The Myth of Radio P1s

A No-Nonsense Marketing Smart Tip
May 12, 2004

By definition, a P1 prefers our station more than any other. P1s are, more often than not, “fans.” And we believe that even if Arbitron randomly swings south, our true “fan” count remains roughly the same. Our P1′s, we believe, are the only folks we can count on. That belief is wrong. And you are going to be shocked to discover the truth.

P1s Migrate

On occasion, I have conducted studies across time for the same group of listeners. That way you can monitor not just how many P1s a station has – but are they the SAME people or not over time. Guess what? Not only are they NOT the same people, they’re not even CLOSE to the same people. It turns out our P1s are anything but static. A radio station is an audience reservioir – some P1s drain out as others pour in. And what happens to your ratings depends on which direction is flowing faster.

In one recent large-market study, for example, only 52% of the average station’s P1 audience was retained for six months. Only 52%! Yet the overall P1 figures were unchanged. That means nearly half the P1s are ALL NEW PEOPLE after only six months!

P1s are Gypsies

P1s, it turns out, flow through a station like air through a room with open windows. One gust replaces the next. In other words, P1s aren’t residents of your audience, they’re gypsies. They come and they go.

This reminds us how important it is to prospect, nurture, nourish, and grow P1s all the time. It reminds us why word-of-mouth and marketing are so important. It explains why numbers rise after a strong direct mail campaign and fall a few months later (you have temporarily altered the P1 flow). It explains why an all-P1 music test is a scary proposition (up to half those respondents wouldn’t qualify just six months later).

What have you done to grow Fans?

If we view our P1s as an immobile asset, if we take a “where else will they go?” attitude, we’re being naive. P1 listeners not only can but DO go – anywhere and everywhere.

Our bias should not be on defending P1s – nor should it be on “growing Cume.” The most effective strategic approach is to GROW FANS, to nurture new P1s. Pure and simple. The only way your numbers will rise is if P1 migration works in your favor. Fix the “flow.” Grow a fan today.

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  • http://www.radioconsult.com Jaye Albright

    Mark, as usual, a quick visit to your blog turns into a much longer one, due to the great volume of intelligence and insight here. However, allow me to split a hair on the definition of ‘P-1′ at least when it comes to radio ratings. The way Arbitron counts things “first preference” usage can quite often be fewer quarter hours of listening than P-2 (second preference). It may not work this way in REALITY, but in our unaided recall world of diary-based ratings, if the goal is higher average quarter hour share of audience, it’s often more productive competitively first to locate heavy radio users and then build your audience from that universe. In short, I’d rather be a P-2 of someone who reports listening to their favorite station for 150 quarter hours a week and 142 to their second favorite than have a P-1 who records listening of 20 minutes a day for three weekdays of their ARB diary week.
    I suppose tooth paste can have the same effect. Better to be a second favorite brand of someone who brushes their teeth five times a day and the P1 brand of someone who never brushes their teeth!

  • http://www.mercradio.com Mark Ramsey

    Great comment, Jaye, and I’m glad you added it to the blog!
    Of course, you’re right, heavy users are a richer vein than light ones. But you can only “go after” these people if their tastes align with what it is you can provide. That is, they are either potential fans or they’re not, regardless of how much radio-time they invest.
    Radio-time is often a function of behavioral issues having nothing to do with tastes (e.g., I work in an office or I don’t, etc.)
    In an ideal world, all the fans we cultivate would be heavy listening ones. Since this world isn’t ideal, it seems to me that by cultivating fans we will invariably get more heavy listeners. While cultivating heavy-listeners who refuse to be fans may get us nothing at all.

  • Greg Gillispie

    While you make a very valuable point about constantly cultivating “fans” of your station, I believe there is a somewhat distinct difference between a “P1″ and a “fan.”
    Consider Arbitron’s definition of a P1 – A person that listens to your station more than any other. That really means a person that gives your station more listening credit in the Arbitron diary than other stations. The station that gets the second-most listening credit is that person’s P2 and so on.
    In doing ratings analysis, I have found diaries that have a very low number of quarter hours, yet still have P1, P2, and P3 delineation. For example, I recall one diary that had a total of 7 quarter hours. 3 were credited to one station and 2 to two others. So, the station with 3 quarter hours was that diarykeeper’s P1.
    While one could say that is an appropriate assignment, can you really say that a person that gives 3 out of 7 quarter hours of credit to a station is a FAN?
    Another point that can also contribute to P1s flowing in and out of your station is a person that participates in an Arbitron survey is not supposed to participate in another for at least a couple of years. As a result, Arbitron’s diary placement could easily result in a perceived P1 shift. (Hey, maybe we should tell Arbitron where all our FANS live so it does a better job of keeping our P1s steady)
    With all that said, your closing comment – “The most effective strategic approach is to GROW FANS,” is so right on it should be obvious to all. Unfortunately, many need a good whack upside the head to think about FANS, not statistics!
    In the end, it’s all about the RELATIONSHIP that the station cultivates with its listeners. That’s the fertilizer that encourages FAN growth!
    Greg Gillispie
    Greg Gillispie Consulting
    1662 Leyland Drive
    Kennesaw, GA 30152
    770-314-7823 (cell)

  • http://www.arcmag.com Jim Kerr

    Both Jaye and Greg post excellent comments on an issue I’ve written about for years: The P1 model is flawed.
    The single biggest flaw is the one Jaye pointed out and that Greg illustrated: light radio users (and clearly NON-fans) can be counted as P1s. This dilutes the P1 population and makes it much less effective as a measure. It also hides those important heavy radio user P2s, the ones that contribute a lot of quarter hours to your station but listen to other stations more.
    I remember telling Bob Michaels that I wished Arbitron would add a filter so that you could remove non-heavy radio users from your P1 calculations. They ended up doing something like this in PD Advantage by adding the ability to filter by 100+ quarter hour listeners. It’s a start.
    I wrote a column for R&R years ago that suggested a better way of doing things would be to use quintiles. In this method, the top 20% of the people who listen to your station would be, effectively, the new P1. I can’t remember the figure, but the top quintile delivers a similarly huge number of quarter hours as P1s. They, quite simply, drive your ratings.
    The downside to this is that you will label as “P1″ listeners who may listen to another station more than your station. But does that really matter when they are contributing a huge number of quarter hours to your station? Clearly these people are fans.
    Anyway, this has to be the most intelligent online conversational thread on radio programming ever.

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