April 10, 2012
After a little over two decades in radio, Robert Lawrence decided to start his own research company, Pinnacle Media Worldwide, with a daunting goal of meshing the science-laden metrics of research with the emotional passion inherent to good programming. The way to accomplish that: the use of cutting-edge digital and online technology that has been successfully used in entertainment TV, film, law, news and politics. Here Lawrence details his new tools of his trade and what conclusions of radio he has since discovered.
What were you doing before you started Pinnacle?
I started on the air in 1978 and did just about every daypart from small to major markets, including some of my proudest years as a Hot Hits jock in Philadelphia at WCAU when it launched in 1981. I also programmed in markets like St. Louis, San Diego and San Francisco, then joined Broadcast Architecture and spent 10 years as Senior VP. In 1998 I left to program K101 (KIOI) San Francisco. I launched Pinnacle Media Worldwide at the end of 2000.
So what made you decide to start Pinnacle?
After being in both programming and research for quite a while, I realized there was really something lacking in the industry. When I was a PD, I found that the researchers who worked with us always came from the science side, as opposed to the art side of radio. As a programmer first, I noticed a disconnect between the research I was given and the radio I was programming. The research companies would set a strategy that was very pro-execution, but lacked a true understanding of the art.
When radio and research are all about science, it eventually becomes boiler plate. If good radio was only a science, then everyone would be successful once they applied that science - but obviously they aren't. The most successful radio isn't all science -- or all art, for that matter. A programmer must be as artful as he or she is scientific. The most successful programmer merges art and science together. And that what Pinnacle Media is all about.
When it comes to science, we at Pinnacle have a true point of differentiation where we use tools that merge both reason and art with our products and services like the Digital Music Test and OnlineTRACKER -- real cutting-edge technology. We just don't do a lot of traditional stuff because the real-world audience is much less traditional. Our online perceptual studies also marry art and science.
Did you have the Digital Music Test and Content Analyzer in hand when you started Pinnacle, or did you decide to use them after the company was up and running?
We already had them in hand when we launched the company. It's the brand we have always built on. Digital Music Tests and Content Analysis enable us to harvest "emotion" from people -- not just their intellectual responses. When you normally talk to respondents who are radio listeners, they can give us ratings of songs and such, but they cannot seem to articulate what they really want. They don't really "get it."
In the classic example: People will ask you why radio tends to play the same 300 songs, then you find out that almost all of those 300 songs are ones they like the best. The intellect doesn't marry up to the emotion -- and we are more about harvesting emotion than intellect. We want to see what they feel about everything -- and you can't ask them to judge songs on a 1-5 scale and find out how the really feel about those songs emotionally.
How did you test this technology before you decided it world work for you?
We didn't invent digital interactive dial methodology; it was already being used in a variety of ways. Madison Avenue advertising agencies have used it to analyze commercials for years. TV producers use them to test TV pilots and shows. Film companies have tested movies and trailers with it for decades now. Attorneys use this technology for mock trials; testing jurors with the so when attorneys present their case; litigation teams can see what parts of their arguments are more believable and compelling. Some of the news networks used them to analyze debates in real time. Unlike the group mentality of focus groups, this is much more personalized and anonymous.
We started using digital interactive technology back in the '90s when everyone else was using traditional pencil-paper, Scantron-style testing. All our clients -- including CBS, Saga, Hubbard, Sirius, and dozens of others -- have seen the strength of this technology as the most accurate form of research available. Some tell us it is like a secret weapon; they just get what it's all about. That's why we don't do traditional paper-and-pencil studies; we never have and we never will.
So how does it work?
Respondents have an interactive, hand-held, digital dial that goes from 0 to 100; they are simply told to listen to a song -- and the more they like it, the more they should move the dial up toward 100; the more they dislike it, the more they move it down to 0. We specifically tell them to use their heart and not their head. A dial that expansive, from 0 to 100, enables us to capture more of what they're really feeling. That's how we harvest emotions. The best part is that our clients are in a room next door, watching these emotional responses as they unfold, in real time.
How often should you test your respondents with this technology?
Most clients do it once a year; some do it two to three times a year, while a few do them four times a year. They're very tactical in nature. We also have online tracker, which can compile research from a pool of up to 100,000 people in a station's database. Today, it's becoming more and more difficult to get people to participate in traditional types of studies. It's impossible and so cost-prohibitive to get anywhere near that many people to listen to hooks for 40 songs over the phone. However, they will listen to those songs through their computer on their own time. We also have the full Digital Music Test@Home, which enables the auditorium style studies to be conducted online.
One problem with audience testing is "peer influence," where someone would move his or her dial at the same time in the same way as someone sitting next to him. What problems are inherent to online - and how do you handle them?
There's always a mentality at audience tests where people who sit together peek over to see what someone else is thinking by looking at their dial or even their piece of paper. When the DMT@home is taken online, we don't have to control people who are copying someone else. The big danger online for many programmers is security. How do they know if the 40-year-old male is letting his 16-year-old daughter take the test for him? We have a great deal of security built in specifically for each respondent. At anytime, if they do not meet these parameters, their data is tossed out and they are logged off. We can even tell if someone is actively participating every second. Doing testing online enables us to monitor not just how they respond, but when they respond. Our respondents cannot really cheat at all, because we maintain very tight security.
Positives of online testing far outweigh traditional audience testing. For example, audience testing recruits from a 25-mile radius of a test site venue. History has shown that it's nearly impossible to get people from farther than 25 or 30 miles away to show up for an audience test, especially with the price of gas today. We don't have geographic restrictions with online testing. So a New York online test can recruit just as easily from New Jersey, Long Island or Manhattan, and no longer has to test in three separate locations. That is a huge benefit when it comes to cost savings.
Even so, there are clients of ours who still want to see respondents in person where they're all in one room at the same time. We still do that, but it's a lot more expensive for us to do. These days, clients want research that's more affordable, and the DMT@Home doesn't sacrifice quality.
Another advantage to this is that we can test a lot more than songs. We can also actually analyze content of morning shows and talent, and we can test your competition vs. your own show in real time, much like we do with music where we test two hours of a client's actual music mix vs. two hours of a direct competitor's. This lets us examine the "relative product quality" of your station vs. the competitors. We can also show how people respond to the music, the commercials ... virtually everything they hear on the air. People always talk about compelling content. Well, this technology measures how compelling your content actually is.
In a recent Consultant Tips, you wrote about "Education Marketing." Could you expand on what you were trying to get across?
The way I market my own company is through education marketing. The key is that I don't pitch anything. I never send out e-mails pitching our company, our products or our service. I don't call people and say I have this widget to help improve your ratings. You really don't get sales that way.
I send out things that matter to the people I want to serve - to create "partnerships," not "customers." Much like All Access does when offering all these different news, viewpoints and services to inform or inspire its readership, we also try to teach our "partners" important things about their industry, to create a bigger bond. Hopefully, people will read this, the other article and what's on our website and begin to understand that they can trust us and learn from us. I'm not hocking music tests like I'm selling suits in the garment district. I want to empower people to have a relationship. Our focal point is educating people, not selling people.
So how does this apply to radio?
Radio stations don't fully take advantage of education marketing. Every day, a station is bringing all these potential "clients" into a virtual room and do little else but pitch them. They tend to forget that these are ideal times to create bonds, or relationships, with a massive amount of people all at once. So how do you optimize each singular moment? Sell them on a song? Tell them you're at a remote? Or make their lives better by creating a bond?
A station that's essentially a jukebox is treating their audience like listeners, not like human beings who you care about -- and who should care about you. Instead of pitching them on something, offer something unique and different ... something to make their life simpler; something to make them smile; something they can relate to in their own lives.
It's the difference between a PC and a Mac. PC is successful but utilitarian, while Apple is about a more personal, sexier, enjoyable experience. A brand is a promise based on a relationship and wrapped in an experience. That is the foundation on which Apple built its superior brand.
How has social media impacted education marketing?
The basic premise is the same: You don't talk to them; you talk with them. We sometimes forget that almost everyone is wired today, which means they can talk back to us. Radio is no longer a one-way form of communication. The Internet, being interactive, enables radio to build deeper relationships even faster. That makes it even more imperative to have a strong brand to which they can bond. You really have to know your brand, yet today some stations can't define their own brand -- and if you can't do that, you can't expect your audience to understand it.
That's why we test morning shows; obviously they're a big part of a station's brand. People develop relationships with morning shows; that's why in San Diego, for instance, "Dave, Shelley & Chainsaw" and "Jeff & Jer" are successful. They've been in the market forever; they've built trust and created relationships that bond to the audience. That's why you put your energy into building a foundation built on that type of trust and relationship.
Look, I'm one of the guys who stood in line for an iPad and iPhone on day one. Now what kind of idiot spends $400 on a phone he's never held touched or seen in action? The kind of idiot who believes in a brand that's so powerful and compelling, they want what's being offered before they even see it. The most successful stations have done just that, as have the most popular personalities. The most popular personalities may not be the most talented, but they're likely the hardest working ones who build relationships and bonds that treat both their listeners and their advertisers as partners.
Unfortunately, some programmers are tending to let that slide in this business. In a PPM-oriented world that demands no clutter, that often is interpreted to mean no chatter and no promos. If you do that, you still need to stand for something.
When a large group employs more voice tracking and syndication, which relies more on national brands, can being "live and local" still be a successful brand when you're competing against it?
Yes. It is an opportunity when larger companies like Clear Channel start cutting. As a business man I can't say it's an irrational move for the larger groups because I understand the business side that dictates the need to show profits. However, there is a certain amount of sacrifice in certain "special-ness" and in the long term. At some point, every business needs to revisit its strategy. This makes sense for some and not for others but I cannot say that I don't understand why it is being done more often.
On the flip side, smaller companies, answering to fewer people, can use this to their advantage by building brands that others may not be able to provide. They can add things that are lacking on other stations and build brands based on those advantages.
But you can't stand still even if you have a strong brand. Stations continue to spend a good deal of money and energy on researching their product to keep rebuilding the brand. The most successful brands are stations such as The Drive in Chicago and The Arch in St. Louis. I spent a long time researching their product; they have built a brand that means something in the long term - and it really paid off for them.
Finally, where do you see the Pinnacle and research's place in radio's future?
Our clients who know us best consider us to be a cutting-edge research and branding company. We are never at rest. We're always trying to reinvent ourselves, just like every other brand. We believe online research will become even more necessary because people will get even more difficult to get on the phone. I'm sure other forms of research will come out to answer new questions and test new products.
Online is the wave of the future for everybody. Right now it's a smaller part of the radio business, but it will eventually become the largest, major sector. The next generation of programmers will see its inherent value. Right now you've got 80-85% of the public using the Internet at least once a day -- and 50% use it all day long. The way that's trending, for you to not take advantage of that is tantamount to making a second mistake. That's where research is moving, and we've got some exciting new products that we'll be introducing in the next few months to stay ahead of the curve.