February 8, 2011
After 27 years of programming and holding executive posts at AMFM, Citadel, MTV and Pinnacle Media, among many others, Ken Benson decided to go his own way and launch P1 Research, a multi-purpose research and strategic consultancy for radio stations around the world. Here's his view of the current radio environment and what P1 is doing to improve it.
What were you doing before you decided to start P1 Research?
After my Group Programming positions at Chancellor and Citadel, I joined Pinnacle Media Worldwide as SVP/International in 2002 and spent seven-and-a-half years building an international research business. In 2006, I became affiliated with SparkNet Communications, the creators and trademark holders of the JACK "Playing What We Want" brand. My role is to continue the expansion of the JACK brand in international markets. I have been instrumental in the launch and success of JACK-FM stations in the UK, Austria, Germany and Russia.
Did you learn anything unique from working on the international side of things that you could apply here in the States?
It's been a tremendous experience and education. I quickly learned that most of challenges and problems radio confronts are universal; whether managing talent or working with sales.
The international work is extremely interesting and challenging. There are many factors, such as cultural, regulatory, differing ratings currencies, that you must understand before you can be effective abroad.
So what made you decide to form your own company here?
I've been fortunate in my career to hold many different exciting and prestigious jobs in our industry, from programming #1-rated stations to MTV, and working in corporate programming positions for some of America's biggest broadcasters.
But my entire career has been spent working for others. The timing felt right to create a business that draws on my collective knowledge, relationships and experiences, both domestically and abroad. The result is P1 Research, a global radio and media company specializing in designing and building branded entertainment experiences that generate strong consumer passion and satisfaction.
What does P1 offer to its clientele - and what makes it unique compared to other consultancies and research firms?
Unquestionably, it is our experience. Each P1 expert shares a similar story: a multitude of programming accomplishments, exceptional research skills and most of all a relentless passion to work together with our clients to design and build dynamic-branded entertainment experiences that energize audiences around the globe.
I worked with many different research companies as both a PD and Group PD. Many of them were very good, but inevitably I would find myself in a meeting where the researcher would make a recommendation based on the data that had no practical application. Successful radio stations are a combination of science and art. Through our experience, we are uniquely qualified to see the data through both the eyes of the researcher and the programmer ... and that's a powerful distinction.
Has the advent of PPM changed the way you interpret research or use it in your programming?
In a game of "usage" versus a game of "recall," you need to know how your most-frequent users use your station and radio, not just what the "recalled" users think.
We've made a few adjustments to our research processes to best affect the PPM currency.
It would seem that Jack would be the perfect format for the PPM programming mentality.
JACK was created in 2002 in Canada long before PPM. It's purely coincidental that the JACK product design was favorable to PPM.
However, it should come as no surprise to a programmer that when you design a brand that directly addresses music radio's lack of variety, excessive repetition and useless talk, that JACK would do very well in a currency that measures "actual" listening.
You mentioned earlier about the universal challenge of managing big-name or very successful talent. How do you go about handling such situations?
I found the following three=point system to be very effective in my programming career.
- Be their biggest fan!
- Be their friend
- Ask them every day "How can I help you and the show?"
If you can do these three things well, you will have an excellent working relationship.
How do you handle morning show changes? Is there a way you can tell whether a prospective talent will work well in an established morning show?
It comes down to chemistry. Either the players have it or they don't. There are sports teams with the best players and highest salaries, yet they can't win a championship. Chemistry can't be taught; it either happens organically or it doesn't.
What do you feel is P1's formula for success - is it more supplying the best data or is it more strategizing and talent management?
Bottom line, we are driven by our insatiable desire to help our clients win. That desire comes from our team of major-market programmers, who have years of experience in the trenches, fighting battles, winning wars and building successful brands. Many companies can deliver research; the P1 difference boils down to our strategic analysis combined with our passion and unrivaled implementation skills.
Do you find that station management is having less patience in seeing results of a turnaround?
Every situation is unique and some operators have more patience than others. In Spain, I've worked with Europa FM, a national station, for the past six years. When our cooperation began, the station's daily reach was under 200,000 a day. Since then it has steadily grown, and has gone from 17th-rated to 4th-rated in station in Spain, with a daily listenership of almost 1.5 million listeners. Clearly, we had a long-term strategy and together we engineered the biggest turnaround in Spanish radio history.
When it comes to American stations, though, is the pressure to show turnaround results ASAP greater?
Yes, of course. It's difficult to build long-term success when the short-term rating and revenue pressures are so great. While you tend to see results faster in PPM, great stations and brands aren't built overnight.
How much time and emphasis are you placing on the station's digital/web efforts?
Today, more and more of our time is spent discussing how to effectively take advantage of these wonderful new tools. The possibilities for radio in the digital space are enormous.
Most radio websites, according to our research, have very little regular traffic. When we treat our website as a utility, that's exactly how listeners will use it.
Facebook is the global category killer. A recent P1 Research study in a Western European country found that 80% of their audience is using Facebook at least once a day. That's a huge number of listeners. A quote I frequently use is "fish where the fish are." Radio users are spending a tremendous amount of time with social media, so that's where we should interact with them.
Finally, what do you see for the future of P1 and radio?
Certainly, I have my concerns about the direction of American radio and the short-term game it has been playing for over a decade. To remain viable, radio today needs to be much more than a terrestrial choice with a Facebook page. The technological advances are creating endless opportunities to create new user experiences. As an industry we need rise to the challenge, embrace the opportunities and transform our terrestrial stations into multi-platform entertainment experiences.
Thankfully, when it comes to the future, the public broadcasters like the BBC, Norwegian Radio Company and Canadian Broadcasting Company are leading the way. They are investing considerable human and capital resources in the digital world. I am confident that the public broadcasters will successfully show us the way.