by Tracy Johnson
It happens once a quarter, or every six months, depending on the market you’re in. And it’s one of the most stressful of days for programmers and radio personalities. What do you do if radio gods deliver a bad ratings result?
In a radio world of fast decisions, adjusted budget strategies and future moves plotted, it seems there’s a lot riding on every report. Most PDs are generally optimistic and hopeful, eagerly anticipating positive results.
They’ve crafted the station to attack competitive weaknesses in the market and are playing fewer commercials than the format leader.
Then the “report card” comes in. And it’s disappointing. How do you respond?
What happens when a bad book strikes? How should it be managed? Is it time for explanations, justification and rationalizations? How should a manager address the team?
Great stations have a way of being rewarded with more good books than bad. Stations that focus on last quarter’s ratings always struggle.Each situation is different, of course, and I’ve had my share of both good and bad results in my career.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
Realize this: There’s no way to know for sure what’s happening just from a top-line glance at ratings results.
A single period is never a good measure of what is actually happening. There are so many factors that can’t be accounted for, or explained.
Smart management teams learn to step back, analyze and take a deeper dive into the situation.
Here’s the best way to keep it in perspective: It’s In The Past. There’s nothing you can do about it now.
Ratings are a reflection of what has already taken place, and usually not an accurate one.
Ideally, a strategic research project guides format decisions. If so, and the research is still valid, maintain commitment and focus on data that is much more reliable. It usually takes much longer than assumed for the audience to respond to programming adjustments.
If you’ve made the right moves, don’t change course because of any ratings period.
Making adjustments based on ratings complicates the problem. Listeners hate change, and they’re quick to tune out. So avoid the ratings freak out and analyze.
Great stations have a way of being rewarded with more good books than bad. Stations that focus on last quarter always seem to struggle. So the first step is to try and figure out what happened.
Nobody can control external forces. Radio ratings services are severely flawed, and wild fluctuations occur all the time. One meter or diary can make a huge difference. Other than complaining to your rep, there’s nothing to do about it.
However, you can affect your actions.
The cause of a decline could be as simple as the music cycle working against you. Or, for a news station, a big story that attracted audience in the past may have ended. That can have a profound effect.
Analyze what competitors have done, and objectively critique what worked and why. And I mean objectively. Many times, we tend to think we’re right and the competition doesn’t know what they’re doing. But maybe they do.
Figure out if they’ve done something that could cause positive results to impact The Ratings Game. Maybe it came at your expense. And maybe it’s over now and shares will become more stable.
Most importantly, be a leader.
Your team will be looking for leadership. Hold your head up, and don’t try to hide anything. Don’t sugarcoat it. But do explain what happened as an opportunity to reinforce the station’s plan and how they will be involved moving forward. This can inspire confidence in the midst of disappointment.
Explain how the plan is in place and may take patience. Don’t make excuses or complain. That’s weak. Use it as a reminder that it’s more important to focus on performance every day. If the right strategy is in place and a team is committed to the process of creating great radio, ratings results will take care of themselves.
A side note: Overcoming a negative ratings report is much easier if there’s not a history of over-celebrating good ratings. You can’t give credibility to ratings when they’re good and discount them when they’re not.
Take the focus off of ratings and place it on turning listeners into fans.
Bad things happen to good stations. Good things happen to bad stations, too.
Be prepared to manage through the ups and the downs while focusing clearly on how to make a difference in the life of your target audience.
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