After the Ratings – Greg Diamond

Canadian radio stations recently received their annual fall report card. For all the winners deservedly celebrating and congratulating themselves on their hard work, there are an equal number that saw their own hard work fail to translate. Yeah, it can be a gut punch alright, but take solace in the fact that as a former colleague was fond of saying, “most of you only have another 20, 30, or 40 books left in you” – perspective, my friend.

Winners and losers alike have one overriding thing in common – the following day, they all still must get back to work to ensure they cement and build on any gains they may have made, or examine and adjust if they suffered declines. If you fall into the latter, here are some things to consider:

Take A Breath

If you need to, take a few. The point is that a sober, methodical evaluation of all aspects of your station is required (win or lose). Emotions have no part in the process and will only cloud whatever level of objectivity you are able to bring to the task. If you can, please understand and accept that you are not wholly objective, no matter how much you think you are. The fact that you are closer to the product than anyone else and have daily interaction with your co-workers brings a measure of subjectivity to your position. It’s called human nature. I often hear people use the subjective phrase “You don’t know our market.” To which I reply, “Precisely.” Certainly, every market is different and needs to be addressed as such – cookie cutter solutions invariably fail, whether it be in the short or long term. However, while stating your market experience may be correct, it also indicates a bias that should be examined for its validity. That’s why having a third party take a 50,000-foot view of your station and market is always a prudent first step. Invariably, they will point out areas of opportunity that you will have missed. A fresh, dispassionate set of ears is invaluable.

Break Down the Ratings

You need to determine where the key areas of decline exist. As a nice consequence, you will likely see other areas where you had growth to play to your strengths, moving forward. Also, look closely for trend anomalies, but don’t use them as an excuse and dismiss them as the reason you softened. A common example would be the cume/TSL tug of war. If you did something to attract new ears, your time spent listening will normally decrease, thus tugging down on your share. These audience members aren’t P1’s yet, but they do offer an excellent opportunity to reap benefits for the following book, should you convert them. Nonetheless, keep any trend bounces in mind to potentially temper larger changes you feel might be required in certain areas. What you want to avoid is making significant alterations when they may not be needed and in doing so, running the risk of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Again, having a more dispassionate, experienced sounding board to discuss such issues will help.

Examine Your Competitors

For the stations that showed an increase, look for what they may have done differently this time around. Did they make noticeable adjustments to their music? Was their Morning Show creating ‘noise’ with something new and exciting? Was their ratings promotion creating a buzz? Did their marketing cut through? While the answers you may derive from these questions won’t help you in the moment, they will assist in the questioning of your own station. Third-party assistance in this step will again bring experience to help answer those questions, but will also offer solutions to ensure your station is fully prepared to rebound in the next window.

Look at the Music

When you begin the actual dissection of your product this is the logical first step. With all well-earned respect to talented personalities, creative promotions and marketing personnel, production wizards, etc., if you aren’t positioned effectively musically and playing the correct selections to maximize that position, you won’t succeed.

When stations see substantial gains or losses, music is the most likely reason. Formats that rely heavily on newer selections like CHR’s can benefit greatly when they are at a cycle apex, but will also suffer when the overall song quality bottoms out. Stations that play a more even mix of current to recurrent to gold, like AC’s, will suffer less from music swings, but can be impacted when they start leaning in one direction. And gold-based formats are always in a fatigue battle. So, while each format may have specific issues to address, the solutions are overriding.

With music positioning, research should be performed to examine your market and your effectiveness in it. These studies normally drill down much farther than just music, but since where you sit relative to your market competitors is quite simply the most important key to success, it should be the first question answered. The problem for some stations, though, is budget. This type of research project doesn’t come cheap, and in many cases is simply outside what a station can afford. That said, many research companies do try to tailor their services to your budget, but for the smallest stations where competition is equally small, it’s still a non-starter. In either circumstance, it’s advisable to employ an outside company to help interpret and implement the research results or simply offer positioning advice without the benefit of research.

As for the songs you are playing, again, some form of testing is recommended. An Auditorium Music Test (AMT) for your universe is the best choice, but can be an expensive proposition. For smaller budgets, online virtual Auditorium Music Tests (vAMT) can offer a more cost-conscious solution. In cases where no money is available, music Safe Lists can provide the information you need. This option lacks the market-specificity of the other two, but the music list provided is compiled from numerous stations that do regular music research.

Once you have the format and selections correct, then an examination of your music software is in order. Having outside specialists in this area is mostly certainly recommended to ensure the category structure is appropriate, the turnovers are effective, the clocks are constructed properly, the rules are functioning properly, etc. In short, make sure your software suite is helping and not hindering.

Examine the Morning Show

We all know the importance of a Morning Show, so regardless of any success you may or may not have had, it pays to break down and examine the structure of the show, the topical direction, the locality level, host interactions, contesting levels, etc. Normally, work done with the hosts is geared more towards ‘what worked’ and ‘what’s coming up’. That’s by no means a bad thing, but a complete review should be done periodically to ensure the hosts are still lining up with the overall station direction, are regularly discussing things that are of relevance to the local listener, and are executing their prep in an entertaining, engaging manner. Not to mention the question – “Are they getting along?” Program Directors are best suited for daily Morning Show interaction and, indeed, that’s a key point in their job description. Reviews, though, are best done by third parties for the heightened objectivity already mentioned.

Look at the other Dayparts

Sure, the Morning Show leads the dance when it comes to the air staff, but you’ve still got, on average, another 20 hours a day to deal with. Syndication or voice-tracking is no longer the exception to the rule – it is the rule in many markets, regardless of size. Are those dayparts being serviced effectively? In the case of VT’ing, is the host generic or are they taking the time to include local, timely content in their show? Are you taking the time to provide them with such content? For syndicated shows, is the production being refreshed often enough to add those local elements that will obviously be missing in the content? Are you providing the syndicators with what is required? For your live, local jocks, when was the last time you sat down with them and did an aircheck? If it’s been too long, don’t hang your head. PD’s these days rarely have the time to do so. Having assistance for these tasks can be of enormous help… and relief.

Review the Promotion & Marketing

A ratings promotion is an investment. Did it pay off? If so, congratulations, as you may already have what you need for the next ratings period. If it didn’t, you need to ask whether you really did consider it an investment. If you didn’t budget for a ratings promotion, then you probably should re-evaluate that for the next one. Not having the resources for an effective promotion may cost you more in the long run. Whether that be cash for prizing, or money for whatever marketing avenues you prefer, that can end up costing you more in the long run due to reduced ratings/revenue. Having a resource to help you stretch those dollars effectively is another area where a third party is beneficial.

Call Us

I have conversations at times with owners, GM’s, and PD’s about the benefits ByrnesMedia brings to their stations. It’s my hope that I have shed some light on a few of those benefits. When I was a Program Director I always found having a more objective sounding board was crucial to not only the success of my station, but to my own growth and experience. I was a better, more well-rounded broadcaster for it, the level of my station was raised, revenue went up along with the ratings, and the bottom line/owners were the ultimate beneficiaries – as they should be. I’m always open for such conversations should you be so inclined. There are many other benefits we could discuss that are not listed here. Please feel free to call anytime at 905-332-1331. I’d enjoy chatting with you.