Election season has begun. NPR’s Mara Liasson called it on air – Biden and Trump are the presumptive nominees. The four-year election cycle offers big opportunities for public radio news stations to clarify and build their brands and grow reliance. This is event programming for significant audiences – plan and act as like it is the Super Bowl or the Olympics on commercial television.

Really strong tools are already available to public radio stations. NPR has a new positioning line and brand promise specifically for the election. They’re pledging to focus on the issues and the voters rather than the horse race and the polls. That will resonate. Special coverage options this spring are plentiful – as both tune-in events in the moment, and chances to recycle audiences to additional/bigger dayparts for context and analysis. Promote them heavily, and guide listeners to continuing coverage.

Now is the time to connect with teams across your organization. What’s the broad outline of your election plan across platforms? What promise do you want to make to audiences about how they can count on you? Will you go deep on specific issues, ballot measure, or category of office? During recent voting cycles, Injustice Watch in Chicago went way beyond conventional voter guides to great deeply researched guides to judicial candidates. They saw a very specific opportunity to shed light on an often mis-understood, but highly understood part of the ballot. In a sea of guides, their deep and narrow work stood out (and became a catalyst for funding).

Once you know your promise, look for fresh ways to share it. Paragon client KERA News/Dallas commissioned a new package of produced liners and sweepers for use across every daypart. The style is fresh, and the promise is clear – you can count on 90.1, KERA News every day to make sense of the issues that matter to North Texas and the nation.

Another client, WUNC News in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, has already created a “2024 Election” page on their website with links to their Politics Podcast, continuing coverage of statewide races, and a complete list of candidates for the 2024 Council of State Races.

As important as external messaging and position will be this year, internal messages and expectation setting matter just as much. It could be we don’t see the kind of historical bump in Cume these cycles typically bring. OK – change the game and focus on AQH. Start building daily habits now, signaling as KERA is doing, that you have listeners’ backs. Earning that listening habit will pay off now, through the fall, and after the election.  We keep the listening we earn, and that supports the public media economic model.

Paragon is here to help stations sort out strategy and messaging during this essential period. It’s nerd Super Bowl – the audience expects we’ll be ready to play.

More about Izzi Smith.