PPM "secrets" and observations


Reading the story about the “secret life” of a PPM Panelist [The San Francisco Chronicle article that followed ‘Angella Sprauve’, a product development manager, who mentioned she had to wear the PPM from the time she woke up until bed, and that after joining her current company, she felt less at ease wearing the meter.], and the reactions to it made me think back to some of the rating service stories that have stuck in my memory through the years.  My memories only go back to 1986, so my apologies to those with better stories. 

The two stories I remember best were the Arbitron diary that that listed 18 hours a day of listening with the diary-keeper adding in the comments that she left the radio on all day because her parrot liked the music.  Arbitron counted that diary because there was nothing in their rules against it.  And there was the station that had a 99 share from Birch for a weekend daypart because there was only one diary that reported any listening at all!

I thought of those stories because of the “shock” by some to discover that PPM is not 100% accurate.  Believe me, no one wishes for a perfect rating system more than I, but that is not likely to happen in my lifetime (maybe a microchip implanted under the skin will do it!).  Panelists leaving their meter at home, in their purse, or attaching it to their dog are all things that I would expect Arbitron to encounter, especially with limited personal interaction with panelists.  And I am not “shocked” because Arbitron numbers were are, and always were estimates, not hard & set in stone, facts. 

When I began my radio sales career, Arbitron numbers were only one of the factors in the buying equation. Media buyers took into account formats, competitors, station history, personalities, qualitative audience, and market make-up and changes in addition to the ratings.  Sure, ratings were always a big part of the equation, but not the only part.   These days, due in part to overloaded media departments and more homogenous formats, ratings have taken over in many cases as the only factor in a media department’s decision making.   

Maybe the epiphany that PPM is not perfect will re-inject the human element into media buying decisions.  Maybe “having a story” will once again count in the determination of which audience is right for a client.   And maybe media buyers will once again be treated as a professional whose experience and knowledge is valued in media buying decisions and be encouraged to look deeper than an Arbitron ranker to determine what is best for a client.

–Mitch Mizel, Director of Research, CBS Radio/New York