Knee Jerk Reactions

This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on August 18, 2020

As we enter into the seventh month of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, I continue to hear a lot of frustrated programmers talking about the pressure they are getting because the ratings are out of control. They are being asked to make drastic changes to their talent, music and promotional strategies at a time when listening patterns are like a rollercoaster that changes every day. Let’s be honest, the system of ratings measurement was extremely tedious before the pandemic hit. We’ve all learned that even just 1 or 2 heavy meter users can make or break a station. In addition, we’ve learned how complicated the strategy is just to achieve decent ratings in the world of PPM.

We are in the middle of a pandemic and there are certain things we just can’t control. We can’t control who and when people are going back to work. We can’t control how their listening patterns have changed and we can’t control the fact that a large number of Gen X and Millennials are no longer listening to radio the way they used to because they are stuck at home trying to work and/or home school their children. And again, we all know how one meter holder can represent thousands of people in a population, and the loss or gain of that person can ultimately make or break a ratings book.

The topic of knee jerk reactions to a bad book has been going on for ages. Have we not learned our lesson? The key is to not panic. Especially if you are at the top. If you are a good leader, you understand what panic can do to a team and a brand. If you are a good leader, you also have enough experience to know that making drastic changes to a solid brand which has traditionally performed well, when the margin of error is so off the charts even in normal times, much less during a global pandemic, is a bad idea. It’s a quick way to destroy a brand that could ultimately take months or years to rebuild.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of bad programming going on right now, especially since employees are being asked to handle so many things at one time with no communication and no end in sight. But there are certain solid brands and formats that are taking a hit simply due to the everyday challenges and changes caused by COVID-19. And it’s not because the station sucks or got worse, it’s because certain meter holders are no longer able to participate in the ratings game the way they used to. The worst thing that you can do is knee jerk and destroy the brand loyalty. And yes, listeners are looking for comfort, and certain adjustments need to be made. We have to progress with time. But listeners are looking for the kind of comfort they are accustomed to. When things have returned to normal, or we’ve discovered what the new normal is, loyal brand lovers will come back when they get their lives under control.

My point is, don’t forget how ratings are achieved in this day and age. And don’t forget the system is a circus right now thanks to COVID-19, much like it was in New Orleans in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit. Sometimes results have very little to do with how solid a brand is and a lot to do with how many active meters are in the field with enough representation per capita and demographic. I guess my bigger point is, yes we have to make adjustments and make sure we are playing the hits and be live, local and comforting. But for goodness sakes, don’t panic and implode the station or line up because your COVID-19 numbers aren’t where you want them to be. Don’t destroy a solid brand. You’ll never get it back. Teach your sellers to sell the consistency of the product in a normal environment. And teach them to sell qualitative information and provide examples to support it like digital statistics and results. But most importantly, WORK with your programmers and talent to find the right strategy for progress without destroying the brand, as you weather through this Covid storm.