The Numbers Game

Some advertisers, in a well-intentioned attempt to make the proper advertising decisions for their businesses, will use, or ask for, audience ratings information.

Unfortunately, for small market stations, such information is much too inaccurate to do any good—for the advertiser or the station.

Whether you’re on top of the ratings heap or at the bottom, you are better off not to make ratings a part of your sales presentations. In fact, if you find yourself with good numbers, that’s the perfect time to discount the importance of those numbers and focus on helping your clients achieve their objectives.

Still, advertisers are aware that ratings exist, and many stations disregard the foregoing advice and share the ratings with advertisers, often sharing misinformation due to their own lack of understanding.

If an advertiser brings the R-word into the conversation, there are a number of ways to respond. Here are some talking points:

“The most-accepted source for audience information is a company called Nielsen—you may be familiar with them—and they survey every county in the U.S., along with about 250 individual cities.

“We do not use Nielsen ratings. In larger markets, Nielsen ratings are one of many tools advertisers may use to decide where to put their ad dollars. . .but as you get into smaller cities, Nielsen samples fewer and fewer people, which means the reliability goes way down.

“For stations like ours, the ratings are practically worthless.”

Here’s why:

  • The information is up to a year old. After survey data is processed, reports are released for the largest markets first, on down to the smallest. The smallest markets have to wait months and months to get ratings.
    The numbers are not statistically valid. Even in the largest markets, Nielsen’s own disclaimers say that the numbers could be off by 30% or more. In small markets, the numbers could be off by 150%.
  • Breakdowns are even worse. When ratings data are broken down into smaller pieces (age groups and/or time periods), the accuracy goes from bad to worse.
  • The ratings are age- and gender-biased. Some groups are more willing to fill out surveys than others. If a particular group sends back fewer surveys than Nielsen expects, that group is “up-weighted,” which means fewer people have to represent all the people in that group.
  • The methodology is flawed. Survey participants are asked to carry a diary with them at all times and immediately record the information whenever they’re within hearing distance of a radio. In actual fact, most people fill out their diaries at the end of the day, or more likely, just before they have to send them back. What’s worse, all the diaries in a family are usually filled out by the female head of household.

You can say, “We feel your pain. We know it’s difficult making the right advertising decisions with all the choices available to you. It’s important to find a good match-up between a station’s audience and your customers and prospects. (To cite an obvious example, a station playing Rap music is not the best place to advertise eldercare.) It’s also important to work with a station that has your interests at heart.”