Our global membership joined an online discussion to unpack how public media organisations can best communicate their value to their audiences. 

On 8 December, the Public Media Alliance (PMA) hosted its fourth edition of PSM Unpacked  – a roundtable forum exclusive for PMA members. Over the course of 90 minutes, participants discussed the value of public media and how this should be best relayed to audiences and stakeholders, particularly in light of growing pressures such as competition from global streaming giants; increased scrutiny over finances; attacks from populists; and rising mis- and disinformation.

What can public media organisations do to convey their public value clearly and directly to their audiences? How effective are marketing and brand campaigns, and are they worth the expense? These were just some of the issues explored.

In this report, we cover the main discussion points.

Key discussion points

Your audience matters
  • Knowing your audience is key in zeroing in on the values you’d like to communicate. Some communicated values mentioned by participants were PSM’s value to democracy, diversity, content creation, and PSM’s contribution to society.
  • Understanding your audience also allows you to consider how best to reach them. For instance, one participant said that with their own outreach attempts, it was discovered that young audiences typically do not fill in surveys. Instead, in-person debates were a more effective way to reach young people. In turn, a combination of online (digital surveys) and offline (debates) engagement approaches were used.
  • Public media must be among the people. “Public media is not in the ivory tower,” a participant said. “We should go where the people are” and understand their realities and values.
Data matters
  • Capturing data is key to understanding the value of public media. Participants mentioned capturing data – such as audience and trust figures – through surveys and internally and externally conducted polls
  • Public media organisations should explore the multidimensional nature of data. For example, one participant said that instead of measuring trust by asking “do you trust this media or that”, other dimensions of trust must be considered – trust in general; trust in journalism; trust in specific sources, journalists, or topics; and trust in social media. Considering data from different directions thus allows public media to weigh how their values relate to different dimensions of trust. That said, many public media organisations are still looking for more effective ways of quantifying social value, which remains a challenge.
  • Data matters – but know when to use it. Some participants noted that while the quantitative value of PSM is important and useful to demonstrate to funders, public officials, and journalists, such data might not be as meaningful for audiences. Instead, qualitative value typically resonates more with audiences, some participants said. For example, participants shared that for public media that are federally funded, statistics were useful when communicating their value to government officials. Doing so was “critical for their operations”. But “audiences react differently to stats than stakeholders do,” participants agreed. “You definitely need to bring the stats and the qualitative together and make a strong case,” one participant emphasised. This point was reinforced by other participants who shared that they used scientific or academic research to build more down-to-earth and emotive campaigns for their audiences.
"Your VRT" on the Grote Markt in Bruges on 15/9/21 with Karl Vannieuwkerke. Credit: VRT
The landscape matters
  • Streaming giants have changed the landscape and PSM must adapt. Participants said that feature and entertainment content are crucial and valued by audiences (as demonstrated by the success of streaming giants like Netflix) so “if [public media is] losing out on this we’re dead”. Participants said public media organisations must be valued in the entertainment sphere, not only to defend themselves from the pressures of streaming giants but to also move themselves forward. One participant added that it was important to learn about the success stories of PSM in this area to develop best practices.
  • Brand/marketing campaigns: striking the right balance. Participants noted examples of attacks from the private media who question the “unfair advantage” of public media. One participant said, “Their campaign is all about how [public media] is destroying their market. They should be talking about their own value rather than just talking about [us].” The participant advised other PSMs to push back by highlighting their own role rather than attacking their competitors. However, it is also important to strike a balance between demonstrating value and being self-aggrandising.
  • Public media must assert itself in the face of those attacking it. Participants noted that attacks did not only come from the private media; in some cases, governments and shareholders may also question public media’s role in the landscape. One participant relayed their own experience: “Once we have entertaining shows or brands out there as PSM, the public shareholder wonders if we are really doing our jobs and if a private actor couldn’t be doing that. All of a sudden, it’s suspicious that we might be slightly sexy. All of a sudden we are too funky […] and there’s consideration that a channel should become private.” In response, public media organisations must hold fast and assert the various values they provide – “We’ve made a point on trust and having high levels for news; we have a strong point on making the creative industry thrive.”
  • Brand visibility and considering how your brand’s place in the market has shifted over time. Noting the difficulties media companies are facing, one participant said it was important for public media to position and distinguish themselves in a way that other media entities aren’t able to do as society evolves. Public media must be the place where important conversations happen, such as those on climate change, democracy, and the need to come together. Another participant explained how previous public perception of the public broadcaster led to a complete redesign of its various brands rather than of the broadcaster as a whole. At the time, the approach was developed to connect with various audiences in different ways “through the emotional layers of brands”, rather than through the broadcaster as a unit. However, as its place in the landscape changed, this approach recently shifted too, with the public broadcaster as a whole being placed front and centre to better position it in the minds of audiences, alongside its various established brands.
Additional resources

The session was part of PSM Unpacked, a series of roundtable forums exclusive for PMA members to exchange knowledge, experiences, insights and collaboratively find solutions to common challenges. Previous roundtable sessions covered emergency broadcasting, digital safety for journalists and commercial funding for public media.

Is there a specific PSM issue that your public media organisation is interested in discussing? Are you looking for solutions to a key PSM challenge? Or perhaps you are eager to interact and network with like-minded organisations? Let us know by emailing us on

Header image: CBC/Radio-Canada music event. Credit: CBC/Radio-Canada