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
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
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.’