ANALYSIS: Numbers fail to add up in radio fiasco - What started as a simple release of radio audience figures has suddenly become an embarrassing war of words between long-term rivals radio and TV

Earlier this month the Radio Advertising Bureau suggested the

latest Radio Joint Audience Research figures showed people now listened

to radio (3.48 hours a day) more than they watched TV (3.46 hours).



But the RAB, in conjunction with the Commercial Radio Companies

Association, had used two different figures to arrive at this arresting

statement: statistics for people over 15-years-old for radio and those

aged four and above for TV. The conclusions were, therefore, skewed and

the TV industry, in the form of Carlton Sales chief executive Martin

Bowley, cried foul.



The RAB admitted its 'inadvertent misrepresentation' of the figures and

retracted the claim.



No-one suggests that the mistake was deliberate. But it has raised some

interesting questions about the way all parties handle PR.



For example, Carlton did not include its press office at all in the

response process. Sales MD Steve Platt says this was because the issue

involved the in-depth analysis of figures: 'They could have been

involved but it is not their area of expertise.'



In PR terms, the episode has also been embarrassing for RAB and CRCA

since basic errors never look good. The two bodies tend to respond to

Rajar figures together: the former with an eye on what it means for

advertising, sales and marketing, the CRCA looking at the wider radio

industry perspective, taking in matters such as programming and licence

applications. Alison Winter, CRCA research and communications manager,

is honest about the original mistake: 'We had very little time to turn

round the (Rajar) figures.



That was unfortunate. We got carried away with a good news story and

things didn't get checked as much as they should have been.'



The subsequent furore might also have obscured RAB's message that radio

listening has increased per head by 13.5 per cent to 2.97 hours per day

since 1999, while TV's hours per head have declined by 11.5 per cent to

3.46 per day in the same period. Although RAB admits there has been a

small amount of damage to its image, it thinks it has not done radio as

a whole any harm - especially given Platt's comment that the original

release was 'exactly the sort of information that sticks in the minds of

people in the business and is interesting to the man in the street'.



However, it could all have been sorted out earlier. The RAB/CRCA's claim

was in circulation for almost ten days before Carlton complained - a

delay due to the time needed to analyse figures properly, Carlton says.

In fact, the RAB had recognised its mistake almost immediately but chose

not to do anything about it until Carlton's reaction - writing to

clients, agencies and trade magazines - forced its hand.



RAB says the analyst responsible for sorting out the figures was on

holiday and that the organisation was planning to search for another

angle justifying the claim on her return. When it became clear this was

impossible, RAB acted.



Justin Sampson, RAB managing director, insists that the correction was

'off our own bat. We have a reputation for being honest brokers of

information.



We put our hands up, we made a mistake, sorry; but it doesn't detract

from the main thrust of the story.



A message about radio listening challenging TV viewing has got through,

it has demonstrated the strength of radio'.



This is the core of the matter: status is a touchy reputational issue

for TV companies. 'It's critically important,' says Tom Vesey, MD of

media evaluation agency Carma International Europe. He does not believe

that TV advertising revenues will have been remotely threatened by this

storm in a latte cup, but reiterates its potential importance: 'TV is

the key influencing medium. If you look over the past 30-plus years of

audience figures relative to ad costs, TV has led the charge upwards.

Challenges to its status will be repulsed with extreme aggression

because they give major multinationals huge cudgels with which to drive

TV ad rates down.'



Platt explains Carlton's response: 'Being responsible and rigorous with

figures in press releases and publicity is incredibly important. In TV a

share point of total broadcast revenue can mean more than £1.5m

gained or lost in any one month. These numbers can also shape how a

medium and media are perceived by the general public and our clients. In

the RAB instance the figures quoted claimed an important shift in the

relationship between the attraction of TV and radio. It was therefore

important for TV and ITV that the misleading figures publicised by the

RAB were corrected as vigorously as possible.'



But, as Winter says: 'It's interesting, the period of time it took

Carlton to come back to us.' The RAB's private line is - of course -

that Carlton devoted a surprising amount of time to dealing publicly

with a small matter from a supposedly unregarded competitor. 'TV still

sees radio as the poor little brother,' agrees Winter.



The affair has certainly been unusual. RAB believes it has dented TV's

position, albeit inadvertently. Individual publications, channels or

programmes may from time to time manipulate or put a gloss on audience

figures for their own benefit, but bureaux rarely make errors. And even

though it appears all smiles now, with Bowley praising the RAB's 'very

gracious' correction, RAB would still be happier if the whole episode

just went away. It will, at least until 25 October. That is when the

next Rajar figures are released.



Chain of Events

2 August: Rajar figures released. Radio Advertising Bureau and

Commercial Radio Companies Association issue joint press release saying

that viewing figures are declining while radio listening figures are

increasing. Also claims people now listen to more radio (3.48 hours a

day) than they watch TV (3.46 hours, according to latest Broadcasting

Audience Research Board figures).

3 August onwards: Press coverage, including national newspapers, of

RAB/CRCA release.

10 August: Carlton steps in and writes to trade press, clients and

agencies pointing out that RAB/CRCA has used different sets of

statistics: listeners aged 15 years and above for radio; viewers aged

four and above for TV.

13 August: RAB issues correction to selected journalists, admitting its

'inadvertent misrepresentation' and apologising. But it reiterates its

contention that radio listening is increasing significantly across the

medium term and is challenging the traditional dominance of TV.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.