A few weeks ago, I took issue with Arbitron. I criticized their methodology and accuracy. My criticism wasn’t anything new. Since day one, they’ve been highly suspect within the radio and advertising communities. Everyone has taken shots at them.

But they’re still here.

Although Arbitron pretends to be interested in answering their critics and examining their methodology, the truth is…they aren’t. As the only game in town, they’ve been able to basically dictate to the radio community. And it’s a lead-pipe cinch that no substantive change will be forthcoming.

So, we can keep complaining (and we definitely will), but we also have to live with the beast until it goes away. Accepting this as a fact, I spent the last couple of weeks getting information from different programmers across the country on how to program to an audience that will be rated by Arbitron. Some of the ideas were interesting and I want to share them with you.

First and foremost, we must concentrate on the basics. In developing specialized programming techniques, we sometimes miss the obvious. Or we think it sounds “dumb.” Don’t forget, an IQ test isn’t given to those who fill out diaries. Saying “Write It Down” after your calls four times an hour gives a more-than-subtle reminder to those who have diaries and it really doesn’t annoy those who aren’t participating.

Since so many Arbitron participants work, send gofers to high-traffic streets with hand-lettered signs saying, “Don’t forget to write it down when you get home…WXXX.”

You can tie contest in to diary participants by doubling regular prizes to winners who have the call letters written somewhere. Have them bring proof to the station. You don’t care if they write it after they won.

One of the “high-tech” tools Arbitron uses to remind diary holders to make entries is a cardboard cut-out in the shape of a hand, pointing a finger with a string around it. They ask participants to hang these on their doors as reminders. Why not use something similar to stage a contest promoting station listening?

In two-book markets (or even in four-book markets, concentrating on the important fall and spring books) all on-air contests should use the theme “the longer you listen, the more you can win”…anything to increase TSL. Have the audience count the number of times a particular song is played or give away money each time a song is played. Contest that give different clues across dayparts are a must.

Lost among all of the “cute” promotions are the two old stanbys that seem to always generate TSL. Any form of the “High Low Jackpot” or “Cash Call” will work. It’s important to use these contests sparingly. If you use either constantly, they seem to lose some of their power. But twice a year, they will work.

Remember, do not overstep the rules Arbitron insists you follow. Although restrictions do exist, they are easy to work around. With all due respect, Arbitron will oblige in guiding you through questions about contesting. On the other hand, do not be afraid to go right up to the line. Being on the edge is what makes a great programmer.

These are just a few of the many ideas shared by others. It’s how you should approach programming. What about sales?

Too many sales departments don’t sell the radio station; they just present numbers. Innovative techniques can stimulate sales, particularly on the local level. Have all of your current advertisers write letters to your sales people telling a success story of their last time-buy. Compile a book of these letters and have the account executives take them on calls. Nothing sells a client quicker than to see one of his competitors using a successful promotion or spot buy.

Go overboard on pictures. Take hundreds at every promotion. It’s great to show lines of people waiting to attend or a crowd at the promotion, but also get specific. Have well-dressed people hold up their business cards for photos. Show your clients the type of upscale people who are drawn to your radio station. Make a book of these photos and have the account executives use it when selling.

It’s the video age; use it! Compile a station composite on video. It should show a little of the inner workings of the station, station promotions and testimonials from listeners and advertisers. Show this to clients.

These are just a few of the “back-to-basics” ideas that can help you program to your audience through Arbitron’s methodology on a limited budget. Since Arbitron’s methods are basic, your programming and sales techniques shouldn’t be any more sophisticated. If you are using others that you consider successful, let us know and we’ll share them with our readers.

And lest we forget the most important process in attaining Arbitron success…pray!

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