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Marc Morgan

Coexisting With The Arbitron Beast


Ratings. When I hear that word, I can still summon up the agonizing, gutwrenching, sleepless-night feelings I got when it was time for the book. I mean, lets face it, a good book can make your year, and a bad book can kill it. And when you factor in the flaws in Arbitrons methodology, both PPM and diary, as well as the fact that all research is imperfect and subject to flukes and spikes, it makes the whole experience even scarier.

As a GM, its your responsibility to manage how you and your team communicate about ratings, both internally and externally. Not the sales managers. Not the program directors. Yours. How the GM handles the information flow about ratings can have an enormous effect on the eventual impact ratings have on a stations business, morale, and overall condition. You can make a bad situation better or make a good situation worse. Heres a list of things that work best.

Be proactive. Dont let your competition or the rest of the media world communicate ratings results before you do. Get out there first, with whatever positives are in the report. Pick things that go beyond a broad AQH share. How did you do in your format? What dayparts did particularly well? Theres always something good, if your station has some core viability. For better or worse, we live in a sound-bite world. That means the first thing someone hears about your latest ratings is what will stick in their minds. Make sure it comes from you.

Be visible. Dont hide in your office if you had a bad book. Cmon youve done it. We all have. Get out there and talk about it with your staff and your clients. If you seem unflappable, folks might just believe things are better
than they thought.

Educate people. Staff members and customers know less about the guts and development of ratings than you think. Educate them about the methodology and how it leads to swings in the numbers. Educate them on how your internal research verifies that WXXX isnt a loser. (Yet another reason internal research shouldnt get lost in
budget cuts.) Talk about your target demographics, not just adults 25-54.

The fact is, having a successful radio station according to Arbitron is a marathon, not a sprint. Teach people that. One of the biggest compliments you can receive from a client is, One thing I know about WXXX is that, if they have a bad book, its almost always followed by a good one. Over the long run, theyre always in the game. If every one of your customers thought that way, your life would be much easier, and your revenue would be better.

Be careful not to overreact. Theres an old line: No radio station on earth sounds better to the ears of the GM than one that just had a good book, and no station sounds worse than a station that just had a bad one. The worst time to tinker with a stations programming is in the first few days and even weeks following a new report. Take a step back. Look at how youre executing your strategic plan. Make sure that plan is still valid. Many a great radio station has been killed by overreacting to ratings. Arbitrons data does not reflect reality as accurately as other research thats more specifically targeted to the status and condition of your station.

Do business in a way that minimizes the importance of ratings. This is the most important point I have to make: If you sell solutions and not numbers, both you and your customers win. If you use all of the tools in your kit over-the-air, website, mobile, social and develop integrated marketing plans as a normal way of doing business, your station will flourish, no matter what Arbitron reports.

This concept has been given a lot of lip service, but now its crunch time. Ive been involved with stations in markets that were not rated by Arbitron or any other rating service. Their book was whether the station was able to make the advertisers cash register ring. If they had the right audience, both quantitatively and qualitatively, and the marketing plan was done right, the register rang. If not, it didnt. Ultimately, clients spent money based on results, not just ratings.

It sounds funny to say ratings are a necessary evil, but its true, due to all the absurdities surrounding the subject sample sizes, flukes, kisses, all of it. As a GM, you have to learn to coexist with the absurdities, manage them, and use them to your advantage. There is, however, a potential necessary benefit from ratings companies, and Ive talked about it before: the development of more total audience measurement systems for traditional media, especially radio. We need to show advertisers what they are getting from all the different sources of radio content. I hope the industry will make that an even bigger priority going forward.

Marc Morgan is the former SVP and chief revenue officer for Cox Media Group; he retired in 2011. He can be reached at

(2/18/2013 6:20:16 PM)
Marc knows the drill. He obviously has the Arbitron scars to know the hazards of managing radio stations when so many folks believe the book as if it was the word of God, rather that just an estimate, a math aproximation, of what is happening in a radio market. Arbitron people are master marketers. We all in radio should learn from them. Always be selling.

- Daniel P. Mitchell

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