By Richard Harker

Richard Harker

What’s more important: programming to Nielsen panelists or your audience? If you’re thinking they are the same, think again. And if you think you can program to both panelists and your real audience, think again.

Your audience number is thousands of listeners who like your station.

Your panelists might total a handful, or if you’re lucky, maybe a couple dozen people who are exposed to the station, regardless of whether they are conscientiously listening.

If you react to each monthly trend, if you make changes to your programming each time the numbers slip, you’re programming to that handful of listeners.

On the other hand, if you make strategic programming decisions based on what hundreds and ultimately thousands of your listeners tell you they want, you are programming to the people that contribute the most to your success–those who like your station and conscientiously choose you over the alternatives.

Ask yourself this question: say there are two games of chance. One has a big payoff but a very low chance of winning. The other game has a smaller payoff, but your chance of winning is much higher.

Now think of your career as this game that repeats over and over.

Panelists come and go. Even if you could figure out how to play to your handful of panelists, if one family leaves, the replacement family may want something very different.

On the other hand, if you focus on programming your station to attract and retain the largest number of listeners you have a better chance of success.

The only long term solution for successfully playing the Nielsen game is to super-serve your audience, maximizing the station’s reach and retention. And the most reliable tool is strategic research.

If you know your audience, what they want, what they like, and why they like you better than your competitors, you’ve taken the first step in creating a long-term success that can weather anything Nielsen throws at you.