Skarzynski wants to make changes at Arbitron


In a wide-ranging give-and-take with reporters, new Arbitron CEO Michael Skarzynski spelled out some of the changes he wants to make – such things as quicker response to client concerns and even becoming “a cheerleader for radio.” And yes, there will be some staff reductions in the reorganization he’s preparing to implement yet this quarter, but he says he doesn’t envision significant layoffs.

In his first quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts earlier this week Skarzynski spoke of changing the corporate culture at Arbitron. RBR/TVBR asked him for specifics on what he wants to change.

“There are many positive attributes of the culture of Arbitron that I wouldn’t want to change,” he first noted, saying he wanted to build on the values of the people, their integrity and their desire to satisfy and please customers. “In terms of aspects of the culture that I’m working on, on a real-time basis, to change, customers say we are too slow. We take an input and we say, ‘OK, gee, that’s an important issue, but we can’t possibly change that for months and months’ – a long period of time. So we need to be more responsive to customers in our response time. How can we change that? We have to look at our business processes, the way we make decisions, the business infrastructure and IT support that we have attendant to our PPM and diary market solutions – and there are some changes that we can make to shorten those intervals of response,” he said.

In addition, he said, customers have told him, “You need to be a little more flexible.” 

Skarzynski said earlier in the week he had been on a listening tour with Arbitron customers. He didn’t name names yesterday, although he did say the meetings included representatives from the National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB) and the Spanish Radio Association (SRA), both of which have voiced complaints that PPM undercounts minority audiences. He said his meetings with clients had ranged from CEOs to programmers and account executives and from large groups to radio owners with stations in only one or two markets.

The new head of Arbitron took note of the tough economics facing his customers, with ad revenues on the decline. “Arbitron needs to be a cheerleader for the radio industry. We need to take this industry from its current levels, which are not sufficient, and make this a $22 billion industry. We need to point out the importance of radio as a medium. We need to talk about its great reach. We need to talk to all of the constituents of the radio industry, which would include the advertisers and the ad agencies – and stand up o n the table and wave our hands and say, gee whiz, radio deserves a greater mix of the advertising budget and radio deserves more attention – please understand its importance, please understand in terms of reach and of audience it’s a fantastic medium – one that can go far beyond, for example, Internet and wireless, which are media that are so popular today. But radio can be even better, faster – and we need to tell that story,” Skarzynski preached.

Asked about the entry of Nielsen into the US radio ratings marketplace, Skarzynski wasn’t shy about placing blame. “Arbitron dropped the ball,” he said, leading Cumulus Media and Clear Channel to bring in a new competitor. “I’ve apologized to Cumulus and to Clear Channel,” he said. And the new CEO once again vowed to win back that business.

Skarzynski once again spoke of opportunities for Arbitron to expand its PPM technology for measurement of the “three screens”: television, Internet and wireless devices. He spoke of how radio stations are branching out into delivery on other devices and need to be credited wherever their content is found. Not mentioned, though, was that measuring content on those screens will have Arbitron encroaching on Nielsen’s core business, just as Nielsen has done by going after Arbitron’s core radio business.

The new CEO didn’t provide any specifics of just how he plans to reorganize Arbitron’s operations. “I don’t envision a significant layoff,” Skarzynski said, “but we are going to make some cuts and those cuts will result in reductions in force to our team.” The CEO said he is looking at every area in every department across the company. That reorganization is scheduled to be completed by the end of this quarter, which is March 31.