guidelines

Develop your own streaming guidelines or abide by your on-air credit guidelines to maintain your continuity of image as a public broadcasting station, even though the FCC doesn’t literally control broadband.

Companion graphics/messages

Companion graphics or messages can go a number of places.  They can be embedded in your media player or included on your homepage or live listening page.  A benefit of a companion banner is that it provides an actionable banner for the sponsor.  If you offer a companion, you should factor that into your price and adjust upward.


Because of the exclusive nature of audio and video stream sponsorships, you can typically garner a higher rate than for Web banners on a CPM basis. As a guideline, current acceptable rates for audio streams are anywhere from $10/CPM to $25/CPM. Video streams are slightly higher at $15/CPM to $30/CPM. Again, you don’t have to sell CPM - you can package sponsorship any way you want.  Create a cross-platform package that offers full access to your audience (through on-air acknowledgement, your online offerings, events you might do, and special pledge promotions).  The rate you charge for any individual items simply depends on your market, but each component should have a value attached.


Your station can podcast any piece of content you create, from morning local newscasts to your local cultural and public affairs programming. You can also podcast the audio portion of a broadcast program. There are still legal issues when it comes to podcasting music programs, but many stations are now branding themselves with “song of the day” podcasts, acquiring rights song by song. You can insert an audio sponsorship file into the header of your audio podcasts, or a video sponsorship file into the header of your video podcasts. There’s a premium on video podcast sponsorship if you have logical content to podcast.

Here are some decisions you’ll need to make about podcasting sponsorship units as you formulate your sponsorship plan:

Credit length

Stations selling podcast sponsorships generally have no problem with having an opening podcast credit that talks about the station and listener support followed by an underwriting credit that’s :15 seconds long.  Again, you will want to make sure you have the right proportional mix of content versus credit.

Credit production

Just as with video/audio streaming, you must determine resources for creating and inserting the credit.

Credit guidelines

You may create your own podcast guidelines or abide by your on-air credit guidelines and sound.

Credit placement

A pre-roll credit is the standard placement. To get the maximum value from your podcast, you should consider stripping out any on-air credits, particularly from the beginning of the content. Post-rolls also are possible, but they offer less value to the sponsor.

Measuring podcast listening

The numbers you’ll get from your Web team can provide you with information on how many downloads each podcast receives.


Because of the generally exclusive nature of podcast sponsorships, you can typically garner a higher rate than for Web banners on a CPM basis. If you’re selling on a CPM basis, with current market pricing you’ll be anywhere from $5 CPM to $40 CPM, with an average somewhere in the middle.  Again, you don’t have to sell CPM, you can package sponsorship any way you want.  Your success will depend on your market.

Stations can also tag their pages to dynamically display relevant text ads based on the content of each page (i.e., Google's AdSense, Yahoo links). This is an automated and fairly turn-key way to earn passive revenue or to supplement your other online sponsorship efforts.

Sponsorship: National Public Media and Public Media Interactive

As part of our product offering with Bento, PBS Interactive has been working with National Public Media (NPM) and Public Media Interactive (PMI) on sponsorship opportunities that can benefit local stations. PMI Ops is the outsourced digital sponsorship operations service for PBS and NPR stations.  It enables stations to sell local digital underwriting without a large investment in operational support or tools and offers several services to help stations meet their online sponsorship needs:

  • Stations have the option to defer corporate sponsorship and do nothing with their digital inventory
  • The independent option exists for stations who would prefer to handle their own sponsorship sales and ad operations independent of National Public Media.
  • PMI Ops is appropriate for stations with an active local sales team that need to ensure proper delivery of all paid sponsorship campaigns. The service helps stations to expand their local sales potential and focus on selling.
  • The PMI Network lets stations earn incremental revenue on their unsold digital inventory. For stations new to online advertising, it can also be used to spark interest among local sponsors.

More information on NPM/PMI opportunities can be found here.