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Chicago Public Media Case Study



Public radio has long relied on broadcast membership drives to grow their donor base and engage with supporters. New technologies and shifting consumer preferences, however, have created an inevitable demand for tools and services that enable devoted listeners to build and maintain relationships online. In 2014, Chicago Public Media, home to WBEZ 91.5FM and acclaimed local and national programs including Sound Opinions, This American Life, and the breakout hit podcast, Serial, understood that consumers expect digital self-service tools to manage most other aspects of their lives—and set out to change the way their listeners engaged with them through digital experiences. In order to reduce the cost of onboarding new members and maintaining member information and renewals, Chicago Public Media’s digital team built a one-stop digital destination that would allow members to manage their data and donations without having to call in to their small customer service team every time they wanted to make an update.

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"When members log in to our site and create an account, we know who they are, and we know more about what they like and want from us. The member center will become a critical component of the way we deliver content to people in a smart way, based on what we know about them."

Matthew Green
Director of Digital Product Management

At any given time, Chicago Public Media manages a database of 70,000 active donors, as well as an additional 130,000 donor prospects to whom they actively reach out via mail, email and phone. With 200,000 total individuals to manage, the customer service and finance departments were overextended, since all member updates and questions had to be routed through and handled by their teams. Matthew Green, CPM’s Director of Digital Product Management, knew that the organization needed to fundamentally change the way memberships were managed. The preferred solution included building a member center that could shift tasks from the customer service team, like updating member contact information, associating a member’s spouse with their existing account, changing email subscription preferences or downloading a tax letter, to the member. Ultimately, reducing the volume of these types of administrative activities would allow the customer service team to focus on more high-value retention activities.

In addition to building an entirely new digital experience for their members, Green’s team undertook the project of migrating member data to, allowing them to dedupe records and perform a much-needed clean-up to ensure data accuracy going forward. And it was while attending a Salesforce conference session focused on constructing a “bulletproof login process,” that Matthew was first introduced to Janrain’s registration and login services. Later, after evaluating multiple customer identity management platforms, Janrain was the clear partner for constructing a feature-rich member self-service center that integrated seamlessly with their CRM system. In addition to having the right technology to meet Chicago Public Media’s goals, Janrain’s strategic recommendations, based on hundreds of similar deployments, helped Green’s team define the optimal way to introduce the new member center on the organization’s existing site,

"It’s great to see a tailored use case actually be listened to—that’s pretty unique…Janrain understood what we needed, and helped us identify and implement the right solution."

Matthew Green
Director of Digital Product Management

“It was great to see a tailored use case actually be listened to—that’s pretty unique,” said Green. “It’s usually the case that you get this product, and you know it does 80% of what you want, but there’s also this important 20% that you have to figure out how to customize it to fit. And often there’s this sort of shoehorning you into it by a salesperson—‘no, just do it the way everyone else does it.’ And you think, ‘no, that’s not really the best way for us though.’ Janrain understood what we needed, and helped us identify and implement the right solution.”

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Better Data Through Self-Reporting

The member center launched on with great success, with nearly 5,000 members creating an account in the first week. In the current iteration, members must verify that they are existing donors before creating an account. By simply entering their email address, the portal application performs a backend match against Salesforce, identifying the member in the system and pulling their account information into the member center. Janrain’s registration system then allows the member to create an account, once that match occurs. And although the original objective of the member center project wasn’t necessarily data hygiene, the team found that allowing members to view and update their own data produced huge efficiencies in ensuring that they had the most accurate and up-to-date member information in their systems.

Member self-reporting had an additional, unexpected benefit, as well. According to Green, having members self-report some data inaccuracies that may have occurred during CPM’s database migration to Salesforce enabled the digital team to recognize patterns. “Then we were able to go back and do programmatic cleaning on the database, because we could see multiple callers saying one thing—so now let’s go through Salesforce and clean up this thing where we find it.” As members updated their own information, the team was able to proactively identify other potential data issues before they prompted a call to the customer service team.

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Driving Deeper Member Engagement

As they saw the quality of their member data drastically improve, the team also witnessed increased member satisfaction. In order to drive member account creation, Chicago Public Media enabled registered members to launch a digital audio player and listen to uninterrupted programming on during on-air pledge drives—an incentive that many members took advantage of immediately. As the site continues to evolve, they plan to offer additional digital member benefits over time, such as advance access to purchase hard-to-get tickets for live shows like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, and eventually, a personalized on-site content experience that displays or recommends a member’s favorite programs as soon as they log in.

For Chicago Public Media, personalized experiences can do more than drive engagement—it can help improve retention over time as they learn more about the people who love their content. “There’s a phrase we use here called ‘growing the addressable audience,’ which means we have this huge audience but we don’t know who the majority of them are,” says Green. “When members log in to our site and create an account, we know who they are, and we know more about what they like and want from us. The member center will become a critical component of the way we deliver content to people in a smart way, based on what we know about them.”

Green’s team plans to make these same experiences available on the mobile site as well. With 30% of site visitors coming to the site on a mobile device, Green sees a compelling case for enriching member benefits over time through the mobile platform, as so many members tend to engage with radio content on the go. The CPM team is also considering adding social login to the traditional member registration process down the road, to make it even easier for members to register and come back without needing to remember a unique password.

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Bottom Line Impacts

Since launching the site, nearly 25% of Chicago Public Media’s active members have created an account in the member center. They continue to promote the site and its member benefits through emails, direct mail, on-air promotions and during customer service calls. While the value to the member is clear, the team also knows that there will be some members that just won’t see a reason to create an account, so they’re constantly looking for innovative ways to drive more engagement.

“We are definitely finding that there are people who don’t want to create another log in, and we’re not a utility. You know, that if you don’t pay your utility provider, your lights go off. And if you have HBO and you don’t pay your cable bill, HBO stops coming in. We don’t have that luxury. We broadcast whether you give to us or not. So we’re working very hard to find reasons why a person wouldn’t mind creating a login—and meaningful reasons for them to come back, log in and interact with us,” Green said.

While the primary objective of launching the member center was to reduce the burden of customer inquiries, the tangible results of member center adoption far exceeded the team’s expectations. Chicago Public Media’s customer service team was able to determine that the site’s self-service tools have added 20% capacity to their team, allowing representatives to handle more complex member issues and dedicate more to me to high-value retention activities. Additionally, within just a few weeks of launching the site, they projected a substantial annual revenue increase just from allowing members to login and modify their pledge amounts without having to make a phone call. After several months of driving adoption, Chicago Public Media has found that the member center resulted in a 21% increase in contributions made by monthly donors.

The business benefits are clear, according to Green. “We have a much larger audience of people than ever give us a dollar. But once we get them to give us a dollar, it’s much easier to get them to give us ten dollars, and once they give us ten dollars, it’s much easier to get them to give ten dollars a month. This member center is probably the most significant step forward in being able to move people through the giving pipeline.” When innovation meets public media, the public—including a new generation of digitally savvy listeners—continue to grow to love and rely on the programs they provide. And when public media thrives, we all benefit.

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