Special Report: Radio Research: RIP GRPs: broad reach is obsolete

[Also in this report: Making it tangible - In this age of accountability, radio's results must be quantifiable - page 18; When it's BBM survey time, 680 News call-out program reminds listeners they've tuned in - page 18; and Marketers...

[Also in this report: Making it tangible - In this age of accountability, radio's results must be

quantifiable - page 18; When it's BBM survey time, 680 News call-out program reminds

listeners they've tuned in - page 18; and Marketers evaluate broadcast - page 18]

David Bray serves on a variety of industry committees and task forces, having worked as a prominent media planner/buyer/researcher for over a decade. He can be reached at Phone: (416)752-5609, Fax: (416)752-0648, E-mail: dhb@passport.ca

It has been a truism of radio that national business relies on numbers.

The secret is: how telling are those numbers?

Similarly, as the radio community strives to increase its overall revenue and demonstrate the medium’s effectiveness, which numbers count?

In an increasingly complex and economically challenging marketing environment, it is vital that the radio community proactively improves its strategic tools.

Niche or targeted marketing is a client reality.

Yet the traditional planning, buying and selling communities have, for the most part, steadfastly retained their reliance on targeting broad demographics.

By concentrating on grps (Gross Ratings Points) without pictures, a great disservice is done to a medium which is second to none in its ability to target tightly and effectively.

A flexible, vital, tactical alternative to simply offering broad reach.

Thus I submit r.i.p…….grps.

At least in the sense that far more telling information is required to create a story that will be satisfying to all participants. Currently, few are satisfied.

Overall, radio revenues are unsatisfactory, with the majority of stations losing money.

Station personnel are frustrated by agency buyers and planners whose radio training appears to consist of a few hours on how to read a BBM Bureau of Measurement.

Vaguely dissatisfied clients seek that elusive added value. They seem to be saying there has to be a better way of exploiting the dynamic personality of radio than simply booking grps.

They remain mystified by the fact their media ‘experts’ sometimes seem to have less imagination and appreciation for local radio possibilities than do the client’s local sales or marketing personnel.

Both literally and figuratively, agencies often seem to distance themselves from a medium that demands personal involvement.

It is in this light that I would like to present a brief pragmatic exploration of key issues and opportunities concerning radio research.

The upcoming incorporation of single source product usage/lifestyle questions into bbm diaries is a bright light on the horizon.

Shedding light on the complexion of radio’s targeted audience will certainly allow for more proficient selling and buying, not to mention an overall increase in revenue for the medium.

Clients are willing to pay if you can demonstrate what the product (radio) is worth.

am stations must, until the advent of digital, take up niche positions (all-news, all-Christian, all-sports, etc.) to survive.

Their marketing livelihood will be dependent on the kind of detailed research noted above. A specialized audience requires specialized research.

It will become essential that sales and programming departments work as integrated teams. Programmers will have to become research-savvy. Boxcar numbers will no longer secure their jobs.

These integrated teams must continue to develop innovative alternatives to conventional 30- and 60-second units. Programming that succeeds at fulfilling marketing goals and satisfying listeners.

It seems the Print Measurement Bureau is the most commonly used research source for planners. While it is unquestionably an outstanding piece of research, it is unsatisfactory as primary radio research.

Radio was, by definition, never deigned to be its primary focus. It is not sufficiently timely to cope with the highly dynamic nature of radio.

Any assumptions with regard to formatics (which are not sufficiently defined) or individual stations are highly suspect.

Given that its analysis of print is vastly superior to that of radio, any conclusions about comparisons of use between mediums should be viewed with caution.

Another radio issue raising its head is diary vs. phone methodology. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The diary approach consistently fails to get appropriate response from men 18-24. On the other hand, phone methodology disproportionately favors other demographic constituencies.

The admirable triumvirate of BBM Bureau of Measurement continues to analyze alternatives, improve its service (e.g. increasing sample size), and initiate changes that benefit broadcasters, agencies and clients.

One would hope this noble principle will ensure its longevity.

A couple of interesting issues have never been satisfactorily addressed.

Are certain personality types more predisposed to responding to surveys?

This would have an effect on overall results that could be particularly applicable to certain clients’ target groups. It could affect how stations should promote themselves.

Another issue that has been woefully underanalyzed is the concept of effective frequency.

It has been much discussed to very little concrete benefit. More definitive work tying product type, purchase cycle, creative and tactical applications to number of exposures is badly needed.

A related concept is the popular concept of ensuring effective frequency on each station as opposed to simply on the market overall.

It seems the entire concept of reach/frequency has not been fully appreciated or always used to its full potential.

From a programming standpoint, various consultants continue to provide valuable and innovative analysis.

Still, the fact this information is fundamentally unrelated to information being used for buying and selling leaves the overall picture looking somewhat disjointed.

Various fused data applications can provide some enlightenment, but lack the credibility and utility of single source data.

rpm, while a significant step forward, lacked the timeliness, consistency across all markets, and integration with the demographic reports necessary to establish a foothold in the planning/buying community.

The Internet provides an invaluable research tool. Planners/buyers can keep in touch with station sites across the country in a way they never could before.

The promotional, marketing and communications potential is immense. Ultimately, participation by listeners will allow for a new sort of transactional measurement and the resultant databases.

There is a crying need for an industry-wide education course. Agencies are filled with bright, well-educated, resourceful individuals with little opportunity to learn about the intricacies of the radio medium.

The focus on television tends to be self-perpetuating in this environment. Greater appreciation and understanding of the medium would undoubtedly lead to greater comfort with and greater investment in the medium.

Radio is a complex medium that requires a breadth of programming and promotional knowledge in order to best address a client’s marketing needs.

This will undoubtedly lead to the need for individual media specialists, both within the context of traditional agencies and within new radio-only firms that can effectively optimize the radio portion of a client’s business.

With new technologies and research methodologies on the horizon, radio’s future looks bright. The medium continues to touch the hearts and minds of communities in the way that only radio can.

Those of us with a deep and abiding affection for the medium must demand as much of the future as it surely will demand of us.