Tag Archives: program directors

10 PPM Tips for Program Directors: 10 Years Later

Tuesdays With Coleman

This Fall marks 10 years since Arbitron rolled out the Portable People Meter™ (PPM™) to the top 10 markets in the United States, following initial tests in Houston and Philadelphia (markets 11-50 rolled out in 2009 and 2010.)

Arbitron Nielsen Portable People Meter PPM

An early version of Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM)

A year after the rollout was complete, I wrote “Top Ten Things to Do as a New PD in a PPM Market,” a list of strategic guidelines for new radio programmers in North American markets measured by the Portable People Meter™.

Now that much of the radio industry has lived with PPM for a decade, let’s look back on the advice through a 2018 lens. New commentary is italicized.

1. Root all of your thinking first and foremost in the strategy of the station. Don’t go in with a PPM mindset; go in with the mindset of developing a brand by exploiting an available market position. Your goal should be to develop a strong brand and to make the station entertaining and focused. Once you know “who you are” and what your brand message is and how you want to communicate that to the audience, then start thinking PPM.

Especially in the first few years of the methodology, programmers focused a significant amount of time on PPM manipulation. Maybe, just maybe, we can squeeze an extra quarter hour here and there by playing the PPM game.

10 years later, I think radio strategy has generally reverted back to where it was, with brand focus as the most important component. The PPM panel is just as difficult to manipulate. Big brands are long lasting. Manipulation tactics are not.

2. Do a complete brand and content audit of the station. Don’t go to the office for the first two days or meet with staff. Stay at home or in your hotel and listen to and quantify all the verbal and non-verbal content. How much music do you play? How much do your DJ’s and personalities talk? What do they talk about? What are the features? Promotions? How does the station stage and image its music? What is the station’s positioning and how often do you communicate it?

What we learned in our 2008 study “Real PPM Panelists Tell All” was that every interruption had some detrimental impact on the ratings. The instinctive reaction of many programmers was to wipe the station clean – 30 second promos became 10 seconds, IDs were five seconds, jocks talked less.

What’s important to understand is that interruptions, while detrimental in the moment, can be additive to the brand. So, make sure every interruption has brand value. If it builds the brand, it’s worth it.

3. Rate all the content on the station on a 1-10 brand scale and a 1-10 execution scale. The brand scale means how each element on the station fits or resonates with the brand essence of the station. Does it fit with the images you want to project? Do the same with the in the moment execution. Is it entertaining? Tight? Would a listener stay tuned in that moment? Rate everything on a 1-10 scale. Anything that is low on both “brand values” and “in the moment entertainment” should be eliminated or tightened. Possible culprits might be DJ chatter that is not compelling. Sales promos. Worry less about content that supports the brand identity. Music features, entertaining DJ content from personalities who are well known and liked.

It’s always been challenging for PDs to subjectively evaluate content. In the moment, we overthink and overreact. By doing regular monitors on your stations, writing down each break and piece of content and rating it on a simple scale, it’s easy to quickly determine what’s brand additive and what isn’t.

4. Do an abbreviated analysis of your main competitors. What are they doing in music, talk, features, positioning, and spot placement? React to their programming tactics where it is smart. Know their pure programming advantages so you can cover them where it makes sense. One thing for sure is that you don’t want them to be tighter or better programmed for PPM than your station since small advantages can sometimes mean a lot when it comes to PPM performance.

Studying your competition as well as your own station is always a good idea. Prepare for your opponents like a head coach.

Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson

Preparation and data mastery helped Philadelphia Eagles head coach Doug Pederson beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl

5. Don’t be afraid to put on content that will impact the audience emotionally even if in the moment you cause some tune-out. There are two ways to build ratings and one is more important than the other. First, you can put on content that causes people to like your station. Content that causes an emotional reaction and a desire to be associated with your station. Second you can reduce “tune-outs”, those things that cause people to tune away for a minute or an hour. Both are important, but you should recognize that you can impact the ratings positively even if in the moment some people tune-out. Some things that cause a little short term tune-out will actually stick in the head of your P1’s and create a long term bond. Keep the things that are a 10 on the brand evaluation scale, even if a few people tune away when you do them.

As in #2, build the brand and accept in-the-moment loss. While even the strongest content may cause tune-out, it will grow your brand and ultimately grow the audience over time.

6. Understand the ins and outs of PPM ratings, including the fact that PPM, like diary, is research and not immune to statistical wobble. Really understand margin of error and then learn how to aggregate ratings for programming elements of the station. Know the numbers behind each number you look at like the difference between looking at a daypart with 20 meters and one with 100 meters.

The difficulties reaching potential panelists, and certainly the erosion of the landline over the past 10 years, has compounded this problem. By utilizing perceptual research, like our Plan Developer, you can track essential measurements like Cume and P1 with larger sample sizes than may be available with ratings. An added benefit of perceptual research is the ability to monitor your perceptual position in the market, including your strengths, weaknesses and opportunities.

7. Understand panel dynamics so that you don’t react to ratings increases or decreases that are a function of normal panel change or evolution. Sometimes ratings will increase a little just because you have a few more P1’s in the sample as a result of panel turnover. Sometime you will lose listeners. This is normal and you need to know when it is happening to your station. Don’t over-believe the good numbers and temper your reaction to the weak ones. They will more often than not be in a statistically valid range.

This has improved over time as Nielsen has provided and added tools to better understand and get a granular look at the panel.

8. Learn how to manage weekly ratings and expectations. All ratings have wobble and fluctuations. In diary markets, most GMs and PDs know not to overreact to monthlies or even whole books. But, in a PPM world there is often a belief that weeklies and monthlies have more credence than similar ratings spans in a diary world. However, with PPM, just like any research, there is random and normal fluctuation. So, you need to be able to set the table on how to react to weeklies, monthlies and ratings in general. Tell your new GM that you don’t want to look at weeklies or discuss them each week. Don’t download them at 11am each Tuesday and make it a big event. Look at them every three or four weeks.

Fortunately, the weekly obsession does not appear to be pervasive in 2018. But there is more focus now on meter count, and there’s still the danger of focusing on too much of this at the expense of brand focus and taking your eye off the ball.

9. Understand causation vs. simple correlation. Realize that every time your ratings go up or down it is not necessarily related to that hours, days or weeks programming. Often there will be a random correlation between a programming event and ratings. More often than not, it will be just a correlation and the two events will not be causally related.

Remember that listeners are not paying close attention to your radio station. They remember events selectively and select radio stations based on habit, needs, perceptions, language and lifestyle. More often than not, a correlation from event to ratings will be by chance, not because you caused it.

10. Experiment. If you don’t know for sure what causes your ratings to go up or down, experiment to find out. For example, if your hot rotation on currents is 3 hours, go to 2.5 every other week for 20 weeks. Divide your ratings in to two 10 week periods. See if the 10 2.5 hour rotation weeks show any ratings difference from the 10 3 hour rotation weeks. Do tighter rotations work or not? Aggregate enough weeks to have a statistically valid comparison. Also, if you do this, look at other variables that might be impacted. For example, does the burn on songs change with tighter rotations? Are there fewer or more highly popular songs?

A/B testing is all the marketing buzz, though testing of messaging has been around for decades! Just as Google and Amazon test the delivery of their product, there’s no reason why radio stations shouldn’t test theirs as well. Perhaps you try variations of clocks every other day. Maybe you play 200 songs one day and 300 songs every other day. Run stopsets differently every other day. Compile a year of ratings data and compare. If you really want to get granular with Nielsen data, do it over a long enough period of time to formulate actionable plans based on that data.

10 years after the debut of PPM in the top 10 markets and seven years after writing these tips, the general principles of successful programming haven’t changed. If you’re:

  • Always thinking strategically
  • Staying true to your brand
  • Maintaining focus and discipline
  • Not overreacting
  • Testing and tracking results over time

…you’re positioned for PPM success in 2018 and beyond.

Should I Play That Song On My Radio Station?

Tuesdays With Coleman

For radio program directors, the question of which songs to play and which to leave out is as old as the medium itself.  If it was only about playing popular songs, radio stations would be broader than they are.  Why is that?  Well, just like restaurants don’t all serve the same popular foods and generally must choose what to serve, radio stations also focus on types, styles and eras of music.

Pizza Hut doesn’t sell hamburgers. CHR stations don’t play country.

Outback Steakhouse doesn’t sell Chinese food. Rock stations don’t play pop music.

Chipotle doesn’t sell pancakes. Hip Hop stations don’t play Taylor Swift.

These choices seem obvious, but are they always?  How can a program director think about what to play when consumers listen to popular music and music that seems right for the format?  How can they know when to stretch beyond the narrowest definition of their format?  When can they take chances and when should they play it safe?

Just as they choose restaurants and most brands based on simplistic image perceptions, consumers also select radio stations based on an image they have of that station.

As we’ve illustrated in our explanations of Outside Thinking, that image may be formulated based on Type (like Rock, Country or Hip Hop); Era (like 80s, 90s or 00s); or Texture (like Hard, Soft or Upbeat).

But in the real world, not every song a station plays will meet the pure definition of the brand it represents to its audience.

Sometimes, a program director will want to throw in a song just to “freshen things up.”

Other times a song will reach such a high level of popularity in the zeitgeist, a program director may feel compelled to play it even if it is outside the format lane.

Program directors will fill their music tests with “fishing expeditions” to see what happens.

Every program director and music director is faced with the decision of whether or not to play songs on their stations and is left questioning if it was the right choice because of Fit.

So, when to play and when not to play?

Don Benson, the former President and CEO of Lincoln Financial Media, put it something like this:

You can be entrepreneurial in your own lane. You can’t be entrepreneurial in your fringe lanes.

What Don means by that is your format lane gives you license to introduce your audience to songs and even sounds they haven’t heard. When you play outside your lane, you risk losing listeners and may encourage brand erosion.

For most listeners, this isn’t a conscious thought process. In the moment, if they really like it, a listener may sit through a song that feels out of sync with the brand and wait for the radio station to return to expectation. If they don’t really like it, and it’s out of sync, the listener is less likely to stay.

The real danger here is, if a station plays out-of-sync songs too often—songs that aren’t consistent with its brand perception—the listener will lose confidence in the station’s ability to deliver what the listener wants.

The Coleman Insights Brand-Content MatrixSM dictates that the success of great radio stations is the result of two dimensions. First, the station’s brand strength—its top of mind awareness and perception. Second, its in-the-moment content strength—a function of how compelling the content is. The Brand-Content Matrix shows the most successful radio stations marry high-quality content with a well-established brand.

Brand Content Matrix

In many ways, the decision-making process on whether or not to play a song on your radio station can be handled in much the same way…using an Acceptance-Fit Matrix.

Acceptance Fit Matrix

Ideally, your radio station will play a high percentage of songs that test well (High Acceptance) and fit your station’s brand (High Fit).

But, there always will be moments of questioning.

In the late 80s and very early 90s, for example, pop music took a milder, less edgy turn. During this period, artists like Richard Marx, Mike and the Mechanics, Wilson Phillips and Michael Bolton topped the charts.

Michael Bolton Soul Provider

How was CHR supposed to live without Michael Bolton?

For CHR stations, playing too much of this fringe ACish sound risked undermining their brand expectation. The expectations were edgier and had more tempo. The center-lane pop was from artists like Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna.

Stations had to be careful how quickly and deeply to move into the fringe sound—not just for fear of brand erosion, but also the risk of making themselves vulnerable to attack by more focused formats like Hot AC or edgier stations like Hip Hop.

As the Acceptance-Fit Matrix indicates, if a song is outside your own lane, it had better be exceptionally popular to play it.  A song that is exceptionally popular but not in the center lane is in the lower right quadrant. You may be able to get away with that. But, if it is only moderately popular it will be a tune out and will hurt your image.

Our recommendation is to evaluate every song in your library in terms of both Acceptance and Fit.

Aim for highly popular songs that are a great fit with your brand.

The less it fits your brand, the more selective you should be.

So when it’s time to ask “should I play that song on my radio station?”

Be smart.

Be thoughtful.

Be strategic.

And, be entrepreneurial.

Just do it in your own lane.