A Durable 4-Year Strategy

Radio is dead. Long live radio.
"Intentional Futures really committed to understanding who we are before figuring out how to help us get to where we wanted to go." –Ethan Raup, KEXP COO

Station to station

In December 2015, Seattle’s beloved independent radio station KEXP moved to a large studio/performance/community space at Seattle Center. Fresh creative opportunities and public programming possibilities coincided with a new era of strategic planning for the organization.

KEXP brought in Intentional Futures to drive a collaborative strategy for a four-year strategic plan focusing on increasing and diversifying funding and resources, while also maximizing KEXP’s impact on supporters, musicians and the broader music ecosystem.

“We needed an outside partner to help us break out of old patterns that were holding us back and to see our challenges and unique advantages with fresh eyes,” says KEXP COO Ethan Raup. “Intentional Futures committed to understanding who we are before figuring out how to help us get to where we want to go.”

Multiple groups were tested with building out potential strategies, and forces to prioritize, eliminate, and rank initiatives.

Initial research informed our approach to strategy development.

Brighten the corners

Our process included dissembling a complex problem into constituent parts, finding ways to maximize participation while maximizing clarity and sharp decision-making, and considering what form factors the final output should take in order to be understood, embraced and acted upon.

As always, Intentional Futures began with research to ground our efforts. We studied the larger context of the contemporary music landscape and explored how the rise of digital music consumption has affected the broader industry.

We also reviewed 10 years of KEXP strategic planning documents, interviewed the executive team and board of directors, and surveyed staff to be sure their concerns and input were included.

Early in the project, a surprising development raised the stakes: a $10 million bequest from an anonymous donor, reportedly the largest-ever gift to a single U.S. public radio station. The plan, in part, would provide ballast for decisions relating to this gift.

We saw it happen again and again; collaboration drew new ideas to the surface.
Posters featuring the 4 guiding principles of the strategy for KEXP the office.
A 4-year strategic plan in a single view.

What went down

Research complete, we gathered the executive team and board members for a full-day retreat. Our goal was to identify strategic priorities, drive alignment and build strong relationships and understanding between board members and the KEXP executive team. That started with inviting each participant to think deeply and declare their points of view in advance of a workshop.

During the retreat, carefully curated teams were charged with locating KEXP’s priorities regarding a local or global focus, strengthening current work or investing in new initiatives, and deepening engagement with existing audiences or expanding to new audiences.

Teams then chose the five strategies that they believed would help KEXP move toward the identified goals. By the end of the day, the group had arrived at a general consensus on KEXP’s priorities and focus areas for the next four years.

Gang of four

After the retreat, iF worked with the executive team to refine the identified priorities and sideline less urgent goals. This distilling process yielded four essential pillars:

  1. Ensure organizational structure is aligned around strategy implementation
  2. Continue to make progress on diversity and inclusion
  3. Expand and evolve curation and content production
  4. Deepen KEXP’s presence in the digital realm

These pillars support KEXP’s grand vision to create meaningful experiences on air, online and in person, and thereby harness the emotional power of art to strengthen communities and serve the greater social good.

Final strategy booklets produced for KEXP stakeholders.

Bringing it all back home

We created materials to support the ongoing evolution of the plan, including:

  • Presentation templates to make it easy to track progress and report to stakeholders
  • A flowchart that identifies sequencing and levels of effort required for all plan elements
  • Concert-style posters that blend in with the visual world of KEXP and echo the plan’s strategic pillars to keep them front of mind
  • A booklet version of the plan entitled “Connecting People through Music” to serve as ongoing inspiration and a prod to keep up the effort

All together now

Organizational culture is at the heart of strategic planning. KEXP is in a solid position to implement their strategy. They are identifying ways to increase delegation, strengthen decision-making, and expand their data and analytics capabilities.

The long-term impact of the plan will be revealed over time. In the immediate term, though, KEXP reports they are already using the plan and organizational strategies to inform budget decisions and activities planned for next year.

“Fully executing the plan is still in the future, but the changes engendered by the process are part of KEXP already,” Raup said. “We know and understand each other better and feel like we’re on the same path, which are worthy ends in themselves.”

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