Since 1999, radio has experienced a steady decline in listenership, and has become mostly confined to specific personalities and drive times. In fact, according to the BIA Financial Network, Inc. (BIAfn), the radio industry has suffered its second year of negative growth in 2008, tripling station revenue losses to -7 percent and will experience another 10 percent decline in revenue this year.
It's worth mentioning because radio provides an excellent example of the overvaluation of reach as it pertains to live radio remotes. As a promotional tool, Warner & Buchman once described radio remotes as an excellent promotional tool "to create excitement and increased awareness for a product or service and to get consumers involved with a product." Simply put, they were traffic generators.
But what traffic? When poorly planned, many stations, especially those with strong station personalities, would sometimes attract crowds that were more interested in the station than the marketer's location. And some, weren't even interested in either as much as the free food, drinks, contests, and drawings.
That is not to say radio remotes are bad. They work great for some businesses and can create an atmosphere. But in terms of real reach — real potential future buyers, some remotes are over valued. I once attended an agency organized event that delivered not a single buyer because they chose a popular remote station over a station with the right demographic, and still insisted the event was a success based on the number of bodies. Hmmm ...
Redefining Reach To Avoid Over Valuation
In most communication fields, reach is often defined as the total number of impressions or how many people are exposed to a message. However, in considering the effectiveness of communication, marketers can capture a clearer picture if they narrow the definition of reach to only include the intended public.
Mack Collier, a social media consultant, alluded to this thinking in January after he became one of 25 hand-picked communication-related bloggers to see a sneak preview of Pepsi cans sporting the new logo. While each blogger framed up their posts for their audience, most were not Pepsi fan boys.
Was it an effective application of reach? Or would Pepsi have benefited by targeting bloggers who are actually fans of the product or related products, like Justin or the Pepsi Blue Blog? And even if Pepsi did target communication bloggers, wouldn't it have been more worthwhile to send out what Fast Company has called the most ridiculous thing ever perpetrated by somebody calling himself a designer? After all, the brief has generated more buzz than the bloggers ever did, even if most of it was bad.
Some Public Relations Firms Are The Worst Offenders
Kathy Keenan, principal at Keenan Strategic Communications, called it right when she said column inches is more "ridiculous" than most public relations measures. The practice, counting column inches and then attempting to equate the value of those inches to the ad rate equivalent, is just plain fraud. I also agree that clip counting or basing the measure on circulation is equally flawed.
Don't get me wrong. Hits are great, but only if they reach the intended public. And even then, only if they move that public in a specific direction or, perhaps, raise the brand equity of the company. Personally, I suspect if more public relations firms measured properly, journalists would celebrate because it would mean a whole lot less spam.
One example I use in my Writing For Public Relations class at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is how a predominately local attraction that relies on visitation from a proximity-based public would not benefit from every impression earned from mention in an out-of-market publication. Sure, it might be cool to see a West Coast local attraction written up in the Wall Street Journal, but only if business people might might buy plane tickets.
Otherwise, it's all perception that has nothing to do with much of anything. However, that perception of faux reach is so strong, even some publications are starting to cross ethical lines to have it online.
Does a local hamburger stand benefit from exposure in Singapore? Probably not, but they are paying for it.
Gaming Traffic Online Runs The Risk Of Ruining Companies
On Twitter this weekend, Joe Hunkins asked if Twitter participants would follow a company for $.01 a day. He said that half would, and half would not. But what does that do? Simple, but silly.
All it really does is bring a sketch from the once popular television show Ally McBeal to real life. In an episode called Out in the Cold, the character named Billy decides to hire six girls as his new entourage, hoping to impress a powerful potential client. However, online perception is not television programming, and paid followers will never help you determine if you have an effective message for real prospects.
Astroturf aside, the bottom line is that while exposing as many people as possible to a specific message may yield results, the over valuation of reach can distract companies from their primary objectives or even drive existing customers and prospects away. I've watched dozens of blogs over the last five years turn off their core audience by chasing numbers instead of customers.
When To Consider Reach Part Of The Equation
In sum, to determine the effectiveness of communication, the measure of reach is more useful when it is limited to intended publics as opposed to the general public. In other words, if you have a product or service intended to be purchased by your demographic, then the only number that counts are those in that demographic and the frequency that the demographic is exposed to that message.
Download The Abstract: Measure: I | O = ROC
The ROC is an abstract method of measuring the value of business communication by recognizing that the return on communication — advertising, marketing, public relations, internal communication, and social media — is related to the intent of the communication and the outcome it produces. Every Monday, the ROC series explores portions of the abstract.