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Here’s How Radio Buyers Destroy Audience Reach With Misinformed Buying Dictates.

Several network radio buying practices, long used by advertisers, can actually harm reach and ignore huge swaths of shows, programs and networks. Decades-old dictates that radio buys have a greater concentration in the top markets, skew female, or have a drive-time concentration are counter-productive, according to a new analysis from Cumulus Media Chief Insights Officer Pierre Bouvard.

Some marketers specify that their radio buys have a 55% or greater female skew so they get a greater proportion of audience impressions from women than exists in the U.S. population. But AM/FM radio listening skews in the other direction with a 53% male audience composition. So, when a brand dictates a 55+ female skew in their buy, the unintended consequence is they end up reaching fewer women. “Trying to plan a mass reach buy with 55% female skew is unattainable,” Bouvard says in a blog post, entitled “3 Ways To Destroy Reach In Your Network Radio Campaign.” That’s because as a campaign’s overall reach grows, the proportion of female impressions reverts to the 47% norm.

The second way buyers unintentionally reach fewer people in their target demo is by ordering a “top market index” in their media plan. That can cause problems because Nielsen uses Portable People Meters in the top 50 markets and ratings diaries everywhere else. Because the meters report less listening than the diary method – the cause of a huge controversy when PPMs rolled out commercially in 2010 – all U.S. AM/FM radio listening indexes at an 84 in the top 50 markets. That doesn’t mean people in the top 50 markets listen to less broadcast radio. It simply reflects the fact that different methodologies report varying levels of AM/FM radio usage, Bouvard explains. Looked at another way, 70% of the U.S. population lives in the top 50 markets. Yet 59% of total U.S. AM/FM radio listening impressions are in those top 50 markets. That means a buyer cannot achieve a top market index with a mass reach radio buy because the bigger the reach, the closer the top market index approaches 84.

The third way buyers sometimes shoot themselves in the foot with longtime buying practices is by adhering to the myth that radio is a drivetime medium. “Radio is miscast as a drive time medium,” Bouvard says in a video summarizing his findings. “It's a myth, only 40% of American radio listening occurs in drive time.” The other 60% of listening occurs outside of drive time with middays the biggest daypart for listening.

Blind To Audience Volume

So, while each criteria seems vaguely appealing, combining all three dictates sharply reduces a buyer’s options because they are blind to audience volume, Bouvard postulates. “If you apply these dictates to network radio inventory, what you end up doing is restricting access to inventory, ignoring huge swaths of shows and programs and networks, he explains. “You only end up buying the same small list of shows over and over again, getting excessive frequency and, of course, destroying reach. What these dictates do is drive up CPMs, restrict access to inventory and cause brands to compete for the same small inventory pool”

The top takeaway here is that by eliminating index dictates for top market and female skew, buyers can massively increase their reach.

Bouvard bolsters his argument with some examples. In one $1.9 million dollar network radio buy, persons 25-54 reach soars from 39.8 million to 61.7 million (a 55% increase) when the index dictates are removed. Eliminating the top market index dictate causes top market reach to explode 56%, from 19.6 million to 30.6 million. And getting rid of the female index dictate causes female reach to surge 52%, from 19.1 million to 29 million. In other words, the elimination of the dictate added 10 million more women.

Among the study’s conclusions: To capture the value of AM/FM radio’s mass reach, eliminate dictates for female skew, top market index, and drive times. These dictates drive up CPMs and restrict access to inventory causing brands to compete for the same small impression pool. The bottom line, per Bouvard: “An index doesn’t buy products and services. People do. An index has no relationship to audience size.”

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