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CEOs Mouth Off and Word-of-Mouth Mojo

| December 13, 2013

Nielsen Client Conference Day 2 coverage by Talkers contributor and media consultant Holland Cooke


cookewriterBALTIMORE — The Nielsen Audio Client Conference & Jacobs Media Summit wrapped Thursday, but not before sustained applause for four group heads who decried what’s become radio business-as-usual: too many commercials, and too little programming diversity and innovation.  Their unvarnished comments echoed a surprisingly candid CEO roundtable at the recent NAB/RAB Radio Show.

“The status quo is like a shark.  If you’re not swimming, you’re not breathing.”

NRG Media CEO Mary Quass and fellow panelists run mid-size companies, and all described the opportunities they seize being more nimble than bigger companies’ “paralysis” and “short-term thinking.”  Connoisseur Media CEO Jeff Warshaw reckons that “This is the most opportune time for entrepreneurs in radio that I have seen in a long, long time.”

Journal Broadcast Group EVP/TV & Radio Operations Steve Wexler admits that innovation and resourcefulness go hand-in-hand: “We can do anything we want.  We just can’t afford to do everything we want.”  Panelists took turns swapping anecdotes about spontaneous stunts and other localisms that hark-back to a radio heyday that now seems quaint.

The word “people” kept coming up.

  • Warshaw encouraged managers to encourage talent, which is too-often micro-managed in his view: “How can I hold people accountable and let them feel ‘ownership’ if I’m telling them what to do every step of the way?”
  • Quass observed that, “at great radio stations, you never hear in the hallway: ‘It’s not my job.’”
  • South Central Communications President Craig Jacobus: “I’m wondering where the new talent’s coming from,” with so much programming now hubbed, syndicated, and voicetracked.  Panelists dialogued with attendees about using off-peak dayparts, HD side channels, and the digital platform to greenhouse new content.

“Social influence and Word- of-Mouth is the most powerful force in the consumer marketplace.”

With so much emphasis lately on Social Media, Keller Fay Group CEO & author Ed Keller offered a distinction: “Social media is high-tech; word-of-mouth is high-touch.”  While we tend to focus on tools like Twitter, Keller observes that “ALL media are social.  People are wired to be social.”  And technology merely facilitates conversations.

  • Word-of-mouth (WOM) “is bigger than social media,” Keller figures.  “90% of conversations take place offline, 76% face-to-face.  Texting is bigger than social.”
  • And “not all talkers are created equal,” in his view.  Anyone-marketing-anything should woo “The Influentials,” (opinion leaders Seth Godin has dubbed “Sneezers”).  “1-in-10 Americans tells the other 9 how to vote, where to eat, what to buy.”What this means to radio:
  • Marketing plays a big role in driving WOM.  “More than 50% of brand conversations refer to marketing/media.”  Thus the value in carefully crafting commercial copy and station imaging messages.
  • “Heavy radio listeners are hugely social.” And “media that can reach people when they are in a social environment” are advantaged.  Joining Keller onstage, DMR/Interactive president Tripp Eldredge, who characterized “Influentials” and “Sneezers” as potential “Amplifiers” of a radio station’s – or any other product’s – brand.
  • They have a wide social network.
  • They’re checking-in with their tribe regularly.
  • They’re inquisitive information-seekers.
  • They’re sharing things frequently.

“Twitter is like a live, free focus group.”

cookejoshAs-entertaining-as-he-was-generous with what he learned when he went along with network management’s “suggestion” that he go-social, Dateline NBC correspondent Josh Mankiewicz alone was worth the trip to Baltimore.

Experience, observations, and advice he shared:

  • “You cannot do Twitter and NOT have a thick skin.  Twitter rewards speed, humor, and snark.”
  • On the assumption that – for every viewer/listener you hear from, there are lots you don’t hear from — don’t feel as though you’re over-reacting if you heed a dozen Tweets.  Dateline NBC is now more careful about covering unresolved cold cases, because Tweets suggested that “viewers felt cheated” by stories without closure.
  • Tweets which say please-watch/listen are “just another ad.”
  • Authenticity is imperative.  Followers can tell when personalities have Tweets ghosted.
  • Bottom line?  Be there or be square: “People are going to be talking about you and your product whether or not you’re on Twitter.  Twitter is your chance to talk back.”

Life After Arbitron

Getting-to-know-you presentations by Nielsen suits which began Wednesday continued Thursday.

Attendees accustomed to radio-only audience measurement heard EVP & GM, local media Matt O’Grady observe that “the similarity between local cable and local radio is stunning…a lot of overlapping [advertising] clients,” and similar sample size challenges.

Reiterating the all-media-consumption perspective other executives shared the previous day, O’Grady explained that “We put radio right up there next to TV…not to compete with each other, but to collaborate and extend reach.  They co-exist.  It’s not about telling a media buyer that their spend on another screen is wrong.”  It’s telling them how using radio adds-to results they get from the other screen.

Beyond the previous Arbitron AM/FM focus, Nielsen measures 3 metrics:

  • Reach: How many are listening, and who they are.
  • Resonance: What listeners recall hearing.
  • Reaction:  Connecting-the-dots for advertisers, by relating reach and resonance to actual purchase behavior (Nielsen has access to credit card data).

As for what station subscribers should expect from their new radio ratings vendor, SVP/local media Fashad Family outlined 3 focus areas:

  1. “We want to continue to improve the core measurement service.”  PPM sample size will grow 6% on average, and to 20% in smaller metered markets.  And selective oversampling of certain hard-to-sample demographics.  And they’re working on automating encoder offline alerts.
  2. Digital is “an area where we want to run really fast.  We recognize that this is a growing space, and that consumer habits are changing.”  Goal: leveraging video on various platforms.
  3. “Consumer ROI: What is the advertiser getting?”  Beyond age-and-gender data, this is the “Reaction” O’Grady described above: “Does a particular station do well delivering Toyota owners?  Moviegoers?”

In diary markets, Nielsen will continue to invest in an Arbitron initiative: developing an electronic diary, which would be phased-in slowly, after testing, which will continue during the Spring survey.

ICYMI: My notes from conference day 1 are here.


Media consultant Holland Cooke covers industry conferences for Talkers and RadioInfo.  Look for his notes from CES International next month; and follow HC @HollandCooke on Twitter and at

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Category: Analysis, Opinions