MEDIA: SPOTLIGHT ON; Radio research: Will Rajar still prove effective as radio services fragment?

Research methods must adapt to a wider range of media

Research methods must adapt to a wider range of media



Most experts agree that in the near future, industry research is going

to have to run harder and harder just to stand still. In all media

sectors there’s so much choice that massive resources are already

required to provide thorough research analysis of all newspapers,

magazines and TV stations.



Or, as one speaker at a recent media research conference proposed, the

joint industry committees might have to adjust to more modest ambitions,

with industry research providing the bare minimum while individual media

owners, agencies and advertisers do the clever stuff themselves.



Last week Rajar, the radio industry’s research body, proposed this

compromise - to spend most of its budget researching the big-audience

stations and use the remainder to provide more flimsy coverage of the

small fry; in effect, a two-tier system.



It is imperative that radio comes up with some sort of solution - it is

fragmenting at a greater rate than most other media. But will the Rajar

proposals be acceptable to advertisers and agencies? Can the industry

live with the fact that it may have a patchy knowledge of many radio

stations?



Justin Sampson, the operations manager of the Radio Advertising Bureau,

points out that nothing has been set in stone. ‘By the time the new

Rajar contract comes along in 1998 we have to have an agreed research

methodology, and I think everyone realises that industry research will

have increasing problems as media continues to fragment.



‘Obviously, the thing we have to work towards is giving advertisers and

agencies the currency they believe is reliable when they trade on radio.

We are taking soundings from the rest of the industry as we move towards

the evolution of a new system that will be acceptable to everyone in the

commercial sector as well as the BBC.’



What is he likely to hear? Derek Morris, the joint media director of BMP

DDB and spokesman for the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising on

radio issues, concedes that the current system will not be able to cope.

He says a two-tier system will formalise current practice, adding: ‘Some

stations are already reported more than others. A two-tier system

wouldn’t unduly worry me, provided Rajar gets the methodology right. The

big stations are where we all spend most of our money anyway.’



Rupert Garrett, the head of radio at BBJ Media Services, also agrees in

principle, but wants consistency. ‘It all boils down to money. It is

unrealistic to expect everyone to fork out massively to research some of

the smaller stations. But we have to be absolutely clear about which

stations are on which tier. It must be explained in advance and they

should not - as happened with the last Rajar figures - change things

overnight.’



Garrett also believes that the whole issue should be considered in a

wider context. ‘Radio has been on the crest of a wave recently but the

medium has to put things in order now, or else it will be in trouble

when the wave starts to run out of momentum. We’ve seen other media fail

to invest during the good times and not be able to sustain their

position,’ he warns.



‘I welcome the fact that we’re also seeing more debate about electronic

systems. It is ridiculous that we’re still doing things with diaries. We

will soon have more efficient transmission certification systems and a

clearer indication of the marketplace, with the involvement of people

like Register-MEAL. What we are eventually going to need is the ability

to cross-tabulate that with audience research. The industry has to go

electronic. Agencies will welcome that more than anything. Overall, it’s

good that everyone is thinking about these things.’