Tom Perrault Interview
Chief Media Officer
Career Capsule: Tom has covered a lot of ground in the Christian media marketplace. After starting out in local radio, he spent time at CBN Radio, Morningstar Radio (now Salem Music Network), Thomas Nelson Publishers, Salem Media Reps, KMA Interactive / Broadcast.com, and Gaylord Entertainment. His 11 years with the Salem Web Network – which he helped build and eventually lead, as senior vice president and general manager – was followed by consulting numerous other Christian digital media brands on growth and revenue strategies. Then, after a few years with Pittsburgh agency Infinity Concepts, Tom joined Dunham+Company in 2015 as Global Director of Digital Strategy. He has now returned to his roots, and leads the company’s media department, helping with both cause-based organizations and broadcast ministry clients.
Tom, tell us what’s new at Dunham+Company … news, changes, & what’s new with YOU…?
There’s always something happening in the lab. Our data science offering is exciting a lot of people, as are the expanded/enhanced things we’re doing in video production, content development, OTT/CTV, and digital media buying, in general. It’s our edgy wisdom, and one of the reasons I joined Dunham+Company a few years ago: They had been a consistent partner during my time at Salem Web Network; Trent Dunham really invested in testing digital growth strategies. Yet I knew his was also one of the few agencies that still believed in and leveraged the power of radio. I appreciate that about the company: We hire great people and let them try stuff, while also utilizing strategies and channels – like Christian radio – that have impact and consistently deliver.
Regarding fundraising, what have you seen as the main effect of the pandemic on Christian Radio, stations & listeners?
As you may have seen in the P1 Listener research Dunham+Company released earlier this year, drive-time radio listening took a hit during the pandemic, midday listening increased, and P1 donors tended to be less financially impacted than were non-donors. Also, while the vast majority of Christian radio donors are planning to give the same or more in the future, they are less confident in the economy. Meanwhile, we’ve seen an outpouring of generosity on every continent where we’ve done fundraising events. It’s been incredible: Record donations for both our radio clients and our ministry partners. All of that adds up to mostly good news for radio. The core audience seems to be maintaining their engagement levels, with only a bit more economic uncertainty than normal looming as a possible threat.
What is the best fundraising advice you’ve been given? The worst?
The fundraising philosophy – from Rick Dunham – I reference the most is essentially this: Ask, ask often, and ask for more. Fundraising is not a necessary evil: It’s among the most important aspects of ministry. It’s how God aligns the hearts of His people with His purpose. On the other hand, I’ve heard/read so much terrible fundraising advice in the last couple of decades, I wouldn’t even know how to narrow it down to the top 10. Most of the bad advice I’ve heard was drawn more from personal preference/experience than from empirical data, real-world testing, and B.I.-driven insights. There’s a place for instincts – and KC & The Sunshine Band (“That’s the way, uh huh, I like it”) – but when people plant strategic stakes in the ground around things like “all you need is digital” or “direct mail is too expensive” or “no one listens to radio anymore,” a winning track record usually doesn’t follow.
What are the biggest challenges in station fundraising?
A challenge in some corners appears to be the assumption that God’s resources are finite. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to balance the capacity conundrum – i.e., trying to project the available response against the many needs out there. But everyone is going to keep getting asked to do more, because the need and the opportunity keep growing. And we will all have to figure it out. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit almost never responds with “Let me check the budget and get back to you.”
What trends do you see emerging in Christian Radio fundraising?
The proliferation of podcasting will open up more opportunities to serve more Christian ministries who need great communicators to get them in front of their audiences. It’s one example of parallel channels that can be effectively leveraged for funding as well as for audience serving/building. Meanwhile, list building / leveraging, integrated campaigns, congruency across channels…I assume more of us will be doing these things – and others – that work well. We will have to continue to be bigger, faster, and smarter.
Some say more Christian stations in a market the better, do you agree with that, why or why not, & how does it affect fundraising?
I grew up in a time – back in the pre-deregulation 1980s – when there were 9 or 10 Christian stations in a single market. There was a lot of really crappy radio (including what we used to call the ‘ERS format’ – Eclectic Religious Schlock), and revenue generation was the wild, wild west. But for the most part everyone stayed above water. It’s different today, since the additional outlets are rarely independent. I don’t necessarily think more radio is strictly a good or bad thing for a market. Multiple signals certainly force more uniqueness (it’s not easy, but you still have to differentiate, no matter who is in the neighborhood), and a higher level of excellence. The stations that thrive will super serve their audience, impact the market, and measure themselves against the best Country or AC station rather than against the other Christian brands.
Generally speaking to the industry what are the biggest obstacles facing Christian Radio?
Most of my career has been on the digital side, and in looking at the industry – beyond the standard existential threats we’ve had since the 1950’s – I’d say the biggest obstacle remains the biggest opportunity: Transformational digital strategy. As Rockhound said in Armageddon, “Guess what guys, it’s time to embrace the horror!” Building brands, or brand extensions, with new/bigger audiences, leveraging radio’s unique creative – including on-demand content – I don’t think most of the industry is as committed to fully leveraging the potential of new channels as they think they are. (Yeah, I sound like a Keynote deck at NAB. Sorry.) It starts at budget time, but in many corners the vision has yet to expand.
Who are your radio heroes and influences? and why?
My father, Burt Perrault, spent 40 years in Christian Radio, and remains the funniest and most creative person I’ve known. Paul Martin and Michael Miller had big impacts on me, and John Scaggs has always been a dear friend and source of encouragement. I learned a lot from David Evans at Salem. When I attend CMB and NRB, I see a lot of other amazing people who have been great to work with over the years. It’s a such a unique, mentor-rich industry, really. Of course, the biggest influence on my career has been Rick Killingsworth, EVP at Salem Media Group, with whom I worked closely for most of two decades.